Senior Connection

Oct 25, 2009

Seniors Get The UnCOLA

Because of the low growth in consumer prices, senior citizens will see no Cost of Living Adjustment in their checks this January.

Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are adjusted annually to reflect the increase, if any, in the cost of living as measured by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) prepared by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The purpose of the annual cost-of-living adjustment
(COLA) is to ensure that the purchasing power of Social Security and SSI benefits is not eroded by inflation.

But now the recession has claimed another victim: Social Security recipients.

In response, on October 14th, President Barack Obama asked Congress to legislate a second round of $250 economic recovery payments to Social Security recipients in 2010. This year’s stimulus bill (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or ARRA) included those payments, which went out to all Social Security beneficiaries in the summer. The President
is now urging Congress to authorize a repeat of that program for the coming year, citing continued economic hardship among the Social Security population.

The $250 figure is equivalent to approximately 2% of the average annual Social Security retirement benefit. It is estimated that the cost of this proposal is $13 billion. This is the White House’s first ARRA extension request. The announcement came on the heels of the news that there will be no cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in 2010, given the country’s negative inflation rate.

“Older adults struggling to make ends meet in this recession will be directly aided by this relief, and we hope the expenditure of these payments will have a stimulative effect on the economy, as well," said Paul J. Lanzikos, President of Mass Home Care. "Given the lack of a cost-of-living adjustment in 2010 for Social Security recipients, this one-time payment will be especially
helpful to those living on a fixed income," Lanzikos said.

According to the Social Security Administration, under present law there is a COLA for Social Security and SSI benefits provided only when there is an increase in the average of the Consumer Price Index-W from the third calendar quarter of the prior year to the third calendar quarter of the current year of at least one-tenth of one percent (0.1 percent). If the CPI-W increases by less than 0.05 percent, or if the CPI-W decreases, there is no COLA. If there is no COLA, Social Security and SSI benefits remain the same. That means for every year after 2010, the Social Security will be lower than it would have been if there had been a COLA in 2010. Since there is no COLA in 2010, the starting point for the measuring period for the 2011 COLA will remain the third calendar quarter of 2008.

There has been an on-going debate in Congress about whether or not the CPI-W accurately measures the impact of inflation on seniors, since their expenditures on consumer goods is much more weighted on medical services and drugs than younger workers.  Congress has yet to agree on creating a special CPI for elders, and as a result the CPI-W is not seen as a fair indicator of the rising costs for drugs and health care out of pocket expenses that seniors face.

Oct 20, 2009


STATEWIDE---As Governor Deval Patrick considers what additonal cuts to make in the state budget, cuts already incurred this year in the elderly home care program have forced more than 1,000 people on a waiting list for services.
According to Mass Home Care, the wait list in the home care and enhanced home care program stood at 1,077 elders as of October 19th. The group said the number is understated, because seniors must be visited at home and assessed for need before their name can go on a wait list.
The waiting list was imposed on September 8th. Forty one days later, more than 1,000 people are waiting. Mass Home Care says that cuts already implemented will push the waiting list up to as many as 6,000 people by the end of June.
"It is ironic that the door to nursing home care is wide open, but the door to home care has been slammed shut for hundreds of seniors," said Al Norman, Executive Director of Mass Home Care. Norman said the Commonwealth's official policy for long term supports is "Community First," but that has translated into 'cut community first' instead.
Norman said that the typical home care client is a woman in her mid 80s who needs significant help with her activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, eating, walking and toileting.
Cutbacks this year have been made to the home care program, the Enhanced Community Options Program, and Community Choices---the three programs that help keep people living in the least restrictive setting.
Based on the 2006 "Equal Choice" law that Mass Home Care wrote, seniors and individuals with disabilities are supposed to be given a choice of where they wish to be served---at home or in an institution. Because of these budget cuts, seniors now have the choice of nursing home care or a waiting list. "We are narrowing some people's choices to a nursing home," Norman noted. "This is exactly what state policy says we should avoid."
Norman said seniors across the state have been contacting the Governor's office urging him not to make another round of cuts to community services. "'Hands off Home Care'" was the message, Norman said. "The hits we've already received have a taken a toll on very vulnerable seniors. It's fiscally short-sighted to cut the programs that keep people out of the more expensive levels of care. In a budget crunch, this is precisely the time to keep home care open, and divert people away from institutions."

