Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Aging Committee Chair Donna Lupardo today announced the Assembly's SFY 2017-18 Budget which includes funding for important senior programs and services. The proposal calls for investments in senior housing, health care and the creation of the Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate to help vulnerable seniors living on fixed incomes.
As the Baby Boom population has aged, New York State's older population has grown, and will continue to grow significantly. By the year 2025, it is estimated that the state's overall older population will comprise nearly a quarter of the state's total population - making these services and programs increasingly more critical.
"Seniors are living longer than ever and, in turn, our senior communities are growing," said Speaker Heastie. "We must make sure that they have the resources they need to facilitate their ability to live independently and with dignity so that they can continue to make contributions to their communities."
"The Assembly continues our strong commitment to New York's seniors in our budget proposal," said Assemblywoman Lupardo. "From protecting our senior centers to committing additional funds to address the growing waiting lists for Community Services for the Elderly; the Assembly's budget reflects the need to ensure older New Yorkers receive the services they need and can age safely in place."
"For countless seniors in New York, the rising costs of rent have threatened the ability of seniors to stay in their homes," said Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz, chair of the Committee on Housing. "Seniors cannot afford to be put on waiting lists for safe affordable housing to become available. Our budget offers more meaningful solutions to address these critical issues."
"Older homeowners count on the savings that the enhanced STAR program offers and do not deserve added complications to the renewal process," said Assemblymember Sandy Galef, chair of the Committee on Real Property Taxation. "It would be unfair and overly burdensome to create more paperwork and confusion for seniors simply trying to receive the savings they need and deserve."
"When costs of basic services go up, seniors and others living on fixed incomes may have to make hard choices to make ends meet," said Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, chair of the Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection. "We know that many utility customers are already falling behind on their bills. With this budget, we amplify the voice of the consumer and push the government agencies responsible for overseeing utility companies to do a better job focusing on fairness to ratepayers."
The Assembly recognizes that many seniors wish to stay in their homes and communities as long as possible. In support of that, the Assembly budget proposal includes funding for numerous senior housing programs. The spending plan includes a new program that would provide rental assistance to older adults in New York City who are paying more than 30 percent of their monthly income toward rent. To be eligible for the Elder Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), the senior and his or her family would be required to have a total income equal to or less than 80 percent of the area median income. The amount of rental assistance would be calculated as the difference between the senior's rent payable, or maximum rent set by the agency, and 30 percent of the senior's monthly income.
The program would be funded by a 2.5 percent transfer tax paid by the buyer on multi-million dollar real estate transactions of condos, co-ops and one to three-family homes. The tax would apply only to the amount of the transaction exceeding $2 million. The plan would help keep vulnerable seniors in their homes and communities by offsetting burdensome rental costs. The Assembly's budget proposal also includes $1 million for Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs) and $1 million for Neighborhood Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NNORCs). The plan also includes $125 million for a senior housing program to create new housing opportunities.
In addition to assisting seniors with housing costs, the Assembly's budget includes a measure that would reject the governor's proposal to eliminate an option for Enhanced STAR renewal applications. Under the Executive Proposal, seniors would be required to enroll in the STAR Income Verification Program in which the tax department would automatically review income eligibility every year. However, this option may create difficulties for seniors who do not need to file an income tax return. The Assembly's proposal would allow seniors to continue exercising the option to submit a renewal application every year together with a copy of their income tax form to their local assessor.
The SFY 2017-18 Budget also includes funding to address high health care costs that seniors often face in New York. The proposal includes provisions aimed at reducing the cost of prescription drugs, which can be a large burden for individuals on a fixed income. The proposal includes much needed resources to offset these expenses and preserve access to long-term care. The Assembly restores $23.8 million in long term care reductions, including $11 million for nursing home bed hold payments, which help seniors maintain their spot in nursing homes in the event that they need hospital care, and $10 million to maintain the right of spousal refusal.
The proposal also provides $2 million in additional funding to support the Community Services for the Elderly program, which provides personal care, home delivered meals, transportation, senior centers, and other important services.
The Assembly spending plan also restores Title XX funding of $27 million to its original discretionary purposes for Local Social Service Districts and removes the Executive's proposal to mandate that such funds be used only for child care. This will prevent the closure of 65 senior centers in New York City.
Unexpected or excessive increases in utility rates can be particularly burdensome for seniors who live on fixed incomes. The Assembly's spending plan takes measures to protect seniors and other New Yorkers from unscrupulous practices by investing $350,000 to create the Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate. This office would represent the interests of residential consumers in any matters substantially affecting the rates, charges, or terms and conditions of service in any utility proceeding at the state or federal level, and would build upon a significant increase the budget also includes for utility oversight by the Department of State. The budget also includes $1.5 million in funding for organizations that advocate on behalf of consumers regarding utility cases before the Public Service Commission.