Huge Victory for Seniors – Title XX Funding Fully Restored
In this year’s Executive Budget a proposal resurfaced from the prior administration’s budget. The proposal would have shifted Title XX discretionary funds to cover programs traditionally paid for by the state and localities. Title XX money is administered by the Office of Children and Family Services, and from a total $102 million in funds from the federal government, $36 million in discretionary money has been used by various counties in New York from Erie to Nassau to fund senior programs and services. In New York City alone, approximately $25 million is used to help fund New York City’s senior centers. These centers provide for more than just a social gathering place for seniors who otherwise might not interact with anyone at all; they provide warm meals once a day as well as case management and transportation services. They ensure the general well-being of many of New York City’s frail and elderly, serving people ranging from 65 to 100 years old and beyond. In Erie County, Title XX funding contributes to vital services ranging from affordable senior housing to programs such as Meals-on-Wheels.
This funding traditionally has been one of the largest sources for the funding of senior programs, and the idea of using these vital funds toward other areas would be an absolute blow to senior services around the state. I gathered the support of dozens of my Assembly colleagues, and together we made it clear this proposal was unacceptable. I am pleased to announce that as we did last year, the Assembly successfully led the fight to restore the discretionary Title XX funding, which will continue to provide vital services to seniors around the state. This was a HUGE victory for tens of thousands of seniors.Partial Restorations for EPIC Program
Often touted as one of the most successful programs the Legislature has ever produced, the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage (EPIC) Program came under attack this year and was decimated in the Executive Budget. Fortunately, the Assembly was able to restore $22.3 million to ensure that lower income EPIC participants continue to receive premium assistance to pay for the Medicare Part D premiums now mandated to be paid. Individuals with annual income less than or equal to $23,000 and married enrollees with annual income less than or equal to $29,000 will have their premiums paid directly to their Medicare Part D plan up to a certain amount. Going forward, EPIC enrollees will not have to pay any fees to the program to receive coverage beyond their copayment while EPIC coverage is in effect. All EPIC enrollees are required to be enrolled in a Medicare Part D plan. EPIC will cover prescription drugs only during the coverage gap, or "donut hole," phase of Medicare Part D when prescription drug costs are highest; only costs for those drugs on the Medicare Part D plan's formulary will be covered during the donut hole with certain narrow exceptions.
Assembly Saves NY Connects
NY Connects provides seniors with information regarding available services using call centers and telephone hotlines in conjunction with the New York State Office for the Aging. Having a single point of entry for seniors heading toward long-term care is an asset this state cannot go without. That is why when the Executive proposal called for an outright elimination of the NY Connects program, I made sure it was a top priority this budget session. I am pleased to inform you that this program's funding was fully restored and will be funded annually at $3.8 million. This program will continue to help seniors navigate their way through the long-term care system with much more ease.
The Executive Budget called for 11 important programs administered by the New York State Office for the Aging, including Elderly Abuse Education and Outreach, Congregate Services Initiative, and the Patients’ Rights Hotline, to lose all of their funding and instead compete for funding through a competitive grant process that would be funded at less than 50 percent of last year’s budget. The Assembly rejected this process. The final budget kept these programs intact and funds were restored to 50 percent of the amounts appropriated in the previous year’s budget.
While some of these programs will not be able to deliver services on the same level as they did in prior years, we were pleased to maintain some level of funding and to continue appropriating the money to specific programs with proven records of success rather than going through the lengthy competitive grant process that can result in gaps in services.