Aging Groups: House GOP Tax Rewrite a Turkey

Published in the Woonsocket Call on November 19, 2017

Thanksgiving approaches the GOP-Controlled House has passed H.R. 1, “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” its tax reform legislation, on November 16, by a partisan vote of 227 to 206, with 13 Republicans siding with the Democrats. The House tax bill would dramatically reduce corporate and individual income taxes and would increase the deficit by $ 1.7 trillion over 10 years — — possibly offset by $ $338 billion saved by repealing the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate.

On Thursday, after four days of debate, members of the Senate Finance Committee voted 14 to 12 along party lines to approve their version of the tax package. Now the full Senate is expected to consider the bill after Thanksgiving hoping to quickly get it to President Donald Trump’s desk for his signature.

Medicare and ACA Takes a Hit

Matt Shepard, of the Center for Medicare Advocacy, warns that the GOP’s attempt to overhaul to nation’s tax code is an immediate threat to the Medicare program and healthcare coverage to millions of Americans covered by ACA.

According to Shepard, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects that the huge cost for the Republican tax plan would result in immediate, automatic and ongoing cuss to Medicare — $25 billion in 2018 alone.

After the GOP’s failed attempts to repeal the ACA, the Senate now uses a provision in its tax rewrite plan to finally repeal the ACA’s individual mandate to purchase insurance coverage in order to help pay for tax cuts, he says. If the GOP tax reform legislation becomes law, 13 million more people will be without health coverage and increasing premiums will disproportionately affect people age 50 who are not yet eligible for Medicare.

“These new dangers are on top of an already bad bill. Congress is engaged in a rushed effort to push through a massive tax cut for corporations and the wealthy, presenting a clear and present danger to health coverage, other vital programs, and families throughout the nation,” says Shepard.

“After adding $1.5 trillion to the federal debt, policymakers will use the higher debt – created by the tax cuts – to argue that deep cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other bedrock programs are necessary,” predicts Shepard.

Responding to the House passage of its tax reform bill, just days ago, in a statement AARP Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy & Engagement Officer Nancy LeaMond expressed disappointment in passage, warning that the legislation is harmful to millions of Americans age 65 and over.

Older Tax Payers Get Financial Hit with GOP Tax Code Fix

“AARP estimates H.R. 1 will raise taxes on 1.2 million seniors next year alone. Millions more older Americans will see tax increases in the future, or at best, no tax relief at all,” says LeaMond.

As Congress continues its debate to hammer out tax reform, LeaMond calls on lawmakers to retain the medical expense deduction at the 7.5% income threshold for older tax filers. “Nearly three-quarters of tax filers who claim the medical expense deduction are age 50 or older and live with a chronic health condition or illness. Seventy percent of filers who claim this deduction have income below $75,000.,” she says, urging that Congress also retain the standard deduction for older taxpayers, which helps reduce tax liability and can help seniors avoid a tax increase.

AARP also urges Congress to assist working family caregivers in a new tax code that creates a new, non-refundable tax credit to offset the often high out-of-pocket costs associated with caring for a loved one.

Finally, LeaMond calls on Congress to reject adding a provision in the tax bill that will lead to higher premium costs in the individual insurance market, as well as 13 million Americans losing their health coverage, including 2 million Americans who would lose employer-sponsored coverage.

In a statement, Max Richtman, President and CEO, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, calls the House passed tax rewrite, “Robin Hood-in-Reverse tax legislation.” Now, the House Republicans have sent out a “crystal-clear message “that the elderly, disabled, poor, and working class are no longer part of the GOP’s vision for America,” he says.

Blooming Deficit Might Trigger Raid Social Security

“This craven giveaway to the wealthy and big corporations at the expense of everyone else flies in the face of public opinion, basic decency, and good old common sense, says Richtman, “By ballooning the deficit, Republicans have teed up a raid on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to make up the difference,” he warns.

“The repeal of the medical expense deduction will punish seniors paying out of pocket for treatment of chronic and serious diseases – or long-term care., says Richtman.

With Senate Republicans gearing up their efforts to pass their version of the House’s “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” Richtman calls on Senators “to show courage and to do what House Republicans refused to [do]: stop the tax juggernaut before it does irreparable harm to our nation.”

If the GOP tax reform legislation is passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump, we will quickly find out by Christmas if it a financial gift to America’s middle class or a lump of coal in their stockings. Aging groups already know this answer.

