New Uniform Act Good News for Rhode Island Caregivers

Published in Woonsocket Call on November 29, 2015

With the quick stroke of her pen, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo signed guardianship legislation into law during the 2015 legislative session that would help Rhode Islanders avoid costly and time-consuming red tape when exercising health care, financial and other legal responsibilities for their out-of-state, elderly loved ones. It takes effect on January 1, 2016.

Like motherhood and apple pie, the changes made to the State’s guardianship law had broad bipartisan support in the Rhode Island General Assembly. The House bill and a similar Senate companion measure (entitled the “Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act”) passed overwhelming by votes of 72-2 and 37 to 1, respectively.

Representative Robert E. Craven (D-North Kingstown) who Chairs the House Committee on Municipal Government, says his legislation (introduced with Representative Michael A. Morin (D-Woonsocket) simply helps to protect those who are unable to protect themselves.  “When appointing guardians and instituting protective orders for adults, the law must be clear and concise to ensure someone’s rights are not violated while also keeping them safe,” he says, noting that the new law makes the rules and procedures very clear for this process and it will offer both the protected persons and petitioning guardians the legal causes and safeguards that are needed in such complex situation,” he said.

Fixes Jurisdictional Issues over Guardianship

According to Division of Elderly Affairs Director Charles J. Fogarty, the new law “provides consistency, reciprocity, and procedural efficiency in the best interest of seniors, creating a hospitable and healthy Rhode Island for our elders.”

Fogarty says that the new law would benefit caregivers in many way.  It clarifies state jurisdiction issues and even facilitates the transfer of guardianship from one state or another.  It also would enhance interstate recognition and enforcement of guardianship orders and simplifies communication and cooperation between courts.

Fogarty notes that Rhode Island’s new guardianship law is a law that 37 other states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have already enacted, allowing for cooperation on and simplification of inter-state issues.  “It will be easier for out-of-state caregivers to focus on supporting their loved ones as opposed to becoming mired in current laws.  This legislation ensures that seniors and caregivers don’t waste time and resources in cases involving simultaneous and conflicting jurisdiction,” he says.

“We are very pleased that our staff, our terrific State House advocacy volunteers and a strong network of partners worked hard together to ensure that Rhode Island became the 42nd jurisdiction to enact the Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act,” said AARP State Director Kathleen Connell. “Now, Rhode Island joins the national effort that focuses on care, not courts, by removing the barriers that prevent caregivers from providing for their loved ones, regardless of where they live.”

According to the AARP Public Policy Institute’s recent report “Valuing the Invaluable: 2015 Update,” the number of caregivers in our state is 134,000. Their work has an economic value of $1.78 million. That, Connell said, is why AARP Rhode Island strongly supported the legislation and was joined by judges, lawyers and families throughout Rhode Island.

Many Benefits, No Cost to Rhode Island Taxpayers

Connell notes that when the uniform guardianship jurisdiction becomes law, it will carry no cost to taxpayers and makes no changes in the state’s substantive guardianship procedures. However, Rhode Islanders will benefit as it will save them time and money. In addition, they will be safeguarding the health and financial well-being of their loved ones.

“It may seem very technical,” Connell continued. “But the bottom line is easy to understand:  We all recognize that we are a mobile society, and with that we need laws pertaining to caregivers and their families to reflect that reality. AARP strongly supports legislation that removes barriers that prevent guardians in Rhode Island from providing for their loved ones, regardless of where they live. “For Rhode Islanders, the uniform guardianship act is a step in the right direction to help protect the interests of vulnerable incapacitated adults who need guardians,” Connell said. “With this law, our guardianship system will function more efficiently, fairly, and cost-effectively.”

Court-appointed guardians step into the shoes of at-risk adults who can no longer make their own decisions, and make judgments about property, medical care, living arrangements, lifestyle and potentially all personal and financial issues. As a judicial proceeding, guardianship can be expensive, time-consuming and combative. It can remove fundamental individual rights. It can prevent or redress elder abuse – or can create an opportunity for exploitation or abuse of vulnerable adults.

This new uniform act addresses initial jurisdiction regarding a guardianship case; recognition of one state’s guardianship orders by another; and interstate transfers of guardianship cases when such transfers would benefit the incapacitated person.

Another key reason AARP strongly supported enactment stems from concern over elder abuse, neglect and exploitation. It will reduce the enticement of a vulnerable person to another state ― to gain control over assets. The law now will permit a court to consider which jurisdiction can best protect a person subject to abuse, and facilitate communication between courts in different jurisdictions about allegations of abuse.

