April 18, 2017
On behalf of our more than 650,000 members statewide, I wanted to take the opportunity to share with you AARP’s priorities for the remainder of this session. Before doing that, I want to extend AARP’s thanks for your leadership on many issues that are important to our members. We appreciated your strong leadership on providing premium support relief for so many older Minnesotans facing increased health care premiums and the inclusion of funding for the Office of Health Facility Complaints (OHFC) to protect vulnerable adults. AARP also thanks you for your consistently strong opposition to telecommunications deregulation.
We recognize the challenges you face in creating a balanced budget that provides financial stability over the long term with equally important investments and tax relief today. With that in mind, we ask you consider the following key priorities for AARP during the remainder of this session.
VOIP Deregulation- SF 1937 Omnibus Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Bill. (Senate Article 2, Sec 17, and Art 18, 19 & 20; House: Article 9 Sec 1 sub 10; Sec 2 )
AARP urges you to continue to oppose telecommunications deregulation. As telecommunications networks migrate to the use of technologies based on Internet protocol (IP), consumers still need reliable service and need regulatory oversight of carriers’ practice. Regardless of how the technology is delivered - whether it is copper, fiber, or the internet - telephone communication remains a basic necessity allowing older Minnesotans to maintain social contact, preserve health and safety, and gain assistance in an emergency. This is true for people in both urban and rural areas of our state, but especially concerning for Minnesotans living in rural areas if carriers decide it is not profitable to serve them. As you are aware, the House and Senate bills would repeal vital consumer protections in law today, including protections against discriminatory pricing, service quality rules that ensure your phone is repaired in a timely manner, protections against having your phone shut off without notice and unwanted charges on your phone bill.
HHS Budget- SF 800 Omnibus Health and Human Services Bill
AARP has serious concerns with the deep cuts proposed in the House and Senate health care bills. We are urging lawmakers to put forward a balanced budget without cutting programs so many Minnesotans rely on, especially given Minnesota’s budget surplus. AARP believes your proposal to increase funding for the office of health facility complaints (OHFC) in order to protect vulnerable adults is a critical investment. AARP believes a strong regulatory system and a well-funded OHFC are necessary to prevent elder abuse and protect our loved ones from maltreatment. We thank the Department for reaching out to us in late-2016 to share their concerns about increasing caseloads and understaffing. This is a top priority in health care for our organization, as the protection of vulnerable adults should be a top priority for state government. We are urging lawmakers to support full funding of this program as outlined in your budget.
AARP also urges you to continue your support for MinnesotaCare. AARP has serious concerns about proposals in the house bill to increase MinnesotaCare premiums, move Minnesota to a Federal Health Care Exchange, thereby effectively eliminating the Minne-sotaCare program and a requirement to seek a federal waiver to be able to use federal basic health funding for purposes other than for funding the program. As for investments in long term care, AARP urges your support of further investments in the Elderly Waiver program to help seniors live independently in their homes as proposed in the senate bill. Those investments however, should focus on improving quality outcomes.
Social Security Tax Reductions- HF 4 Omnibus Tax Bill (House Article 1, Sec 36; Senate Article 1; Sec 8)
AARP urges you to support a targeted approach to providing social security tax relief for lower and middle income seniors. Social Security tax reductions, along with creating new retirement savings models for workers who lack access to a savings plans at work, are part of our overall strategy to improve financial security for seniors. As opposed to a full repeal, AARP has advocated for a targeted approach to Social Security tax relief. This approach seeks to strengthen the financial security of many older Minnesotans while still helping to ensure revenues are sufficient to sustain important programs for seniors. We recognize you face competing demands, but we urge you to consider some relief for Social Security recipients.
As you know, social security exemption levels have not been adjusted for more than 30 years—meaning each year, more lower and middle income Minnesotans are paying taxes on their benefits. When Social Security benefits became taxable in 1984 the median income in Minnesota was $24,436 – a figure less than the exemption threshold of $25,000. In fact, the number of Minnesotans who are paying taxes on their Social Security benefits has more than doubled over the years from about 160,000 in 1998 to more than 354,000 in 2013. At the same time, cost-of-living adjustments—when they happen at all—are small and don’t keep up with increases in healthcare costs and other necessary consumer goods and services.
As we evaluate both the House and Senate positions, our priority is for raising the threshold amounts, as has been done in the House proposal. However, recognizing the impact on the budget, we are open to less costly alternatives including phasing-in these amounts or using the subtraction amount as proposed by the Senate. AARP welcomes the opportunity to work with you to forge a bipartisan solution to providing this relief targeted to lower and middle income Minnesotans.
Transportation Funding-HF861 Omnibus Transportation Finance Bill
AARP urges you to reject budget proposals that would reduce Metro Transit funding and lead to cuts to services and fare increases. Transportation is the vital link that connects older adults to social activity, economic opportunity, and essential health and community services. AARP research has consistently shown that the vast majority of people – roughly 80% of those over age 45 and 90% of those over age 65 – want to remain in their own homes and communities as they age. Without a range of safe, accessible, dependable and affordable transportation options including alternatives to driving, this will become increasingly difficult whether one lives in an urban, suburban, or rural community. More than 8 million Americans age 65 and older do not drive; and this number will only grow across the U.S. and in Minnesota as our population ages. For those individuals, people with disabilities, children, and others who cannot or choose not to drive, a transportation system that works for everyone and in all parts of the state is vital to building more livable communities.
Again, thank you for your leadership on the many issues impacting seniors in this state and thank you in advance for considering our priorities. If you have further questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me.
AARP Minnesota State Director