As a retired health care administrator and an AARP Massachusetts advocacy volunteer, James Lomastro was alarmed by the staggering number of deaths at the state’s long-term care facilities during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
The tragedy laid bare myriad problems—staffing shortages, lack of protective equipment, patients’ isolation—and underscored the need for alternatives to better serve the state’s most vulnerable residents.
“We are all just a fall or a mishap away from needing care,” says Lomastro, 74, of Conway. “We need to keep transforming the system.”
He and other AARP advocates will be closely following this year’s negotiations on the state budget, as it makes its way through the legislature before landing on the governor’s desk early this summer.
In the $48.5 billion spending plan for fiscal year 2023, which begins July 1, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) proposed several funding increases for programs that benefit older residents.
Included is $671.9 million (a 7 percent increase) for the state’s Executive Office of Elder Affairs, which directs money to local agencies that “are the infrastructure of the home- and community-based care system,” says Mike Festa, state director for AARP Massachusetts.
Lower Costs and Tax Credits
The proposed budget also includes a $21 million boost to the Medicare Savings Program, which would trim out-of-pocket health care spending and prescription drug costs for about 34,000 low-income older residents and those with disabilities.
“That’s a big deal,” says Festa, who estimated it could save some Bay Staters $2,000 a year in prescription expenses.
Linda McLaughlin, 79, an AARP Massachusetts volunteer advocate from Marblehead, says the increase in the Medicare Savings Program would be a boon.
With inflation soaring to the highest it’s been in decades, greater funding for Medicare and other programs that benefit older low- and moderate-income residents is more important than ever, she says.
“I go into Market Basket and I can’t believe my bill. Heating costs are also going up. People feel the pinch,” says McLaughlin, who will be writing letters and contacting lawmakers to press for the funding increases.
AARP volunteer advocates are also urging the legislature to continue support for the state’s Senior Circuit Breaker Tax Credit.
The program allows homeowners and renters age 65 and older who meet specific income requirements to claim a credit on their state personal income tax return, based on the real estate taxes on their principal residences or the rent they pay.
The governor’s budget includes a proposal that would double the maximum Circuit Breaker credit to $2,340 a year (from $1,170), reducing the overall tax burden for more than 100,000 lower-income residents.
“AARP Massachusetts looks forward to working with our advocacy volunteers to advance issues that matter to the 50-plus population,” says Festa. “We encourage members to get involved and share their stories with lawmakers.”
Want to be part of that effort? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, call 866-448-3621 or check aarp.org/ma to learn more.
Jill Gambon is a writer living in West Newbury, Mass.
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