Partners included the Uniform Law Commission. The Commission provides states with non-partisan, well-conceived, and well drafted legislation that brings clarity and stability to critical areas of state statutory law. In addition, the Act has a broad range of support from organizations including the National College of Probate Judges, National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, National Guardianship Association, Conference of Chief Justices and the Alzheimer’s Association.

With the graying of Rhode Island’s population commonsense laws like the “Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act” need to be enacted.  Last session, state lawmakers worked together to pass this legislation that makes guardianship system more efficient, less time-consuming and costly for Rhode Island caregivers.  At no cost to Ocean State taxpayers.  Hopefully, best policy practices from across the nation can be brought to the Rhode General Assembly for full consideration.  If it happened once it might just happen again.

 

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Tis’ the Season to Get Ripped Off, if Your’re Not Careful

 

Published in Pawtucket Times on November 23, 2015 

             With just a little over 30 days left to Christmas, a newly released AARP Fraud Watch Network telephone poll finds that 70 percent of American consumers failed a quiz about how to protect themselves from common holiday scams.  Many of the survey’s respondents, age 18 and over, say they are regularly engaging in risky behaviors which could put them at risk of being victimized by con artists during the approaching holidays..

The 26-page report, “Beware the Grinch: Consumers at Risk of Being Scammed During the Holidays,” details AARP’s random polling results of consumers about their knowledge of the most common scams occurring before holidays, including those related to charitable giving, gift cards, package deliveries, and use of public Wi-Fi.  Seventy percent of the respondents were only able to answer correctly four or fewer questions out of a total of seven questions

“While most of us focus on family and friends during the holidays, fraudsters are zeroing in on our wallets and bank accounts,” warns Nancy LeaMond, Chief Advocacy & Engagement Officer, AARP.  “We’re encouraging consumers to elevate their awareness of some emerging and popular scams, and to also share the information with their families to help keep them safe this holiday season,” she says.

Prompted by the dismal survey results, AARP’s Fraud Watch Network has launched an education campaign, including a new web page, www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/fraud-watch-network, specifically designed to educate the public about the top five holiday scams:

Charitable Giving

According to the National Philanthropic Trust, in 2015 Americans gave $358 billion dollars to charity.  Government officials who regulate nonprofit charities and fundraisers say that while most charities are legitimate, there are many fundraisers, especially telemarketers, who keep 85-90% of the money they raise.

AARP’s survey finds that 70 percent of the respondents who donated to a charity or fundraiser in the past 12 months did so without even asking any questions about how that donation would be spent, and 60 percent made donations without verifying that the charity groups were legally authorized to raise money in their state. .

The pollsters say that about a third of the respondents admitted that they don’t know (15%) or aren’t sure (18%) that, in most states, professional fundraisers must be registered with the government and report how much funds they raise and how much goes to the charitable purpose.  Less than one in ten (8%) could correctly name the government agency they should contact to verify the legitimacy of the charity or fundraiser (the correct answer: Office of the State Secretary).

Gift Cards

Fraud experts warn that scammers sometimes hit store gift card racks, secretly write down or electronically scan the numbers off the cards, then check online or call the toll-free number to see if someone has bought the cards and activated them. As soon as a card is active, the scammers drain the funds.

Fifty-eight percent of AARP’s survey respondents say they plan to buy gift cards from a rack at a big box store, pharmacy or grocery store this holiday season for gifts.  Only 54 percent knew that the gift cards purchased from a gift card rack at retail stores are “not safe” from hackers or thieves than gift cards purchased online.

Pull Out that Credit Card

The AARP survey findings note that almost two-thirds of the holiday shoppers surveyed (64%) say they will buy holiday gifts this year using a debit card.  Consumer protection experts advise using credit cards rather than debit cards for most purchases, to better protect the buyer from fraud and theft.  With credit cards, you are financially liable for only up to $50 of fraudulent use.  But with a lost or stolen debit card, the scam can be more costly and hit you hard in your pocketbook

Surf Safely on Public Wi-Fi

The survey findings found that holiday shoppers incorrectly believe that it is safe to access “sensitive” financial information via a free Wi-Fi network.   About 52 percent of internet users in this survey say they will use free public Wi-Fi in making purchases or to do their banking.  Many of them, while using public Wi-Fi, will make purchases (42%), access their bank accounts (28%), and check their credit card accounts (16%).

