Leadership Scandals are Making This a Watershed Year in Albany

The Assembly and Senate leadership scandals have obviously rocked Albany by producing high drama and changes in who holds the reins of power in both houses.  However, this legislative session may go down in history as a time that ushers in even greater long term reform.  That is still unclear and we are in the midst of a decisive moment about which way our state and system of government goes.  In the halls of the Capitol the talk is about whether there are more shoes to drop from Preet Bharrara.

For far too long, the political system in Albany has made a mockery of representative democracy.  As the scandals uncovered by the Moreland Commission and the media have shown, wealthy interests have set out to influence and control the outcomes of elections and legislation and the leaders have put a “for sale” sign on the Capitol and allowed it to happen.  Senior citizens and nonprofit organizations don’t have political action committees to try to influence elections.  What we are seeing in terms of spending though is well beyond the normal political action committee.  Investigations have shown a large number of secret committees set up through loopholes that funnel cash to support their interests whether they be real estate or the privatization of education.

If the end result of the current scandals is to begin to produce changes that close these loopholes and make donors have to identify themselves rather than hide behind a smokescreen web of shell organizations, then change may finally come to Albany.  What these scandals have also done is unmask the rigged money game that has contributed to the increasing economic inequality  in New York and in other states.  The investigations and prosecutions are continuing at the same time as those on the low end of the economic ladder are demanding greater equity and fairness.  The push to raise the minimum wage has gained traction as not just a matter of fairness, but also an effort by government leaders to end the subsidies public programs must provide to large corporations which underpay their workers.

These reforms may be the real history of our time.    However, powerful interests will always exist and fight back.  Why though is it strange and unusual that the public should demand that every legislator represent the people they serve first not their donors and that every piece of legislation should be based on the legislator’s view of its merits for their constituents and the state itself, not by the amount of campaign cash their vote might produce?  Why is that form of democracy not followed?

History has clearly shown that democracy only works when the people work at it and there are times when we have to fight harder for the representative democracy that was intended when this country was founded.  It is time for New York and America to “live out the true meaning of its creed,” as Dr. Martin Luther King said.

Michael Burgess

Legislative Session Coming to End in Albany; Campaigns for Paid Family Leave, Safe Staffing to Continue

One of the most dramatic legislative sessions in recent times is coming to a close in Albany today as legislators pass bills to enact an agreement on several major issues negotiated by Governor Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. Those two leaders assumed power in the middle of the session after Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos were indicted and stepped down from their posts though they remain sitting as members. (I will be posting a commentary on the corruption in Albany later today).

It is true that many times we are able to organize and push for bills and budget increases that legislators recognize as important but senior issues have not been a priority for many years in the Legislature.   Of course it is always about power and that is why it is so important to organize and build power.

It was important this year for seniors to add their voices in support of paid family leave and help build the powerful coalition that will make legislators take notice.  While the Assembly passed paid family leave legislation, the Senate did not and that sets up a major campaign for the bill in next year’s session.  The political environment will be much more favorable next year with national and state elections taking place.

The paid leave issue picked up tremendous momentum during the year but the Senate once again heeded business concerns and did not move the bill.  However, there is support from key senators and it is expected that Republican Senator Jack Martins, the chair of the Labor committee will introduce his own bill.  He held hearings this year and has said he would like to hold more hearings.  There was some comment that with the Governor’s push for the Labor Department’s  wage board to increase wages for fast food workers that Senators were reluctant to enact another employee benefit that effects business this year.

Legislation to enact safe staffing that was pushed by a coalition of senior advocates and labor unions also did not pass this year.  The safe staffing issue has become a hot button as nurses are threatening to strike at a number of hospitals because of what they view as overwork that causes dangerous situations for patients.  Hospitals are resisting having any mandatory staffing ratios.  This issue will continue to be in the forefront as major changes are sweeping through the health care and hospital sector.

One bill that did pass as we noted before is the CARE ACT which will be sent for the Governor’s signature.  It requires hospitals to allow patients to designate a caregiver and provide training for caregivers who would be expected to provide post hospital care at home.  AARP is pushing this bill in states across the country.

A bill (A4036 Quart/S2809 Lanza) that would allow prescriptions to be “synchronized” by scheduling refills the same time of the month passed the Assembly on June 15 and is on the Senate calendar so it could pass today.   Supporters believe synchronization will not only save time for patients and caregivers going to the pharmacy but will lead to refills being done in a timely manner so that there are no interruptions in drug therapy.  This bill had the support of health advocates, pharmacists and drug companies.


