Assembly and Senate Restore, Increase Funds for Seniors in Budget Resolutions

The Senate and the Assembly passed their budget resolutions last week to reflect their program priorities.  Both budgets included the restoration of cuts in senior services that were in the Governor’s budget.  Conference committees are meeting this week in various issue areas and will be given a targeted amount of money that can be added to the Governor’s budget. While the Senate and Assembly resolutions add tens of millions of dollars to the aging budget, they are more a listing of priorities.  Those that are most important will be what the chairs of the Aging Committees, Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo and Senator Sue Serino will be advocating for.

The Senate gave priority to funding for elder abuse programs and adding $5 million provided to county offices for the aging for the Community Services for the Elderly Program (CSE).  The Senate also restored $3.35 million for the New York Connects program which the Governor’s budget proposed funding with some federal dollars for the coming year.

The Assembly restored money for a block grant used to fund 65 senior centers in New York City, increased by $2 million funding for the Community Services for the Elderly program and included funding for a new program  for new senior housing and to provide rental assistance for seniors in New York City.  In addition to funding for senior services, both the Assembly and the Senate budget include money for direct care workers.    Both houses rejected the Governor’s changes in the STAR program that would increase income verification requirements.

The Assembly in its press release noted, “As the Baby Boom population has aged, New York State’s older population has grown, and will continue to grow significantly. By the year 2025, it is estimated that the state’s overall older population will comprise nearly a quarter of the state’s total population – making these services and programs increasingly more critical.

“Seniors are living longer than ever and, in turn, our senior communities are growing,” said Speaker Heastie. “We must make sure that they have the resources they need to facilitate their ability to live independently and with dignity so that they can continue to make contributions to their communities.”

“The Assembly continues our strong commitment to New York’s seniors in our budget proposal,” said Assemblywoman Lupardo. “From protecting our senior centers to committing additional funds to address the growing waiting lists for Community Services for the Elderly; the Assembly’s budget reflects the need to ensure older New Yorkers receive the services they need and can age safely in place.”

“For countless seniors in New York, the rising costs of rent have threatened the ability of seniors to stay in their homes,” said Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz, chair of the Committee on Housing. “Seniors cannot afford to be put on waiting lists for safe affordable housing to become available. Our budget offers more meaningful solutions to address these critical issues.”

“Older homeowners count on the savings that the enhanced STAR program offers and do not deserve added complications to the renewal process,” said Assemblymember Sandy Galef, chair of the Committee on Real Property Taxation. “It would be unfair and overly burdensome to create more paperwork and confusion for seniors simply trying to receive the savings they need and deserve.”

Senator Serino, who chairs the Senate’s Aging Committee said, “Earlier this year, we asked legislative leaders to step up for seniors and deliver for them directly in this year’s budget. The Senate answered that call and today passed a budget resolution that makes smart, significant investments to ensure that New York is a place where our seniors can age better—at home in our communities—with dignity. Making the growing population of seniors a priority in this year’s budget is good for our families, it’s good for our economy and it will play a critical role in keeping our state ahead of the curve for generations.”

Summary of Assembly Budget Resolution

Housing and Enhanced STAR Renewal Options

The Assembly recognizes that many seniors wish to stay in their homes and communities as long as possible. In support of that, the Assembly budget proposal includes funding for numerous senior housing programs. The spending plan includes a new program that would provide rental assistance to older adults in New York City who are paying more than 30 percent of their monthly income toward rent. To be eligible for the Elder Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), the senior and his or her family would be required to have a total income equal to or less than 80 percent of the area median income. The amount of rental assistance would be calculated as the difference between the senior’s rent payable, or maximum rent set by the agency, and 30 percent of the senior’s monthly income.

The program would be funded by a 2.5 percent transfer tax paid by the buyer on multi-million dollar real estate transactions of condos, co-ops and one to three-family homes. The tax would apply only to the amount of the transaction exceeding $2 million. The plan would help keep vulnerable seniors in their homes and communities by offsetting burdensome rental costs. The Assembly’s budget proposal also includes $1 million for Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs) and $1 million for Neighborhood Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NNORCs). The plan also includes $125 million for a senior housing program to create new housing opportunities.

In addition to assisting seniors with housing costs, the Assembly’s budget includes a measure that would reject the governor’s proposal to eliminate an option for Enhanced STAR renewal applications. Under the Executive Proposal, seniors would be required to enroll in the STAR Income Verification Program in which the tax department would automatically review income eligibility every year. However, this option may create difficulties for seniors who do not need to file an income tax return. The Assembly’s proposal would allow seniors to continue exercising the option to submit a renewal application every year together with a copy of their income tax form to their local assessor.

Health Care and Aging Programs

The SFY 2017-18 Budget also includes funding to address high health care costs that seniors often face in New York. The proposal includes provisions aimed at reducing the cost of prescription drugs, which can be a large burden for individuals on a fixed income. The proposal includes much needed resources to offset these expenses and preserve access to long-term care. The Assembly restores $23.8 million in long term care reductions, including $11 million for nursing home bed hold payments, which help seniors maintain their spot in nursing homes in the event that they need hospital care, and $10 million to maintain the right of spousal refusal.

The proposal also provides $2 million in additional funding to support the Community Services for the Elderly program, which provides personal care, home delivered meals, transportation, senior centers, and other important services.

The Assembly spending plan also restores Title XX funding of $27 million to its original discretionary purposes for Local Social Service Districts and removes the Executive’s proposal to mandate that such funds be used only for child care. This will prevent the closure of 65 senior centers in New York City.

 Summary of Senate Budget Resolution

The Senate One-House Budget Resolution that was approved includes key provisions that will help significantly improve aging services, actively combat elder abuse and increase access to vital services.  Further, the proposal restores potentially devastating cuts and adds additional funding to ensure that our seniors have the resources they need to enable them to receive critical services and supports. These include:

  • Adding language aimed at combatting the financial exploitation of vulnerable older adults;
  • Adding $5 million for the Community Services for the Elderly Program (CSE) which provides funding directly to communities, enabling them to provide services like home care, meal delivery and transportation;
  • $500,000 for a transportation pilot program in Dutchess and Putnam counties that would allow seniors who no longer wish to drive to trade in their vehicles in exchange for credits for a ride service;
  • Restoring $3.35 million for the New York Connects—a one-stop-shop kind of program that provides free comprehensive services and supports for seniors and caregivers;
  • Providing $10 million to establish a statewide central register of elder abuse and maltreatment so that we have the tools necessary to better protect vulnerable older adults; and
  • Restoring $700,000 to fund the successful multidisciplinary investigative teams that work to investigate and address elder abuse and maltreatment and return monies lost to elder financial exploitation, as well as including legislation that creates those teams

Serino continued, “As budget negotiations continue, I urge my colleagues in the Assembly to continue to make our seniors a priority and ensure that these critical pieces make it into the final enacted budget. The health, safety and security of New York’s seniors depends on it.”

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I have been a senior advocate for most of my career. I was Executive Director of the New York StateWide Senior Action Council and the New York State Alliance for Retired Americans. In 2007-2010 I was the Director of the New York State Office for the Aging

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