By Al Norman
Elder Advocates in Massachusetts have become spoiled. Since the mid 1960s, we have had a U.S. senator who always voted with seniors. We didn’t have to talk Ted Kennedy into supporting our issues. It was, in a sense, too easy. Those days are gone.
With U.S. Senator Scott Brown, R-Mass., we have to start all over again.
That’s why more than 350 citizens gathered outside the Boston office of Sen. Brown recently to protest his vote against increased Medicaid funding to states.
Sen. Brown actually did not vote against the enhanced Medicaid funding — he did something even worse. He voted not to let the Senate vote on the matter at all. The junior senator from Massachusetts told the media he did not want to vote for a bill that increased the federal deficit. His suggestion was that Congress should use up unutilized stimulus money instead.
That idea was actually being batted around in Congress — but the result is that Brown ended up voting to prevent the so-called FMAP bill from coming to a vote, and Massachusetts — for now — has lost as much as $680 million in federal funding. Scott Brown would not let this bill reach the floor for an up or down vote.
We know exactly how much Brown’s vote cost us, because the State Legislature set up the budget in such a way as to clearly identify some accounts as dependent on an “FMAP Budget Relief Fund.” If the enhanced federal money was not passed, the state budget would be cut. It’s rare in politics to see such a simple cause and effect result.
Home care will lose a total of $14.7 million because of inaction on the FMAP bill — $2.5 million of that is the nursing home pre-admissions counseling program that Gov. Patrick finally released in May of this year — too late for most of it to be used. Now it seems unlikely that counseling people on their options to a nursing home will be implemented in fiscal year 2011.
Part of the total budget cuts includes $8 million in home care funding — a loss that will guarantee waiting lists in-home care for the next 12 months. This past year we had waiting lists for most of the year, so the doorway to care at home will be open just a crack, while the door to nursing homes remains wide open. The care management account will also lose $2.8 million.
Brown’s vote also resulted in a loss of $1.5 million for protective services for elders suffering from abuse or neglect. This means that some cases of elder abuse will not be fully investigated.
The fact is, the U.S. Senate had enough votes to pass the FMAP bill — but a minority of lawmakers were able to stop the bill by preventing it from getting 60 votes to close off debate. So the bill just died, and Sen. Brown helped kill it. It doesn’t matter if Brown had a better plan or not. The result of all this maneuvering is that thousands of seniors in our state will be hurt. One protestor at the Brown rally carried a sign, which read, “Thank you, Filibuster Brown.”
It is strange to hear lawmakers worry about the deficits after the multi-billion dollar bail out of Wall Street these past two years. It seems that Congress is willing to give a hand out to bankers and financial speculators — but no hand out of bed to low-income seniors.
Ted Kennedy made us lazy. We forgot what it was like to have to pressure our senators to do the right thing. So we will have to learn all over again what it’s like to be disappointed by our elected officials. We will have to watch innocent seniors get hurt in the jostling over money and politics.
Sen. Brown, you let us down.
Al Norman is the Executive Director of Mass Home Care. He can be reached at 413-773-5555, or at firstname.lastname@example.org