Package Signoffs Reduce Scams

The AARP survey findings indicate that over 40 percent of holiday shoppers are unaware that package delivery companies are not responsible for stolen packages that are left at your front door without requiring a delivery signature.  Seventy nine percent of the respondents claim that they ship packages to friends without requiring a signature at least some of the time. Seventy-three percent indicate that they have received home deliveries without having to provide a signature “some” or “all of the time.”

AARP Fraud Watch Protects Consumers

In Rhode Island, AARP has deployed a corps of volunteers who travel around the Ocean State, with a presentation introducing the Fraud Watch Network and offering attendees free copies of “The Con Artist’s Playbook, a brochure written by former con artists, revealing their techniques they use to steal identities. Fraud Watch was AARP’s central theme at last summer’s tournament week at the Newport-based International Tennis Hall of Fame and volunteers were enrolling people as recently as last week at a Providence Bruins game. To date, more than 1,200 Rhode Islanders have signed up for the free fraud alert this year.

“Con artists think they can bully people into forking over their hard-earned money,” AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell said. “That’s why today, we’re turning the tables on them and arming Rhode Islanders with the information they need. This require constant vigilance, and the upcoming holiday season is a time when con artists up their game,” she says.

Connell notes that groups of a dozen or more can request a Fraud Watch presentation by calling the AARP state office at 401-248-2671. In 2016, AARP wants to train more volunteers to present Fraud Watch in their communities and to point people to AARP resources designed to combat fraud.

People are more aware of telephone and online scams than ever before,” Connell said. “But the con artists manage to keep one step ahead, inventing new and disarming ways to punch people’s emotional buttons and lead them to a place where they make bad and sometime terribly costly decisions.”

Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin whose office works to alerts and educate consumers about the latest scams making their way through Rhode Island noted that despite the news of increased scams during the holidays, a little perspective is important, “the true meaning of Christmas is about celebrating family and friends and being thankful for what we have.”

 

Long Standing Show Returns in December

Published in Woonsocket Call on November 8, 2015

Foundry Artist Association Kicks Off 33rd holiday Sale at Pawtucket Armory

Look for thousands of shoppers to converge on downtown to purchase unique holiday gifts for their friends and loved ones.       Next month, the Foundry Artists Association (FAA), one of Rhode Island’s premier arts events, returns to the City of Pawtucket to kick off its 33rd holiday sale.  At this two weekend event, 60 seasoned artists bring their fine art and crafts to sell to the Pawtucket Armory’s drill hall, items ranging from art glass to wood, and include painting, sculpture, metal, fiber, mixed media, jewelry, ceramics, photography, millinery, handmade books, and furniture.

One of Rhode Island’s oldest shows runs for seven days over the first two December weekends, starting with the Gala Opening Night on Thursday, December. 3, from 5pm – 9pm. The Gala features the John Juxo and Otis Read, refreshments and the kick off of a Silent Auction showcasing items valued over $50 that are donated by each of the participating artists.

The show continues on Friday, December. 4, from noon – 8pm; Saturday (December. 5) and Sunday (December. 6) from 10-6 pm. The proceeds of the first weekend Silent Auction will be given to two nonprofits: Sovereign House, an advocacy and resource center for Rhode Island domestic abuse victims and the Resources for Human Development, a Pawtucket-based arts-based studio program that serves adults with a range of disabilities.

The Foundry Artist show reopens on Friday, December 11, noon – 8pm; Saturday, December. 12, 10am – 6pm, and closes on Sunday, December. 13, 10am – 6pm.

The show is free to the public with free parking in the adjacent parking lot and free on street parking.  Handicap parking is in the rear of the building.  No sales tax will be charged on purchases; all major credit cards accepted.

Providence artist Michael Bryce, FAA’s president, says his organization’s event stands out from other art shows popping up throughout the Ocean State in December.  “With a juried selection of artists, the caliber of work is high in our show,” he says, noting that a strong outreach brings seasoned artists to group’s attention, who are invited to apply and submit their work for consideration.

“After a rigorous jury process usually 75 percent of the artists will be selected to return the next year, says Bryce. This turnover gives shoppers an opportunity to view the art work of the new participating artist each year.

Pawtucket’s First Years

Bryce says that over three decades ago, a community of artists opened their I-95 Foundry Building studios in downtown Providence to the public during the December holiday season.  In 1995, when the Foundry Building was converted to office space, its artists scattered to studios throughout the region, however, they continued to hold a December holiday show in different venues. These places included Veterans Auditorium and at a mill now demolished on Charles Street, both located in downtown Providence. The Foundry Artist would end up in Pawtucket initially by relocating to the Grant building on the City’s historic Main Street and later to Riverfront Lofts, across the river from City Hall.