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New Report Charges that States Disfranchise Older Voters

Published in Woonsocket Call on November 11, 2017

Since 1948, Wisconsin resident Christine Krucki had voted in every presidential election, but effectively lost her right to vote when her state enacted a voter ID law in 2011. An old Illinois photo ID and proof of her residence in Wisconsin was just not good enough to allow her to cast a vote.

Krucki did not have a birth certificate and was forced to purchase one for $20. However, her last name on the document did not match her current last name, changed when she married. She then paid $15 dollars for a copy of her marriage certificate , but that document listed her list name differently than her birth name, as she was adopted a different name after moving in with her stepsister when she was in her early 20s. Changing her name on the Illinois marriage certificate to match her birth certificate to solve the problem would cost between $ 150 and
$ 300.

The obstacles Krucki faced when attempting to exercise her right to vote are encountered by millions of older Americans when they attempt to vote. With the 2018 mid-term elections less than a year away, two U.S. Senators release a report detailing Krucki’s problem at the polls, and notes how suppressive state laws and inaccessible voting locations disenfranchise older voters.

Pushing Older Voters Away from the Polls

Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Ranking Member of the Special Committee on Aging, and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ranking Member of the Committee on Rules and Administration’s 15 page report, “Barriers to Voting for Older Americans: How States are Making it Harder for Seniors to Vote,” finds that strict voter identification (ID) laws, closure of voting locations, inaccessible polling places and limits on early voting and absentee ballots are preventing seniors and people with disabilities from casting votes.

“The right to vote is one of the fundamental pillars of American democracy. But, that right is under threat for millions of older Americans and individuals with disabilities across the nation,” stated Sen. Bob Casey in a statement announcing the report’s release. “This report brings awareness to the unique challenges that seniors face in exercising their constitutional right. We must work to ensure that all Americans have equal access to the voting booth.”

“The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy, but exercising that right is becoming harder and harder for many Americans, especially our seniors,” add Sen. Klobuchar, noting that long lines, inaccessible polling places, and strict voter ID laws have become barriers to voting for older Americans. “This important report shines a light on the hardships these voters face and proposes common sense solutions to make voting easier for everyone. We need to do more to restore Americans’ confidence in our political system. Our first step should be making it easier for their voices to be heard on Election Day,” he says.

The report, released on Nov. 2, also includes new information from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), which found that only 17 percent of the polling places it examined during the 2016 election were fully accessible. Most polling places GAO examined had one or more impediments from parking to the voting area and had accessible voting stations that could impede private and independent voting.

According to the report, suppressive voting laws and issues of accessibility affect tens of millions of older Americans and people with disabilities. In the 2016 election, 30 percent of the voters were between the ages of 50 and 64-years-old and 13 percent were 65 and older. Sixteen million (11.5 percent) of the 139 million votes were cast by people with disabilities. As the baby boomer population continues to age, these restrictions and barriers are likely to adversely impact more Americans.

In order to protect the voting rights of older voters and persons with disabilities, the report calls on Congress to ensure the full authorization and empowerment of all federal voting laws, which will make polling places accessible to older voters. Access to polls can also be increased by allowing opportunities for accessible early voting and absentee voting. Finally, it calls on limiting restrictions on voting and ensure that election laws fully consider the needs and abilities of older Americans.

Reflections from Rhode Island

“The depth of this issue varies from state to state,” says AARP State Director Kathleen Connell, who herself is a former Rhode Island Secretary of State. “I believe that older Rhode Islanders are well protected here, but we must be vigilant. Older Rhode Islanders are traditionally the most engaged voting group. Their voices are important and should not be silenced in any way.”

“I would add, however, that deliberate voter suppression is a threat to voters of all ages and the implications are as serious as they are obvious.

“When Voter ID legislation was passed in Rhode Island, we worked with then Secretary of State Ralph Mollis to set up photo booths to create ID cards for voters who did not have proper photo IDs. It was well received, but transportation was identified as a barrier to reaching some potential voters. Fortunately there were other remedies in place and, I have to say, no one contacted us saying they were prohibited from voting.”

Adds, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, this report presents a troubling situation across our country. The right to vote is sacred. I have spent the past three years modernizing our elections so that we can engage and empower all Rhode Islanders. Civic participation at all age levels is critical to our success as a state. I will continue to work to remove barriers so that eligible Rhode Islanders can have easier access to the ballot.”

