Category: Blog

Seniors blast state for ‘failing elders’

By Katie Lannan / State House News ServicePosted Mar 13, 2019 at 2:01 AM  

BOSTON – Gathering in the State House Monday, dozens of senior advocates chanted to state legislators: “Massachusetts can do better.”

Kathy Paul, president of the North Shore chapter of the Massachusetts Senior Action Council, led the chant, encouraging advocates to keep pressure on their lawmakers.

“We will not stop until we see the senior health care gap close,” Paul said at a lobby day hosted by senior and home care groups. “We will not stop until every senior can afford food. We will not stop until housing and health care is a right, because Massachusetts can do better.”

Paul and other speakers at the event urged seniors and caregivers to share their stories and make sure their issues remain top-of-mind for the lawmakers who will build next year’s state budget and consider the many priority bills filed by supportive members this year.

“This system is broken, and it is failing our elders, and it is time to change that,” said Sarah Blakeney of the Senior Action Council. “I stand here before you, at the age of 91, to say, we should take a stand.”

According to statistics presented by advocacy groups, one in 10 adults age 60 and over in Massachusetts receive food assistance benefits, more than 844,000 Bay Staters are caring for aging parents or loved ones, and the average Social Security benefit for a family of adults 65-years-old or older is about $16,791 per year.

At 1.4 million, adults 60 and older make up 21 percent of the state’s population.

The event was organized by several groups, including the Senior Action Council, the AARP of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Councils on Aging, Mass. Home Care, the Alzheimer’s Association, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, the Home Care Alliance of Massachusetts and the Home Care Aide Council. Advocates highlighted legislation addressing access to health care for seniors, support for family caregivers and home care workers, and housing affordability.

Mattie Lacewell of the Senior Action Council’s Springfield chapter said caring for an ailing loved one can take a toll. An 82-year-old who described herself as a “fairly healthy old lady,” Lacewell said her sister-in-law suffers from Alzheimer’s and her brother, who had been his wife’s primary caregiver, is now in declining health.

Lacewell said her brother has had to fill out an “overwhelming” number of forms, but has not been able to get MassHealth coverage for his wife. Applying for food assistance has also “been tough,” she said.

“It’s like you’re going around in a circle. What I hope for is that the application process could be a little more simplified, because it’s frustrating, it really, really is,” Lacewell said. “When we see our representatives today, we’re going to tell them — we’re not going to ask them anymore, we’re going to tell them — that we need a better system. We want to end the struggle of applying for the help that we’re entitled to.”

Bills filed by Sen. Sal DiDomenico and Rep. Jay Livingstone (S 678, H 1173) would create a common application for benefits, including MassHealth and the supplemental nutrition assistance (SNAP), or food stamps. According to the Law Reform Institute, allowing simultaneous applications for MassHealth and SNAP would increase food access for more than 100,000 elders in Massachusetts.

Lacewell called it “atrocious” that someone on a fixed income might need to choose between paying for groceries and medication.

Gov. Charlie Baker, in his fiscal 2020 budget, proposed expanding eligibility for the Medicare Savings Program, which help seniors pay for Medicare premiums and out-of-pocket expenses. Baker’s proposal would increase the income limits for different tiers of the program — currently ranging from 100 percent to 135 percent of the federal poverty level — to 130 percent to 165 percent of the federal poverty level.

Advocates on Monday voiced support for that plan, but also called for the passage of bills (S 640, H 615) that would expand Medicare Savings Program eligibility to 300 percent of the poverty level.

Other bills backed by the groups include one that would require Massachusetts Senior Care Options plans to provide consultations with experts when members are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and related dementias (H 614, S 367), and another to establish a tax credit for family caregivers (H 2608, S 702).

Sen. Patricia Jehlen, a 75-year-old Somerville Democrat who chairs the Elder Affairs Committee with Newton Rep. Ruth Balser, told the senior advocates that they are “helping to change the image of old people.”

