Column: Supporting Our Senior Citizens

Since 1930, the life expectancy for the average American has gone up from about 60 years to approaching 80 years.  As our life expectancies grow higher, we must do all we can to ensure that our senior citizens remain integrated in the fabric of our community.  From housing to healthcare to transportation and more, we have a responsibility to make sure that all aspects of civic life continue to be accessible for and inclusive of our senior citizens.

During my time in the Legislature, supporting our seniors has been a high priority for me, especially when it comes to our annual state budget.  I’m pleased that our Fiscal Year 2015 state budget successfully reflected this value.  We achieved many successes in strengthening resources for seniors in this year’s budget.

For instance, during this past legislative session, the “formula grant” for our Councils on Aging was increased from $7 per elder per year to $8 per elder per year.  What this led to was an increase in funding for the Councils on Aging from $9.4 million in FY13 to $10.5 million last year to over $11.6 million this year.  Another major achievement this past legislative session was the elimination of wait lists for home care thanks to additional funding committed to our home care programs.  Additionally, $750,000 in the FY15 budget was designated specifically to protect the Meals on Wheels program.

Beyond the budget, we also passed important legislation pertaining to unique needs of senior citizens.  This year, we passed legislation to create an Alzheimer’s and related dementias Acute Care Advisory Committee to craft strategies to address dementia-capable care in all acute care settings.  We also passed legislation clarifying and strengthening protections surrounding the process for determining jurisdiction in cases of adult guardianship and protective proceedings.

Still, there are key legislative initiatives that did not get passed during the 2013-2014 legislative session that I will be advocating for next year.  For example, the “spouse as caregiver” bill unanimously passed the Senate but unfortunately did not make it to the Governor’s desk.  That bill would simply allow spouses to join the already-existing list of family members who can currently be paid to be a Personal Care Attendant or Adult Foster Care provider.  Another important piece of legislation is the “Personal Needs Allowance” bill to modestly increase the allowance provided to nursing/rest home residents to cover costs not covered by MassHealth, allowing those senior citizens to live with greater independence and dignity.

As in years past, to alleviate some of the unique burdens that property taxes can create for seniors in particular, we have the senior “Circuit Breaker” tax credit in Massachusetts, which allows seniors to claim a tax credit of up to $1,030 (the maximum last year) if their property tax and water & sewer bills exceed 10% of their income.  Seniors who rent can count 25% of their rent as real estate tax payments.

Keeping our seniors safe in our communities is another critically important goal.  To offer further protections for our senior citizens, the Legislature committed funds in the FY15 budget to establish a financial abuse specialist team that will assist elder protective service workers.  This follows recommendations drafted by the Elder Protective Services Commission to aggressively address neglect, abuse, and financial exploitation of our senior citizens.

This is especially urgent as the Middlesex Sheriff’s office has noted a number of telephone scams targeting senior citizens this year.  The most frequent scam involves callers fraudulently claiming to be collecting money allegedly owed to the IRS.  If you or someone you know receives a fraudulent call of this nature, you are encouraged to alert your local police station as well as the Investigations Unit of the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office at 978-932-3220.

Another invaluable resource for our senior citizens, in addition to your community’s local Council on Aging and/or senior center, is Mystic Valley Elder Services (for residents of Malden, Melrose, Reading, Stoneham, and Wakefield), or Minuteman Senior Services (for residents of Winchester), both of whom provide information, guidance, and services geared toward allowing seniors to continue living with greater independence and dignity.  If you are a senior citizen in the 5th Middlesex district with any questions about available services, feel free to contact Mystic Valley Elder Services at 781-324-7705 or Minuteman Senior Services at 781-272-7177 (depending on your community), or contact my State House office anytime at 617-722-1206.