Joe Graziano, Gorbea’s Communication Coordinator, notes that the GAO findings cited in this “Barriers to Voting” report is based on Council on State Governments research that his Department did not have a chance to review. “While it is not called “early voting”, Rhode Island does have an emergency mail ballot period that allows Rhode Islanders to cast their ballot ahead of Election Day without an excuse, says Graziano, noting that older voters have been able to use this system, in fact, 45 percent of the emergency mail ballots cast last year were by Rhode Islanders 65 and older.

Graziano admits that the GAO report shines a light on some of the barriers to voting across the nation. “Secretary Gorbea agrees that access to voting is critical and has successfully strived to improve it in the last three years including the introduction of online voter registration, automatic voter registration and the implementation of new, easier to use elections technologies (voting machines and ePoll books). Additionally, she has redesigned the ballot and the voter information guide to make them easier to read and understand. She also introduced legislation to update and expand opportunities for early, in-person voting,” he says.

“As a way to mitigate the negative impact of the photo ID requirement for voting, the Rhode Island Department of State has made sure that free photo Voter IDs are available to people in the communities where they live,” says Graziano, noting that last year alone, the Secretary of State staff held 51 events at senior centers and retirement facilities to ensure that eligible, older voters had proper voter identification, were introduced to new voting technologies and had any of their elections related questions answered by our Elections Division staff.

Looking to the upcoming General Assembly Session, Graziano says that Secretary Gorbea will once again introduce legislation for early in-person voting. “The legislation would eliminate the need for emergency mail ballots by allowing voters to cast their ballot at their local city or town hall, up to 20 days prior to an election, including the Saturday and Sunday prior to Election Day,” he says.

For more details about the Senate voting obstacle report, go to http://www.aging.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Voting%20Rights%20Report.pdf.

RI Minority Elder Task Force Spotlights ‘Everyday Heroes’

Published in the Woonsocket Call on November 5, 2017

Last Thursday, the Rhode Island Minority Elder Task Force (RIMETF), a nonprofit group that advocates for cultural competent services for elders from minority groups, recognized “Everyday Heroes” who make a difference in the community while also raising money to provide limited emergency assistance to low-income seniors in crisis situations.

RIMETF fund raising efforts combine with grants to fulfill its mission of financially helping low-income seniors, says Susan Sweet, the nonprofit’s founder and treasurer. RIMETF provides $200 to low income seniors to help pay utility costs, rent, food, medications, clothing, furniture, personal healthcare items and other necessities of life, she says, noting that approximately 80 grants, about half going to minority applicants, are given out annually.

Sweet says, “During the last two decades, RIMETF provided more than $53,000 in grants, successfully raising approximately $7,000 at the November 2 fundraiser. Over 150 supporters in attendance from around the state came to the East Providence Cape Verdean Progressive Center to honor eleven ‘Everyday Heroes’ who made outstanding contributions to many people throughout Rhode Island.”

According to Chairperson Lori Brennan-Almeida, her nonprofit group’s fundraising efforts are fluid, changing every year as needed. “Last year the nonprofit group held a full-day learning conference on Cultural Competence in Healthcare and Social Services for nurses, social workers and Certified Nursing Assistants, attracting over 100 attendees.”

“The idea for recognizing unsung heroes who work with Rhode Island’s minority residents was tossed around for the past couple of years,” says Almeida, noting that some of the honorees of this year’s fundraiser had never been recognized for their outstanding work

Introducing RIMETF’s 2007 “Everyday Heroes”…

Kathy Blunt

After Blunt, at 74 years of age, initially interviewed at Orchard View Manor, she got a letter a week later informing her that she did not get the job. Luckily for the residents, the position became open again and she was hired at the East Providence-based nursing facility in 2010 and quickly became an “indispensable gift to residents and a team builder between departments,” say facility staff.

Joseph Caffey, Sr.

The late Joseph Caffey, Sr., a visionary for high standards of service in affordable housing during his 24 years as the President and CEO of Omni Development and a leader in the Rhode Island’s affordable housing sector, were key to his recognition by RIMETF. Caffey’s vision led him to partner with the Providence Center to bring a mental health satellite office to the Olneyville-based Valley Apartments to assist the mental health needs of the tenants. He also hired employees with social work degrees to provide clinical services to tenants.

