Elder rights groups in Massachusetts say Gov. Deval Patrick’s policy agenda has all but forgotten the state’s aging population. The statement follows a troubling series of proposals, decisions and developments that have hit hard at services for vulnerable elders, according to leaders of AARP, the Massachusetts Association of Older Americans (MAOA), Massachusetts Councils on Aging and Senior Center Directors (MCOA), Mass Home Care, and the Massachusetts Senior Action Council (MSAC).
The groups sent a letter to Gov. Patrick on January 18, 2012, urging him to restore the Executive Office of Elder Affairs (EOEA) as a cabinet agency, and giving the Secretariat the full responsibilities it has under state law. In 2009, the governor proposed weakening Elder Affairs via an Article 87 reorganization, but later withdrew the plan under pressure from elder rights groups.
Those same groups now charge that the Patrick Administration went ahead without legislative authority, and diminished the role and stature of EOEA so that it functions today as a department, not a secretariat, and is not managing long term supports for elders needing institutional or home based care, which is more than $3 billion in services.
The Executive Office of Health and Human Services has taken over much of the decision-making regarding long term care for seniors despite the statutory language directing EOEA to manage long term services and supports. This weakening of EOEA has been incrementally happening for the past three years, the groups said.
Almost one in five Massachusetts residents is age 60 plus, and this group is the most rapidly growing segment of the state’s population.
“There are more than 653,000 households in this state with someone over the age of 60, and they’re wondering if anyone in public office is paying attention to their needs,” said Al Norman, executive director of Mass Home Care. “If there is an elderly agenda in this state, it’s a well kept secret; it’s as if 20 percent of our population has just disappeared off the public policy screen.”
The groups cite the following seven of many indicators of a lack of concern for the aging population in Massachusetts:
- ·In his fiscal year 2013 budget proposal, Gov. Deval Patrick cuts the Elder Nutrition Program in the state by $1.5 million, taking almost 250,000 meals off the table;
- ·More than 1,100 elders are on a waiting list for enhanced home care, and since March 1, the basic home care program also has a wait list for the rest of the year.
- ·The funding formula for Councils on Aging, through the Local Aid Formula Grant, has been reduced by more than 10% despite an increase of nearly 200,000 seniors according the 2010 US Census;
- ·The MBTA is proposing fare increases, service cuts and changes to The Ride that disproportionately impact elders and persons with disabilities;
- ·A national report issued last September by AARP shows Massachusetts ranks in the bottom half, at number 30, of all states when it comes to the overall affordability and quality of long term services and supports – including home care, adult day health services, residential services such as assisted living and nursing homes, and support for family caregivers.
- ·A report issued by MAOA’s national partner, Wider Opportunities for Women, found recently that over half of the state’s elders typically face a budget shortfall of at least $10,248 annually, making it impossible for them to meet even their most basic needs for food, health care and shelter. Massachusetts ranked the worst of all states.
- ·The Executive Office of Elder Affairs (EOEA) has been diminished in its roles and responsibilities over the past several years, with the Secretary no longer managing long term care, and reporting to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, not directly to the governor, as does a true secretariat.
“In 1971, Massachusetts had the vision to create the first in the nation cabinet level agency dedicated solely to addressing the needs of our residents as they age,” said Chet Jakubiak, executive director, MAOA. “Aging isn’t just about medical needs; it’s about transportation, housing, community service, employment opportunities and more. Now, with so many elders facing economic disaster every day, it is more critical than ever that the Executive Office of Elder Affairs be restored to a full Cabinet level secretariat that truly contributes to big picture policy decisions.”
“Bottom line: Massachusetts seniors are worse off now than they were a few years ago, and it’s not just because of the recession,” said Deborah Banda, director of AARP Massachusetts. “We know many tough decisions must be made as our economy struggles to recover. But what does it say about our values when the state has more than $1 billion in its rainy day fund and our leaders aren’t willing to dip into it to protect meals for our seniors?” According to the AARP Foundation, more than 140,000 older adults in Massachusetts risk going hungry every day.
“Councils on Aging and senior centers are more important than ever as our aging population grows,” said David P. Stevens, executive director of MCOA. “They provide vital services, including congregate meals, that keep seniors independent, healthy and engaged in their communities. Without them, many seniors would need more expensive supports and care; if we adequately fund these centers, it will save money in the long run.”
The groups are calling on elected officials at every level, from Town Halls to the State House, to develop action plans for meeting the needs of the growing aging population statewide and in their respective communities.
“Despite having worked hard their entire lives nearly half of all seniors in Massachusetts struggle to meet their basic needs. With this population expected to double by the year 2025 we need to ensure the Commonwealth is planning ahead to ensure the supports are in place,” said Carolyn Villers, executive director of MSAC. “Don’t forget: seniors vote. With state and national elections coming this fall, every candidate should be able to articulate what their vision is for meeting the needs of our aging population in Massachusetts and nationwide.”
“The governor has a lot on his plate,” Norman concluded. “But elderly issues seem to have dropped off the table.”