Several major issues, some remaining from the last legislative session, will be the focus of senior advocacy in 2016. Paid family leave, the possibility of the State Office for the Aging becoming the Office for Community Living, as well as funding increases for senior programs are the top issues for advocates. In addition, advocates are focusing on health related staffing issues such as safe staffing in hospitals and nursing homes and establishing an Advanced Home Health Aide Program.
AARP has already announced its focus will be on pushing for $55 million in new spending on senior programs including a $30 million investment in the State Office for the Aging funding to support caregivers. It also wants increased funding to eliminate waiting lists for key community services such as the EISEP program (Expanded In-Home Services for the Elderly). AARP is also advancing paid family leave and the establishment of the Advanced Home Health Aide Program along with age-friendly communities in New York State. There is also a bill being pushed by the Center for Aging in Place in Westchester to create and Aging in Place Task force at the state level.
A recommendation may be made in the Governor’s budget to transform the State Office for the Aging into an Office of Community Living. The Legislature would have to approve a final plan and the proposal has been controversial. Many disability advocates are pushing for the legislation because they feel their concerns would be better addressed by being part of such a new Office of Community Living. Reservations have been expressed by some senior advocates and compromise counterproposals or amendments are being discussed to strengthen the State Office’s focus on state level advocacy along with strengthening support for family caregivers and livable communities and neighborhoods, all of which benefit both seniors and the disabled.
The Paid Family Leave Coalition is hoping that legislation is finally passed in 2016. The Assembly passed a paid family leave bill earlier this year to establish such a program through the state’s disability insurance program. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan is open to considering it though he and other senators want it to be paid by employees. The issue will be considered at the same time as Governor Cuomo and labor and community advocates push hard to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour over six years. There is some concern that legislators will not want to hit business with both measures though the minimum wage would not take effect fully for three years in New York City and six years in upstate New York.
Meanwhile, New York State is ground zero in the fight over physician assisted suicide after California passed the bill into law earlier this year. Advocates are planning a major campaign for a similar bill here. However, a broad coalition is mobilizing against it led by disability organizations, church groups, the State Medical Society, hospice supporters and senior advocates. Senior advocates are concerned the bill would put growing pressure on seniors with terminal illnesses to end their lives. New York State is 48th in the country in the use of hospice services which advocates believe should be promoted rather than suicide. Also, many people choosing to end their lives are depressed and the bill proposed does not adequately provide for mental health assessments. Many in states like Oregon said they wanted to end their lives because they felt there were a burden or they had lost their independence rather than because of pain issues.