Oct 11, 2009

Job Worries

With 105,000 jobs lost over the past year, the Massachusetts economy and the state’s taxpayers continue to struggle and are unable to afford the spending levels prescribed on Beacon Hill. Despite a steady stream of laws in recent years touted by proponents as job generators, lawmakers received a report Thursday showing Massachusetts ranks 46th among states in job creation between 2000 and 2009, a sobering fact that undercuts some arguments about the state’s diverse economy. As Sen. Steven Panagiotakos, the Senate budget chief, pointed out repeatedly at this week’s revenue review hearing, the income tax provides about 60 percent of the state’s tax revenues and the state’s largest pool of tax revenue is inextricably linked to its success or failure in creating jobs. House Republicans, who portrayed a series of approved tax increases as job killers, on Friday began agitating to bring attention to cost-saving proposals the Democrats have turned aside previously, saying the ideas deserve attention again. With immediate budget problems to go along with the gaping fiscal 2011 gap, the proposals –managed care in MassHealth, rules to expedite the sale of surplus land, state employee furloughs, revisiting the Pacheco privatization law, and encouraging medical facilities to return unused, unexpired medications – are likely to get a second look in the months to come. More immediately, House Speaker Robert DeLeo says the next major economic development bill will be centered around legalization of casinos and slot machines at racetracks, a proposal that has generated emotional debate from both sides and which is expected to draw lots of attention in the weeks leading up to an October 29 public hearing. Despite the tough long-term numbers, the rate of job growth has slowed and Patrick says Massachusetts is positioned well to rebound from the recession more quickly than other states. The latest unemployment and jobs data will be released on Thursday. Legislative leaders continue to keep their fall agenda largely under wraps, with DeLeo seeking out initiatives that don’t cost any money and top Hill officials working behind the scenes on an education bill. The Senate has one formal session next week on its radar, a tentative formal on Thursday. The House plans a formal session for Thursday, which could feature consideration of a bill, now before the House Ways and Means Committee, to close out the books on fiscal 2009. Fiscal conservatives will be on the lookout for spending expansions. “I don’t know how we’ll get beyond the fiscal insanity if there’s any new spending in this,” Rep. John Rogers (D-Norwood), a former Ways and Means chair, said Friday. Rogers said the soon-to-be-downgraded revenue estimate would be “screaming at us to do the exact opposite.”

Oct 10, 2009

The Buzz on Beacon Hill

The buzz on Beacon Hill next week is over the contraction state government will soon undergo as Gov. Deval Patrick deals with an eroding tax base, which state revenue officials say could carve between $400 million and $600 million out of this year’s expected collections. Patrick and the Legislature have already deployed waves of tax increases and spending cuts and poured billions of dollars from the state rainy day fund and federal stimulus dollars into the budget, leaving them with few popular choices to address the new red ink in the $27 billion budget and next year’s gap, estimated preliminarily at between $2 billion and $3 billion. Groups of developmentally disabled individuals have taken over the governor’s lobby in a regular vigil to protest potential cuts, which appear inevitable by month’s end. Administration officials are making no promises about which services and programs might be preserved as Jay Gonzalez, Patrick’s new budget chief, looks to officially lower the fiscal 2010 revenue estimate by Thursday. “We’re going through a process. We need to know what our options are,” Health and Human Services Secretary JudyAnn Bigby told the News Service Friday. “Obviously, the governor is going to hear a lot of recommendations, a lot of cases made for particular things. It’s going to be a couple weeks before we even know what the level of cuts will need to be. We are very hopeful we can make sure that we do the most we can to maintain the supports that people are looking for.”


To Enhance The Quality Of Life For Area Seniors And Their Caregivers, The Central Massachusetts Agency On Aging Will Provide Leadership, Information And Resources, Coordination Of Services And Advocacy.