It’s time for our older citizens to come out of the shadows and have a voice at the State House. Now more than ever, we need aging policy that addresses the needs of older citizens to age in …
It’s time for our older citizens to come out of the shadows and have a voice at the State House. Now more than ever, we need aging policy that addresses the needs of older citizens to age in place with dignity. These are active, older adults living meaningful lives. These are our parents, grandparents, many of whom came here from another country to make a better life for their children. We owe them a debt of gratitude.
We have an Age Wave in Rhode Island. 1 in 4 Rhode Islander’s will be 65+. These people want to age in place in their home. Yet, Rhode Island spends only 22% of Medicaid dollars on home care when most states average nearly 50%. That’s why we are ranked 42nd in the nation when it comes aging in place.
The Office of the Lt. Governor is responsible for state-wide aging policy through the Long-Term Care Coordinating Council. As a legislator for 14 years, I know how to write legislation that creates policy that will change people’s lives. My 4 E’s -- economy, education, environment and elderly -- have framed my policy work. That’s why I am running for Lt. Governor, to be a bridge between the Governor’s Office and the State Legislature, something that has been missing from this office in the recent past.
Whether it’s the Livable Home Modification grants to help those 65+ with disabilities or surgeries make homes more accessible to ‘age in place’; or my Circuit Breaker Senior Property Tax Relief that provides a $600 property tax credit to seniors on their RI taxes if they make less than $35,000 year, it’s about working with advocates like AARP, Senior Agenda, and our Senior Centers to build consensus on policy. This will help 1 in 4 Rhode Islanders 65+ live on $20,000 a year, many on social security alone.
Yes, we have Meals on Wheels, Medicaid, Medicare, home and community services, assisted living, and the Affordable Care Act, but that doesn’t mean your parents or you will age in place with dignity. Not unless this state begins to address the needs of a growing active, older population by investing in aging infrastructure, aging policy, home care, and local senior centers.
That’s why I co-sponsored H7616 with House colleagues to elevate the Office of Healthy Aging back to full Department status as it was for thirty years. Then in 2011, the Department of Elderly Affairs was downgraded to the Division of Elderly Affairs and then three years ago demoted to the Office of Healthy Aging. It’s a catchy name, but does not have Cabinet status or the budget. This is counterintuitive since the state’s population is growing older yet the office responsible for senior services, resources, and home care is diminishing in staff, stature, and budget. We must look at $38.6 million Perry/Sullivan as a funding source for home and community-based services in 20223 so older adults can live full and healthy lives.
There is so much more the Office of Lt. Governor could and should do to promote aging policy as part of its statutory requirement. I will put the office to work over the next four years as we prepare for the wave of active Baby Boomer retirees who want to age in place. Just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean you’re getting old!
Deb Ruggiero, (D -Jamestown/Middletown) is a candidate for Lt. Governor. She is a member of House Finance and chairwoman of House Committee on Internet and Technology.