‘From the Capitol’ – Support for Families

February 2, 2012

With only one week remaining until the start of this year’s legislative session, it is essential to focus on some of the important priorities that are sure to be thoroughly discussed and debated. While jobs will remain the top issue for those who are unemployed or underemployed around the state, this session will likely also focus on education and aging issues. In December, Governor Malloy and legislative leaders announced that education reform would be a main priority. Indeed, there are many improvements that could be made. Along with some other legislators, I will be advocating for an aging agenda to help improve some of the adverse developments that have recently been affecting our senior population.

As an elder law attorney with over 25 years of experience, I possess a strong understanding of the issues involving our senior citizens. Connecticut is an aging state with one of the oldest populations in the nation, and babyboomers continue to head toward retirement. Recently, TopRetirements.com ranked our state as the worst state to retire because of the high property and income taxes and the high cost of living.

Over the past year, essential home care and senior nutrition programs have been negatively affected. The Connecticut Home Care Program for Elders, or CHCPE, is a program that helps seniors remain in their homes and receive the care that they need. In 2011, the copay was increased to 7% and spousal assistance was cut, making it harder for seniors to afford the program. I will be supporting methods of making it more affordable for seniors to “age in place.”

While funding for senior nutrition programs has remained stable at the state level, the amount reaching nonprofit groups who administer the programs has fallen significantly. As a board member at the Southwestern Connecticut Agency on Aging, I am distinctly aware of the problem. Support has dropped off by almost $100,000 at a time when demand has increased due to the poor economy. We cannot let this happen, and I instructed my staff to contact the Department of Social Services to account for where this funding is going and how we can fix it.

What can we do to support the senior community? Over the next few months, I will be unveiling an aging agenda with the support of other state legislators. An important part of this agenda is the “aging in place” initiative that is a cost-effective method of keeping seniors and their families happy and healthy. There are many arguments to support home care over institutional care.

First, our seniors want to remain at home. In talking with many constituents, I can count on one hand the number of people who say that they would rather live in a nursing home. Second, the cost of nursing home’s institutional care is more than that of home care. Third, studies have shown that home care is arguably better than institutional care because the care provided by a loved one is more in touch with the patient who often suffers from some form of diminished capacity. The proposed unionization of Personal Care Assistants (PCAs) is another government trend that will add more costs to families who care for loved ones at home. It seems to me that it is common sense to advocate for increasing access to community care because it is what people want, less costly and arguably better. So why can’t we do it? Quite simply, because our government hasn’t made it the priority it deserves. In the long run, “aging in place” will both save the state money and benefit those who are in need of essential home care.

In addition, legislators must revisit the possibility of exempting the social security tax. It could be an important step forward for those seniors who rely heavily on social security. Senator Len Suzio of Meriden has been a vocal supporter of this movement and has been collecting signatures for his “Axe the Tax” petition to end the state income tax on social security benefits. It is an idea worth exploring to help seniors receive more of the retirement benefits that they have earned after working and paying into the system for many decades.

While these aging proposals will be discussed throughout the legislative session, we also cannot forget about the younger members of our state. As we all know, our children are our future. Smart reforms and investment must be seriously considered to improve the state’s education system. I welcome any of your input or comments regarding issues that you believe are important. Please feel free to contact me and share your thoughts or ideas by sending an email to [email protected] or calling 1-800-842-1421.