New Smartphone App Available for Quick Medicare Complaints about Care

Medicare quality of care complaints are entering the smartphone era.  Livanta, the private company that Medicare contracted to take quality of care and hospital discharge complaints in New York State, is unveiling a new smartphone app that allows patients or caregivers to immediately dial the helpline and speak to a professional who will review the complaint.  A Livanta staffperson, made a presentation and demonstration of how to use the smartphone app at an event sponsored by New York StateWide Senior Action Council at the Pine Hills library in Albany on Friday.

After seraching in the app store for “Medicare Quality helpline,” and installing it, a screen will pop up that allows the user to to first click their state and then just click “Press here to call us.”  The user will immediately be taken to the helpline to register an appeal, such as being discharged from a hospital before the patient feels able to go home.  Other complaints about the quality of care can also be made after leaving the hospital, such as not receiving proper treatment in the hospital, a medication mistake or contracting an infection in the hospital.

Of course, many older persons may not have smartphones and can continue to call the Medicare Quality helpline at (866) 815-5440 and select option 1.  If a senior doesn’t have a smartphone a caregiver or family member should have the app installed on their phone by searching for Livanta in the app store.  This app will be especially convenient for a family member who may live in a different state and wants to assist their parent or loved one, immediately if no one is available locally to help.   Having instant access on the phone is more convenient than trying to remember where to find the toll free number.

When you call to file a complaint, have the following information available:

-your Medicare card

-your Medicare number

-your address and phone number

-your date of birth

-the date of service

-full name and contact information for the facility

50th Anniversary of Medicare Celebration Planned at State Capitol on July 30

Peter Yarrow, the 77 year old famous Peter of Peter, Paul and Mary has been invited to sing in Albany at the 50th anniversary celebration of the signing of the Medicare and Medicaid acts.   Details are still being worked out in the hope that Yarrow will be able to join the event.  This event will be held at noon on Thursday, July 30th at West Capitol Park behind the State Capitol in Albany.  The event is being planned by the New York StateWide Senior Action Council, the Capital District chapter of the Alliance for Retired Americans and the single payer Medicare for All coalition.  Other events celebrating the anniversary are being planned in New York City, Poughkeepsie and other locations.  The New York State Nurses Association is planning an event at the Hudson River Walkway near Poughkeepsie on Sunday, August 2nd.

This summer will mark a number of anniversaries of great social importance.  The Older Americans Act was also signed 50 years ago in July by President Lyndon B. Johnson.  Social Security celebrates its 80th anniversary on August 14, the date it was signed by President Roosevelt.  The Americans with Disabilities Act marks 25 years since its passage and signing into law by President George HW Bush.

It is hard to imagine what life would be like for older and disabled persons without these programs.  Quite clearly, most individuals would not have saved the money on their own that went into required payroll deductions for Social Security and Medicare and many have to rely on Medicaid if they have to live in a nursing home.  Social Security has also helped so many children who lost a parent or spouses who may not have been earning much if anything when their spouse died. The program was also expanded to cover the disabled.  The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Olmstead Supreme Court decision have affirmed the importance of a right to independent living for persons with disabilities.

I just like to note that this policies and programs did not just happen but they resulted from strong advocacy for many years by social activists who sought a better life and world.  That is why it so important that we maintain the social insurance character of these programs which continue to be under assault.

NY Times: US Seniors Prosper, Finding ‘Sweet Spot” in Middle Class

Today’s New York Times has a front page article (that continues onto a full page in the Business section) on the economic status of American seniors and says they are doing better than those before them and many others in American society.  While sometimes stories like this sound a note of generational resentment and make the case that others don’t have it so good, the story really makes the point that it is success of the social safety net and the better health of many Americans that allows them to work longer and be better off.  The article noted that seniors economic fortunes weathered the Great Recession and held steady and are in a “sweet spot.”  The article summarized that, “In the past, the elderly were usually poorer than other age groups.  Now, they are the last generation to widely enjoy a traditional pension, and are prime beneficiaries of a government safety net targeted at older Americans.  They also have profited from the long rise in real estate prices that preceded the recession.  As a result, more seniors now fall into the middle class – defined in this case between the 40th and 80th income percentile – than ever before.”

To me, this is something to be celebrated and an indication that what many of us have long fought for has improved the lives of the older generation.  We must be concerned about those who are still struggling and the many seniors who depend on Social Security for most of their income.  We have to be strong to continue to defend the guarantees of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  In the article, Kathleen McGarry an economist at UCLA says that Social Security is “the single most important tool in combating poverty among the elderly.”

Here is the link to the Times article:

Press Release: New York State’s Major Senior Advocacy Organizations Call for Paid Family Leave

Legislation Would Improve Health Outcomes for Seniors, Allow New Yorkers Time to Care for Ill & Aging Parents without Financial Ruin

 In Letter to Governor and State Legislature, AARP Joins Major Senior Care Groups to Urge Immediate Action

Albany, NY – As part of a growing coalition calling for the passage of paid family leave, New York’s major senior advocacy organizations signed a letter to the Governor and State Legislature urging the immediate passage of the Paid Family Leave Insurance Act. Signing on to the letter are AARP New York, the New York Statewide Senior Action Council, and the New York State Alliance for Retired Americans.