Trudence “Trudy” Conroy

Staff at the Newport County Senior Health Insurance Program (SHIP) consider Trudy to be a model volunteer who brings her knowledge, warm wit and compassion into counseling and advice to assist Medicare eligible seniors choose a Medicare insurance plan that fits their specific health needs. Trudy has amassed almost 700 hours as a SHIP volunteer over the past two years.

Carol Corey

For over 20 years, Corey, 75, of West Warwick, has visited the sick and lonely residing in local nursing facilities and hospitals. She shops for these individuals, bringing them needed toiletries, special treats, flowers, and even small articles of clothing, all paid on her own. She is known for being “low key” and never forgetting birthdays or special occasions, and celebrating holidays with people who have no friends or family.

Garo Emdjian

In 1980 Emdjian, now 76, emigrated from Armenia to the U.S. and he has never looked back. Emdjian’s life mission now is to give back to his adopted country, for over 25 years giving countless volunteer hours to local nonprofit agencies that have included Rhode Island Meals-on-Wheels, Fox Point Senior Center, Federal Hill House, Hamilton House, the Blood Bank and Fox Point Manor. Despite the many honors he has received over the years, Emdjian will tell you he does not volunteer for the recognition but for the true love and commitment to be of service to others.

Cynthia Hiatt, Esq.

Just six months after Hiatt retired from a 37 year career serving as Chief Legal Counsel for the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights, she came back to fight discrimination and racism again by serving as one of the seven governor-appointed commissioners of the Commission. As a volunteer Hiatt meets monthly to rule on cases and presides over hearings and investigative conferences, continuing to fight to enforce antidiscrimination laws and to end discrimination against older Rhode Islanders, the disabled and people of color.

Adrienne Marchetti

Those who know Marchetti as Director of the Pawtucket Soup Kitchen, use descriptive words such as: competent, respectful, creative, talented, selfless, as well as generous, and always welcoming to those she serves. Adrienne works 7 days a week from early morning until evening cooking and serving food to some of the poorest residents and homeless individuals in Pawtucket. Even in winter, after a very long day serving those who come to her soup kitchen, she prepares a satisfying supper and what is left over, she delivers to the night shelter at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church to feed their 15 homeless residents.

Christine Reitman

For 26 years, Reitman, a Resident Service Coordinator at Property Advisory Group, has always advocated for her residents, always going above and beyond her normal duties. Recognizing the low income of her residents along with their social and health issues, she organized Saturday coffee hours, passing out needed everyday items to attendees, personally purchased from a local dollar store. The regular gatherings provide residents with a social network and informal forum to talk about personal issues.

Irene Sadlik

Coming to the United States from the Czech Republic nearly 30 years ago, Sadlik, with no formal training in health care, found her life’s passion working for the housekeeping department in a nursing facility. The former seamstress had an exceptional rapport with the residents, quickly responding to their needs and becoming their tireless advocate. Ultimately, to further her goal of working with older Rhode Islander’s she left her job at the nursing facility and opened up her own non-skilled home care agency. She has since taken a cancer patient into her home to try to give her a chance to enjoy her final days.

Mary Kay Uchmanowicz

Uchmanowicz, a Board Certified Audiologist who founded the Smithfield-based Twin Rivers Hearing Health in Smithfield in 2001, uses her empathy and specialized training to treat hearing problems of her older patients. Over the years, she has collected discarded hearing aids and brought them to the Philippines, spending weeks screening and fitting underprivileged children and adults with these donated hearing aids. “It is a privilege to help others,” says the audiologist who volunteers her time providing ear checks, audiometric testing, cleaning hearing aids, and answering questions at North Providence Senior Center and the Villa at St Antoine.

Henrietta “Henrie” Tonia White-Holder

White-Holder, founder and CEO of Higher Ground International, is committed to bringing clean water and sanitation to her native Liberia. Through the nonprofit organization, she opened the new RUKIYA (uplifting) Center on the south side of Providence, which focuses on programs for African immigrants, elders and youth, literacy and workforce issues. Henrie served on the United Way’s Executive Director Leadership Circle, received the Providence Newspaper Guild Public Service Award, the Extraordinary Woman Award for Education, and was conferred the RI Liberian Humanitarian Award.

For more details regarding the work of the RI Minority Elder Task Force or to make a donation, write RIMETF, 5 Leahy Street, Rumford, RI 02916 or call Lori Brennan Almeida, Chairperson, at 401-497-1287.