A Column of News & Comment by Senator James L. Seward
For generations, New Yorkâ€™s seniors have made enormous contributions to our local communities. We need to support our senior citizens and ensure that they remain here and are able to live full and vibrant lives. During the 2018 legislative session, I helped advance record funding for several initiatives to enhance the quality of life for our seniors.
EPIC Program: New Yorkâ€™s outstanding Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage (EPIC) program will be fully funded at $132.6 million to cover the prescription drug needs of our seniors.
Property Tax Relief: The senate took the lead in approving full funding for the Enhanced STAR program that provides crucial tax relief to thousands of New Yorkâ€™s seniors. The senate also successfully pushed for record funding for our local schools that helps hold the line on local property taxes.
Senior Initiatives: The state budget increased support for a wide array of programs and initiatives that serve seniors:
$50 million for the Expanded In-home Services for the Elderly Program;
$31 million for Community Services for the Elderly Program;
$27 million for the Wellness in Nutrition Program;
$27 million for Alzheimerâ€™s and other dementia related programs;
$1.4 million for elder abuse prevention initiatives;
$250,000 for Older Adults Technology Services;
$172,000 for the New York Foundation for Seniors Home Sharing and Respite; and
$132,000 for the Senior Action Council Hotline.
The budget also makes the Residential Emergency Services to Offer Home Repairs to the Elderly (RESTORE) program permanent, and continues funding ($1.4 million) for this initiative that will help low-income, elderly homeowners eliminate unsafe conditions in their home.
Along with securing state funding, I also worked to pass legislation that would improve the lives of our senior citizens.
Preventing the Exploitation of Joint Banking Account Access: After previously receiving approval by the state senate, senate bill 6650 was also adopted by the state assembly this year. The measure, once signed into law by the governor, will help curb elder abuse by creating a public awareness campaign to educate vulnerable New Yorkers, including senior citizens, individuals with cognitive disabilities, or others with issues that impair their financial independence on the financial risks associated with joint banking accounts.
The senate also passed several other bills that would directly aid senior citizens. Unfortunately, the state assembly failed to take action on these measures, however, I believe they hold substantial merit and I will continue to pursue them next year.
Eliminating Property Taxes for Seniors to Keep Them in New York: Senate bill 8406 would create a senior school tax rate that phases in a yearly 10 percent reduction of school taxes, based on age of the eligible senior, starting at age 70, to reduce the burden that seniors face when paying the school tax portions of their real property tax bills. By reducing the financial burden of home ownership for seniors, this bill would make it more affordable for a larger number of seniors to stay in New York instead of relocating to states with less burdensome real property tax rates. The bill would save $274 million by 2022 and $556 million by 2023.
Increase Tax Savings for Retirees: Senate bill 414 would double the exempt amount of private pensions and retirement income, increasing it for the first time since 1981 and saving approximately $275 million annually. For 35 years, seniors have been able to claim the first $20,000 of pension or retirement income as exempt income. This bill increases that exempt amount from $20,000 to $40,000 for single taxpayers and to $80,000 for married taxpayers, over three years. This would provide tax relief to more than 377,000 seniors, save taxpayers hundreds of dollars, and encourage retirees to remain in New York State during their retirement years.
Preventing Companies from Defrauding Retirees: Senate bill 6431 would amend the law to prohibit certain schemes used to defraud seniors through pension advances and predatory lending practices.