“No daughter should have to choose between keeping a roof over her head and being able to care for a seriously ill parent,” the letter reads. Without paid leave, family caregivers are forced to worry about making ends meet while caring for loved ones, including ill and aging parents.

“Families across the state are suffering without access to paid family leave,” the letter continues. “12 percent of private sector workers, and only 5 percent of the lowest wage workers, receive paid family leave from their employers. This forces a tremendous number of workers across New York to take unpaid leave, risk job loss, and suffer a huge financial toll when these major life events occur.”

“Caring for a loved one should not mean that you lose money or jeopardize your employment. Caregivers provide the majority of all long term care in this state and should not be penalized for it,” said Beth Finkel, State Director of AARP in New York State.

“New Yorkers should not be forced to make the impossible choice between caring for family members and earning a living. That’s why paid family medical leave is so important, especially for the more than four million family caregivers who save New York $32 billion annually in costs for long-term care. It’s time for New York to provide a benefit that helps these families when they need to care for a seriously ill loved one,”
said Maria Alvarez, Executive Director, NY Statewide Senior Action Council.

“The 440, 000 members of the NYS Alliance for Retired Americans are proud to sign on to this letter in support of the passage of paid family leave legislation (S.3004 and A3870) in New York State. Through the implementation of paid family leave, senior citizens can be secure in the knowledge that their family can assist in caring for an ill or dying parent without having to make the choice between that parent and financial ruin. Not only is it the right thing to do and makes economic sense, but it would require no new fiscal demands on business or the government.  A modest increase in the employee contribution to the already existing Temporary Disability Insurance program would fully fund the legislation. It seems to be a no brainer for New York to continue its heritage of being in the forefront of changes that enable workers to put family first by passing paid family leave NOW,” said Barry A. Kaufmann, President of the New York State Alliance for Retired Americans.

“Passage of paid family leave is an important component of policies that enable older persons to remain living in the home and community of their choice with the help of their caregivers,” said Mike Burgess, Former Director of the New York State Office of the Aging.

“The Cuomo administration’s Medicaid Redesign Team made paid family leave one of its top recommendations this past year, citing the critically important role employed adults play as caregivers – especially to our aging population – and the potential for better health outcomes and Medicaid savings,” said Nancy Rankin, Vice President for Policy Research at Community Service Society, and a member of the Medicaid Redesign Team. “Family caregivers are essential for helping with post-discharge care, navigating transitions and preventing avoidable readmissions.”

The letter comes on the heels of other major events showing the groundswell of support around paid family leave. Last week, lawmakers joined New Yorkers to deliver thousands of postcards calling for paid family leave to the Governor and Senate leadership. Vigils in Albany and Buffalo drew dozens of faith and labor leaders, and during lobby days, families and advocates met with State Senators to build support for the bill’s passage. Strategy meetings were held in seven cities across the state, where labor and community leaders identified local actions to mobilize citizens.

The Paid Family Leave Insurance Act (A.3870 Nolan/S.3004 Addabbo), which passed the Assembly in March, would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave to bond with a new child, care for a seriously ill family member, and deal with issues that arise when a family member is called to active military service.

The paid family leave insurance benefit is entirely employee-paid, through small payroll deductions that start at just 45 cents and rise to roughly 88 cents a week over four years. The law does not create a new administrative requirement, but rather expands New York’s existing Temporary Disability Insurance program (TDI) through a small increase in premiums that would continue to be shared by employers and employees, as they are now. The legislation would also raise the TDI benefit for the first time in 26 years.

Department of Health Releases 5-Year Funding Request to Support Alzheimers Caregivers

The New York State Department of Health issued on Tuesday, June 9th a funding request for applications to operate projects to provide support for caregivers of persons with Alzheimers disease.  The funding is $75 million over a five year period.  It is new money that was passed in this year’s state budget.  The grant award will be $15 million for the coming year beginning in October and will either be given to one statewide organization or $1.5 million will be given to ten regional projects.  Applications are due on August 4th.

The announcement indicates that the long term goals of the funding and program are: “the development and sustainability of an innovative array of support services; improved coordination of and access to new and existing support services; expansion and enhancement of and access to respite services; improved health and well-being of caregivers and individuals with Alzheimers disease; and continued community residence and delayed institutionalization of individuals diagnosed with Alzheimers disease.”

To read the official summary of the request and information on how to find the entire request and application procedures, here is the link: