Advocacy Groups Push Cuomo to Include Paid Family Leave in Budget

(this is a press released issued last week by a coalition of groups)

Cost-Effective Plan Could Benefit Caregivers for Elderly and Mentally Ill, Parents of Newborns, Employers, Taxpayers

 ALBANY, N.Y. – An unprecedented, multi-generational and diverse array of groups joined today (December 17) to highlight the benefits of family leave insurance and to urge Governor Andrew Cuomo to lead on the issue during the upcoming 2016 state legislative session.

Family leave insurance would provide working New Yorkers with up to 12 weeks of partially paid time off each year to care for a newborn or sick family member or to accommodate the military requirements of a family member.

The plan would benefit a broad cross-section of New Yorkers, from a young parent caring for a newborn to a Baby Boomer or Gen-Xer caring for an aging parent suffering from Alzheimer’s.

The plan the 13 groups are supporting would be administered through the state’s 65-year-old Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) system, thus creating no administrative changes for businesses or expansion of government bureaucracy. The proposal would add paid family leave to what could be covered by TDI in New York, just as California, New Jersey and Rhode Island have successfully done.

Beth Finkel, State Director of AARP in New York State, said, “AARP is calling on Governor Cuomo to lead and include a family leave insurance proposal in his 2016 agenda. Family leave insurance is both compassionate and cost-effective; we believe it would help employees, employers and taxpayers by fostering more productive workplaces and giving workers the economic peace of mind they need to provide invaluable care for their loved ones – which helps New Yorkers age with dignity and independence at home, rather than in far more costly and mostly taxpayer-funded nursing homes.”

Walter C. Ayres, Director of Catholic Charities’ Commission on Peace and Justice, said, “Public policy should protect those who have to take time away from their jobs to handle serious family responsibilities. Such legislation will help family life and send a message that children and families are real priorities within our society.”

Ivette Alfonso, President of Citizen Action of New York, said, “Choosing to care for a loved one shouldn’t mean financial ruin, but without paid family leave, too many New York families are faced with that possibility. Until New York’s leaders pass paid family leave, our economy and communities will be held back.”

Jessica Klos Shapiro, Director of Policy and Community Education for the Early Care & Learning Council, said, “Studies show that early bonding with parents lays the foundation for children to have good long-term health and overall well-being. When mothers are not offered family leave insurance they are more likely to give up breastfeeding earlier, delay infant immunizations, experience financial hardship, and experience postpartum depression. Having both parents in the workplace has become increasingly common, and without family leave insurance the children and families of New York State are being short-changed on their capacity to form critical emotional attachments that provide for success later in life.”

Barbara Thomas, Women’s Issues Specialist for the League of Women Voters of New York State, said, “Caregiving falls disproportionately on the shoulders of women, whether it is caring for infants and young children or spouses and the elderly. Without paid family leave insurance a woman loses her income just when her family could use it most, and her sacrifices also have repercussions on the high rate of poverty that women face in retirement.”

Matthew Shapiro, Public Engagement Coordinator for the National Alliance on Mental Illness-New York State, said, “Increasing family involvement in the recovery process from chronic mental illness has been central to NAMI-NYS’s mission since our inception more than 30 years ago. This is why we believe it is vital for New York to enact a family leave insurance which would eliminate a major barrier to family participation in supporting and advancing a loved one’s recovery. We know that the best recovery outcomes happen when people living with a chronic illness, their family and their doctors work together as a team. This is why we urge Governor Cuomo to make it easier for families to be a part of the recovery team by including family leave insurance in his Executive Budget.”

Melanie Trimble, Chapter Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union Capital Region Chapter, said, “The NYCLU stands firmly behind paid family leave. It is time to provide New Yorkers with the insurance to care for family members in times of stress.”

Barry A. Kaufmann, President of the New York State Alliance for Retired Americans, said, “The 440,000 members of the NYS Alliance for Retired Americans are proud to support the passage of paid family leave insurance in New York State. Through the implementation of family leave insurance, 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 family leave insurance NOW.”

Jill Furillo, RN, Executive Director of the New York State Nurses Association, said, “No New York worker should be forced to choose between their family and their paycheck. Paid family leave is both crucial to a healthy society and financially viable. And during tough economic times, paid family leave provides a vital safety net for the working families that need it the most.”

Matt London of the Northeastern New York Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health said, “NENYCOSH urges the Governor to include provisions for paid family leave in this year’s budget. This will provide the desperately needed support for working families so they do not need to choose between their or their loved ones’ care or work.”

A series of MetLife studies dramatically illustrates how the current system burdens both employees and employers because of family caregiving responsibilities:

AARP believes family leave insurance would help working New Yorkers concentrate on the job when on the job, lessening the likelihood that employers will lose productivity and have to pay higher health costs and that family caregivers will leave the workforce or lose badly-needed income.

 

Skelos, Silver Convictions to Impact 2016 Session

The recent convictions of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos will have a profound effect on the business of the 2016 legislative session in Albany.  Not only will there be calls for new ethics legislation but that and all other bills will be considered during an unpredictable election year at both the state and federal levels.

Republicans who control the State Senate by a one vote margin which is augmented by the support of the Independent Democratic Caucus would normally be worrying about their prospects in a Presidential election year and this one with Hillary Clinton almost certainly running at the top of the Democratic ticket and perhaps someone like Donald Trump or Ted Cruz at the top of the Republican ticket.

Republicans, especially on Long Island, have to be concerned about the backlash against Skelos whose seat is now open upon his conviction and will probably have a strong Democratic candidate in that district and others on the island where Democrats are gaining in registration.  The Republicans’ concern will also be complicated by issues like the push to raise the minimum wage to $15 that Governor Cuomo and Democrats are pushing.

The other issue that looms in the background  is that the big donors to the Republican cause who helped funnel millions in campaign money will be looking over their shoulders in light of what was revealed in the Skelos and Silver trials.  Fear of even the appearance of illegality may cause some donors to be less engaged or give less.

The other big issue is how the Independent Democratic Caucus positions itself.  It joined with mainline Democrats to try to win the majority in 2014 but when the party lost outright, the IDC resumed its arrangement as a partner with Senate Republicans.  Presumably they would again line up to try to gain a Democratic majority with Senator Jeff Klein, head of the IDC and Senator Andrea Stewart Cousins, the Democratic Minority leader working together.

Election years usually bode well for issues popular with the public so with the minimum wage and paid family leave as big concerns, legislators may be more interested in supporting those as well as issues popular with seniors and other voters back home.

Albany Woman with Dementia Released from Jail

After two months in the Albany County jail, a woman with dementia was placed in the Albany County nursing home earlier this week.   I have reported on her situation a number of times, noting that she had been arrested for violating a restraining order sought by a local business that found her disruptive.  While in jail it was confirmed she has some dementia.   When the nursing home placement was found, charges against her were dropped.

Her release came after a placement was found at the nursing home run by Albany County which initially did not accept her.  She was also rejected by at least two other nursing homes including one specializing in memory care.

My own view of this case is that the end result should have been achieved at least six weeks earlier by Albany County officials who ended up leaning on the county nursing home to accept her.  They should have done that after her test results showed she had dementia.   Someone needed to make a decision rather than let her stay in jail.

Her rights were violated by keeping her in jail.  Of course, county officials said they couldn’t find a placement but in the end they came under pressure to release her to their nursing home.   We advocates for the woman stepped up the pressure.  A contact was made to the Albany County Sheriff’s office and it seems his office pressure on to force a decision and get a resolution so that she wasn’t in jail for Christmas as well as Thanksgiving.

This case was an embarrassment and it is essential that it not happen again.  A meeting is going to be called to bring together those involved to discuss how to avoid using the jail as a holding place for persons with dementia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

US Longevity Gains Stalled

Gains in longevity in the United States were flat for the third  year in a row after gaining for several years.  The average lifespan for an American remains at 78 years and 9 1/2 months though many people are living much longer than before.  For many years, better nutrition, medicine, and public education have led to an increase in the American lifespan.  While great progress also continues to be made in reducing mortality from heart disease and cancer, the two biggest killers, increases in suicide and drug overdoses are up and having a negative effect on the overall lifespan rate.  Researchers are also concerned about the rise in obesity though some recent statistics are pointing to a turnaround and improvement among young people with the increased focus on removing sugar from diets.

— The 10 top causes of death remained the same: heart disease, cancer, respiratory diseases like emphysema and bronchitis, accidents and unintentional injuries, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, flu and pneumonia, kidney disease and suicide but  death rates fell significantly for five causes, including the top two — heart disease and cancer.

The largest increase was in Alzheimer’s disease at 8 percent.   Suicides and unintentional injuries — a category that includes falls, traffic accidents and drug overdoses — each went up by about 3 percent.

Unfortunately, the great income education divide in the country is again reflected in lifespan.  Many higher income and better educated people are living well into the 80s and even 90s.  The 85+ population is growing much faster than before.  As I noted in a recent post, many people are not making it to old age though because of poor health, obesity and drug  overdoses and suicide.

The World Bank says the United States is about 40th among countries in longevity.

 

Health Advocates Plan NY City Protest at Pfizer

Criticism of pharmaceutical companies is intensifying as prices continue to dramatically escalate and now Pfizer has purchased an Irish drug company and will declare Ireland its home to lower its American taxes.  A coalition of health advocates is planning a protest on Friday outside Pfizer’s headquarters at 42nd Street and 2nd Avenue in New York City, saying Pfizer has renounced its American citizenship in order to dodge taxes.  Drug companies are benefitting from the fact that the United States health care system does not negotiate prices like in other countries which have a national health care program.  While the Veterans Administration negotiates prices,  the Medicare drug law of 2003 specifically forbids the program from negotiating prices.  The idea was that the private insurers in Medicare would do that but they don’t get the same lower rates like the VA.

Drug companies have always resisted the importation of cheaper drugs from other countries into the United States but here is an American company Pfizer choosing to declare its home base is in Ireland to lower its taxes.  If they want to do what is best for the company’s bottom line by insisting on their right to locate in another country, they should give up their opposition to drug importation that allows some patients to do what is best for their bottom line.

This is another example of how the laws are stacked against the consumer and in favor of corporate profits.  Of course, Pfizer says it will use its tax savings to do more research and development that will lead to new drugs.  Maybe so, but the way all the drug companies are now pricing drugs has no relationship to the costs of research and development.  It is all about what they can get away with.  Doctors and insurers are fighting back and now the government must clamp down.    And, I should note that Pfizer is definitely not one of the worst drug companies typified by those such as Turing which bought companies producing older drugs and then jacked the price up by hundreds or thousands of dollars per year.

 

 

Support Charities on “Giving Tuesday”

Today is “Giving Tuesday,” a relatively new day when charities promote end of year or holiday donations.  This day came in response to Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday.  With all the focus on shopping, charities felt the need to remind the public to give during the holiday season and spend just a little bit on helping people in need as well as supporting the voluntary sector overall.  I have spent most of my career working with nonprofits and I know they are such an important part of our improving the quality of life in our communities.  Today, I want to mention several that I have worked with.

So many local organizations are working in local communities to provide human services, including senior services.  For example, I am doing some consulting work for Community Caregivers (www.communitycaregivers.org) based in Albany County.  This is a real grassroots group of “neighbors helping neighbors,” founded in 1993 to help persons, especially elders, remain living independently in the community.  Community Caregivers has a volunteer force in the hundreds serving local residents mostly by providing transportation and friendly visiting and other services.  There are other groups in our region and around the state like Colonie Senior Services, Carelinks in Saratoga County, Rhinebeck at Home, Mercy Care for the Adirondacks- to name a few – doing similar work and I urge you to support them.

I am also working with Community Works of New York State (www.communityworksnys.org) which I helped to get off the ground in 1993.  This federation of non profit advocacy organizations participates in payroll deduction charitable giving campaigns like the State Employees Federated Appeal (SEFA) and other local employer campaigns.  New members of this group include Senior Services of Albany but the federation includes organizations providing advocacy and services on housing, nutrition and other concerns for all ages.

At the state level, there are important advocacy organizations like New York Statewide Senior Action Council (www.nysenior.org) which I led for fourteen years.  Statewide has played a major role for over forty years in leading advocacy for elders on social, health and economic issues including patients rights, prescription drug coverage and protecting Medicare and Social Security.

You can give to any of these groups by going to their websites or going to the website for Network for Good, (www.networkforgood.org) a national website listing tax exempt charities.