“I think you’re changing the image of us as being victims, of people who need help — we all need help, but as people who are problem solvers as well,” she said.

https://www.patriotledger.com/news/20190313/seniors-blast-state-for-failing-elders

https://www.heraldnews.com/news/20190313/seniors-blast-state-for-failing-elders

https://www.southcoasttoday.com/news/20190311/seniors-blast-state-for-failing-our-elders

https://somerville.wickedlocal.com/news/20190312/seniors-blast-state-for-failing-our-elders

Cambridgeport Update: BU Bridge and Safety

Cambridgeport Update: BU Bridge and Safety

Last week, I attended the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association meeting, where MassDOT gave us an update on the state of the BU Bridge and how we should address traffic issues moving forward. For those who could not attend, Joe Barr from Cambridge, Jeff Parenti from DCR, and Neil Boudreau from MassDOT came and provided updates.

This is the third meeting regarding traffic issues related to the BU bridge that arose shortly after changes completed on that bridge as well as on Granite Street.  The streets impacted are under the jurisdictions of the three entities.  Granite Street and Brookline Street are under the jurisdiction of Cambridge, the circle and Memorial Drive are DCR’s, and the BU Bridge is MassDOT’s responsibility.  Once you arrive at the lights on the bridge at Commonwealth Ave in Boston, it is Boston’s responsibility to operate them.  Although no one from Boston came, both Neil Boudreau and I had been in touch with Boston officials, who have been very cooperative to find out what was happening and trying to fix it.

First, for Granite Street, Joe Barr announced that Cambridge was finished experimenting with parking and had decided to permanently remove parking on one side of Granite between Rockingham and Brookline Streets.  This will allow two lanes of cars on Granite so that people can make a left on Brookline Street even if those making a right on Brookline are stuck in traffic.  There were several suggestions regarding improving signage on Granite, Waverly, and Rockingham Streets.  Joe agreed to evaluate the suggestions and make appropriate changes.

Second, Jeff Parenti from DCR spoke about his work.  He spoke about long-term and short-term improvements.  For the short-term improvements to the circle, he had his initial thoughts, which are in the attached document.  He is going to come back to CNA’s next meeting on January 17, 2019 and have a more specific discussion on what people think.  DCR will make improvements through adding paint to the circle and signage.  The changes can be made as soon as it is warm enough for paint to dry, probably next March.  In addition, DCR just hired a consultant to start a public process on infrastructure changes as part of Phase III of the improvements to Memorial Drive.  (Phase I was from the Charles River Dam Road to the Longfellow Bridge and Phase II was from the Longfellow Bridge to the BU Boathouse.)  He is looking forward to redesigning the circle as part of this project.  He said that people should think of the circle as a “blank slate” as they imagine what could be there.  If you have comments on the short-term fix, you can email him directly at jeffrey.parenti@mass.gov. Below is his initial thoughts on short-term changes that could be made.

BU_Rotary_Bike_Lane_Concept

Finally, Neil Boudreau from MassDOT spoke about what he had found looking into the lights on Commonwealth Ave.  The lights are designed to adjust to minimize traffic.  This clearly was not occurring at all.  Between the first and second meeting, he said that the problem was that the system was damaged during construction and had only recently become operational.  In the last six weeks, Boston and MassDOT worked to make sure the lights were working as designed.  It turned out there was a communications issue where the lights were reverted to mid-day settings at rush hour.  This meant that there was approximately 15% less green time for those driving from Cambridge to Boston than there should have been.  This has been fixed.  In addition, the signals were adjusted to add a little more green time for the Cambridge to Boston movement.  The combination means that there should be 25% more green time consistently during rush hour than was the case during the worst problem times.  That should help.  Neil said he was continuing to work with Boston to determine if more improvements could be made.  The handout that Neil distributed is below.

BU Bridge Traffic Count Comparisons_Dec 2018

This is obviously an issue that remains to be worked out completely, but I’d like to thank everyone involved who helped us come closer to reaching a resolution. I’m always impressed with the activist nature of Cambridgeport and it’s a great joy of my job to work with the neighborhood to fix issues like these. More updates are forthcoming, but I thought that ahead of the holidays, the people of Cambridgeport deserved some peace of mind that this issue is being worked out.