In 2002, the Foundry Artists were drawn to the 1894 castle-like Armory, on Exchange Street, says Bryce.  With the departure of the National Guard in 1994 the City’s historic Pawtucket Armory became vacant.  Its 11,000 sf drill hall might just be the perfect place to hold for their holiday sale.

Ultimately, with the Foundry Artist signing a lease with the Pawtucket Armory Association, a nonprofit that owned and was renovating the historic structure, former Mayor James E. Doyle, charged the city’s Department of Planning & Redevelopment with the responsibility of making sure all the regulatory i’s were dotted and t’s crossed.  Art supporters, including Phyllis and Morris Nathanson, Paul Audette, along with Developer Ranne P. Warner gave countless hours to making this first Holiday sale a success.

At the first Foundry Artist Holiday Sale, under the amazing vaulted space, a large outside propane heater piped hot air inside the drill hall to bring temperatures up to a manageable level.  Porta cans placed at the back of the drill hall became the de facto rest rooms. With paint peeling from the ceiling and walls, the huge space needed a good coat of paint.

But, shoppers, coming from Rhode Island and Southern Massachusetts, found plenty of free parking in Pawtucket, and easy access off Interstate 95.  With the Pawtucket Armory being located in the City’s 307 acre Arts District, there was no sales tax was charged on purchases.

Over the 13 years that the holiday sale has been held at the Pawtucket Armory, gradual improvements were made to this building.  Propane heaters used during the first years were replaced with an efficient gas heating system and rest room facilities were built out.  Over the last couple of years a new wooden floor was installed in the huge drill hall with the walls and ceiling being painted.

Bryce, employed by the Providence Journal as a freelance illustrator at age 12 who was has received undergraduate and master degrees in painting and illustration and teaches art at local colleges, says that the Armory’s drill hall perfectly showcases the artist’s one-of-a-kind art work. “I cannot even image another space that would be so perfect,” he says, stressing that the “beautiful space” gives shoppers a “breath-taking experience.” when they are browsing around looking for that piece of art.

With two years under his belt as President, Bryce has worked to put his finger prints on the Holiday sale.  With the silent auction being completed by the end of the first weekend, he successfully pushed his group to create artist showcase which highlights each unique artist’s works.

Live artist demonstrations and videos are scheduled every hour on the second weekend to show the process of making art in different artistic mediums, Bryce added, noting that this “creates an interesting and interactive environment for the shopper.”

For additional information about this year’s foundry Artists Show, please visit www.foundryshow.com or www.facebook.com/foundryshow.  Or listen to advertising spots place don Rhode Island National Public Radio.

New Budget Deal Protects Seniors’ Pocketbooks

Published in Woonsocket Call on November 1, 2015

Just days after a Republican-controlled House passed legislation with a vote of 266-167 to prevent the U.S. government from going into default on its debt obligations on Nov. 3, also averting a potential federal government shutdown next month, on Friday, Oct.30, the Republican-led upper chamber followed suit.  Just after 3:00 a.m., the Senate voted 64-35 to approve a two-year bipartisan budget plan sending the bill to President Obama for his signature.

Before Friday’s Senate vote, on Thursday afternoon GOP Presidential contender Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)’s 20 minute filibuster fizzled, with Senate leadership moving forward for the budget bills consideration.  The measure had strong support for passage.  Retiring House GOP Speaker John Boehner with Congressional leaders from both political parties and President Barack Obama pulled together, putting aside differences, to craft the bill.

.           Before the companion legislation was taken up by the House and Senate, in a statement AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins, representing 38 million baby boomers and seniors, called on Congressional leaders and their members to support the bipartisan agreement, one that financially protect older Americans.   Jenkins detailed a number of provisions within the 144 page bill that would “reduce skyrocketing Medicare Part B premiums and alleviate the challenges faced by the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Trust Fund.”

Rhode Island Lawmakers Give Thumbs Up

U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), called the bipartisan budget agreement “a credible compromise,” noting that “It is only a two-year patch, but it puts us on a much better path forward.   Reed, who sits on the powerful Appropriations Committee, called on the House and Senate Appropriations committees to “quickly reach consensus and produce a detailed omnibus spending package by the Dec. 11 deadline.”

“This budget deal will provide much-need relief from harmful sequester cuts and give the nation a measure of certainly we have lacked amid the patchwork of stop-gap spending bills in recent years,” added U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

Whitehouse noted the bipartisan budget deal provides “much-needed relief from harmful sequester cuts and gives the nation a measure of certainty it has “lacked amid the patchwork of stop-gap spending bills passed in recent years.”

With 37,000 Rhode Islander’s relying on the SSDI program it was easy for Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) to support the bipartisan compromise budget plan because it “prevents a 20 percent cut to SSDI benefits and extends the solvency of this critical program an additional seven years, as well as protecting thousands of Rhode Island seniors from an increase in their Medicare premiums.”

“We need to do more to protect Social Security benefits for seniors, ensure cost-of-living adjustments are calculated in a way that accounts for their needs, and lift the cap on payroll taxes so millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share,” said Rhode Island’s Democratic Congressman.

On the side line, aging advocates were also closely watching the action in both chambers, too.  “We are glad that the Budget passed by Congress this week lets people who rely on Medicare breathe a bit easier – knowing their premiums and deducible will not skyrocket next year,” said Judith Stein, founder and executive director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy. “However, we still have concerns about the way in which the Part B cost-sharing resolution is paid for, and concerns about the expenses underlying the original Part B increases.”

“The Center continues to urge law-makers to join Congressman Courtney (CT-2) in asking Secretary Burwell to investigate and fix the underlying reasons for the huge increase in Part B costs,” said Stein. “Much of the increase seems to come from parallel increases in billing inpatient hospital care to Part B – which was never meant to pay for such care – through the use of so-called ‘outpatient’ Observation Status.”

Older Americans Protected by Enacted Budget Plan

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 would raise the nation’s debt ceiling through March 2017, allowing the government to borrow to pay its debt. During these two years it allow Congressional lawmakers to lift budget caps for defense and domestic programs by $80 billion.

The passed budget plan derails a 52 percent Medicare Part B premium increase to 30 percent of beneficiaries, which would have hit millions of seniors in their wallets next year. Similarly, the deductible was projected to increase for these individuals to $223 next year.  But thanks to the budget agreement passed this week, the deductible will instead have a more modest increase from the current amount of $147 to approximately $167.

A general fund loan to the Medicare trust fund lessens the premium and deducible increases. Beneficiaries will repay this loan by a $3 per month premium surcharge over a five-year period.

According to the enacted budget plan, next year, only the 30 percent of the beneficiaries hit by the premium increase would pay this $3 premium surcharge.  In 2017 and beyond, all Medicare beneficiaries not subject to the hold harmless provision in a given year would pay a $3 monthly surcharge theoretically until the general fund loan is repaid..

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is expected to announce final premiums for 2016 by the beginning of November.

Keeping SSDI Afloat

The enacted budget plan also prevents a 20 percent cut in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits that would have occurred in late 2016 impacting 11 million recipients nationwide.  The enacted law now ensures at least 7 years of certainty that SSDI will pay full benefits.  Now, the passed budget measure “reallocates” a small percentage of the Social Security payroll tax to the SSDI program.  This has occurred 11 times.  But, GOP lawmakers have blocked recent efforts to transfer funds as a bargaining chip to force Congress and the Obama Administration to make cuts to Social Security benefits.

The new law would also tightens up the SSDI review process by requiring a physician or psychologist to review applications before a decision is made.  It ensures that application reviews are uniform nationally.  Finally, it requires the Social Security Administration to reject medical evidence presented in a disability application that was provided by “unlicensed” or “unsanctioned” physicians.

It also attacks Social Security fraud and abuse by providing additional funding to contact case reviews ensuring the applicants are entitled to the benefits, improves the fraud-fighting capacity of the SSA’s Office of Inspector General and increases penalties for those physicians, lawyers, translators who perpetuate fraud.

Finally, the bipartisan budget agreement closes loopholes in the current SSA law that allows higher-income recipients to exploit the rules for applying for benefits, with the goal of receiving large pension checks than Congress intended, and which most retirees are able to receive.

The savings made in the Social Security and SSDI programs remain in the Social Security trust funds and can only be used to pay for future benefits.

With Representative Paul D. Ryan now becoming the 62nd speaker of the House, the nation waits to see if the Wisconsin lawmaker has the special political skills to rein in the ultra-conservative wing of his party.  With only 374 days before the upcoming 2016  presidential and congressional elections America’s federal lawmakers must begin to work together to craft laws that will enhance the quality of life of the nation’s retirees.  Compromise is not a dirty word to those residing outside the Washington, DC beltway.  Gridlock is.