 

190th Session Recap: Elections Laws and Reform

190th Session Recap: Election Laws

H.4834 – An Act automatically registering eligible voters and enhancing safeguards against fraud

Overview:

  • This was an important priority for Jay, who co-sponsored this bill and advocated for it.
  • Directs the Secretary of State to work with the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) and MassHealth to automatically enroll eligible individuals to the Commonwealth’s voter rolls.
  • Secretary of State will adopt regulations governing the AVR system, including provisions requiring electronic transmission, data security protocols, and integration with online portals.

Outcome: This bill was passed in both chambers and signed by the Governor on August 9, 2018

To read the full text of the bill, click here.

190th Session Recap: Labor and Workforce Development

190th Session Recap: Labor and Workforce Development

 

H.4640 – An Act relative to minimum wage, paid family medical leave and the sales tax holiday

Overview:

  • Jay was a strong advocate for increasing the minimum wage and for creating paid family leave as a program for Massachusetts and he co-sponsored legislation to accomplish these goals.  Unfortunately, these provisions could not be passed without the inclusion of other provisions that he did not support, such as ending Sunday premium pay.
  • The law incrementally raises the current $11-an-hour minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2023.
  • Raises the current tipped minimum wage in Massachusetts of $3.75 an hour by 60-cent increments each year until it reaches $6.75 in 2023.
  • Beginning in 2021, employees — even self-employed workers — will be allowed to take up to 12 weeks of paid family leave and up to 20 weeks of paid medical leave — with the guarantee that they can return to their previous job or an “equivalent position” with the same pay, status, and benefits.
  • Establishes an annual Sales Tax Holiday in the State of Massachusetts.

Outcome: This bill was passed in both chambers and was signed by the Governor on June 28, 2018

To read the full text of the bill, click here.

H.36380 – An Act establishing the Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

  • Jay was an advocate and co-sponsor of this legislation.
  • Adds pregnancy and  pregnancy related conditions, including lactation and expressing breast milk, to the list of qualifiers employers cannot discriminate against
  • Prevents employers from denying reasonable accommodations for pregnancy or pregnancy related conditions
  • Prevents employer from refusing to hire a pregnant person because of the pregnancy or a pregnancy related condition
  • Includes a non-exhaustive list of reasonable accommodations:
    • More frequent/longer paid/unpaid breaks
    • Time off to recover from childbirth (paid or unpaid)
    • Seating
    • Temporary transfer to a less strenuous position
    • Job restructuring
    • Light duty
    • Private non-private space for expressing breast milk
    • Assistance with manual labor
    • Modified work schedules

Outcome:This bill passed in the House and Senate and was signed into law by the Governor.
To read the full text of the bill, click here.

190th Session Recap: Gun Control Legislation

190th Session Recap: Gun Control

H.4670 – An Act relative to fire arms

Overview:
  • Jay was a co-sponsor and advocate for the “Red Flag” firearm legislation.
  • Allows for the temporary removal of firearms from people considered a danger to themselves or others.
  • Lets a relative or someone else with close ties to a legal gun owner petition a court for an up-to-12-month extreme risk protection order if the individual is exhibiting dangerous or unstable behavior.
  • The gun owner can appeal the decision
  •  Creates a licensing procedure for stun guns in Massachusetts after the state’s highest court ruled that a blanket ban on the devices was unconstitutional.
Outcome: This bill was passed in both chambers and signed by the Governor on July 3, 2018 To read the full text of the bill, click here.

Bump Stock Ban

After the tragic mass shooting in Las Vegas and the ongoing trend of mass shootings nation wide, the legislature took action by banning so-called “bump stocks” or devices that convert legal guns into higher capacity rifles. This was done through the budget via an amendment filed by my colleague, Representative Linsky of Natick