- Written by State Representative Paul Mark, 2nd Berkshire District, Chair of House Committee on Redistricting
Efforts to support our rural communities
The Massachusetts General Court created the Rural Policy Advisory Commission during the state budget process in 2015. I was recently appointed by Speaker Robert DeLeo to serve as his designee on the commission. The commission meets quarterly at venues rotating throughout our Commonwealth, including once annually in western Massachusetts. The mission of the commission is to “enhance the economic vitality of rural communities, defined as municipalities with population densities of less than 500 persons per square mile, and to advance the health and well-being of rural residents.”
Rural communities account for nearly 60% of the state’s total land area. However, the people living in these rural communities make up only 13% of the total population in Massachusetts. In Berkshire and Franklin Counties, every municipality except Greenfield, North Adams, and Pittsfield falls into the definition of rural. We face the same challenges that other rural communities all over the country face, forced to do more with less and working closely together to stretch our resources as far as possible. But unlike most similar communities elsewhere, we make up a very small percentage of the total population in an otherwise heavily urbanized state. Finding similar partners to work with and make our voices heard becomes that much more difficult.
The Rural Policy Advisory Commission and the Rural Legislative Caucus in the House and Senate exist to help find those partners we need to make our voices more powerful and to help come up with realistic solutions to the unique problems we face. By working with other rural legislators and other rural communities, we increase our effectiveness in the state government process. By finding new ways to partner with urban areas on topics of mutual interest, including services for seniors, food security, education funding, affordable housing, and transportation issues, we increase the likelihood of successfully achieving tangible and measurable results.
The next meeting of the Rural Policy Advisory Commission will take place on June 15th in Greenfield. The meetings are open to the public and there are many important topics that will be discussed. To learn more about the commission and its mission, to see a list of members and the organizations they represent, and to see reports filed by the commission with the legislature, please visit the following page on the Massachusetts state government website.
As always, please contact my office anytime we can help you with an issue in state government. Office hours are held Mondays in Greenfield, Thursdays in Charlemont and Northfield, as well as monthly at the Greenfield Senior Center and periodically at the Bernardston Senior Center. You can find the full office hours schedule and our office contact information at online. Thank you for the opportunity to serve.
- Written by Stan Rosenberg, Massachusetts State Senator
The Circuit Breaker:
Tax relief for Massachusetts senior citizens
Here’s a reminder about “The Circuit Breaker,” a tax credit for Massachusetts senior citizens age 65 an older.
It’s called the Circuit Breaker Tax Credit because it is “triggered,” like an electrical circuit breaker, when property tax payments exceed 10 percent of a senior’s annual income.
Those who qualify will still be required to pay property taxes to their local communities. But they will receive a dollar credit for every dollar their property tax, and certain water and sewer bills, exceed 10 percent of their income, up to the $1,080 maximum.
Senior citizens who rent their homes can also take advantage of the same dollar for dollar credit, up to the same $1,080 maximum, if 25 percent of their annual rent exceeds 10 percent of their annual income.
No special application is required. If you are qualified, you can receive this credit by filling out a 2017 Massachusetts state income tax return before the April 2018 deadline. Official information packets from the state Department of Revenue for 2017 state income tax returns will include Circuit Breaker schedules and will be available in local libraries and post offices beginning early in 2018.
Here are the basic requirements for eligibility:
- Must be a Massachusetts resident, age 65 or older;
- Must own or rent residential property in Massachusetts as your primary residence;
- Must have an annual income of $57,000 or less for a single filer; $72,000 or less for a head of household; and $86,000 or less for joint filers.
You are ineligible for this tax credit if:
- You are married and do not file a joint a return;
- You are a dependent of another tax filer;
- You receive a federal or state rent subsidy directly, or live in a property tax exempt facility;
- Your property is assessed at a value greater than $747,000.
This tax credit was approved in 1999, was implemented in 2001, and is based on a bill I filed as a member of the House of Representatives after hearing concerns raised by seniors in Pelham. I then worked with a number of my Senate colleagues, including then-Senate President Thomas Birmingham, for several years to create this program. Over the years it has helped tens of thousands of seniors save more than $660 million on their property taxes.
If you need more information, please don’t hesitate to contact my district office at 413-587-6365, or the state Department of Revenue Customer Service Bureau at 617-887-MDOR, or toll-free at 800-392-6089, or visit their website, www.massdor.com.
- Written by Senator Adam G. Hinds
Grassroots community supports for our hilltown seniors
As much of my district is rural, including the Franklin County towns of Ashfield, Buckland, Charlemont, Conway, Hawley, Heath, Monroe, Rowe and Shelburne, I want to share examples of how communities are taking care of each other despite challenges of transportation and distance. The community-building work that seniors are taking on in Plainfield, Chesterfield, Cummington and several more of our hilltowns across Western Massachusetts is so important.
The low populations and long distances from most everything can be challenging for seniors looking to get proper nutrition, healthcare and other services in the hilltowns. In my first year as state Senator I’ve worked with social service agencies across the region, with town and city officials and with my fellow legislators at the State House to take on some of these challenges. We’ve been working to improve rural public transportation and to reduce health care costs, but I know that to make the most progress for seniors, it’s also going to take programs like the ones being created by the hardworking – and thoughtful – volunteers in our hilltowns. The efforts of Ann Irvine in Plainfield, Lorrie Childs in Chesterfield, Lucy Fandel in Cummington and many others are working to make it easier for seniors to stay in their homes.
I’ve learned that all of these support networks have grown out of a series of discussion groups focusing on the 2014 book Being Mortal by surgeon Atul Gawande. The first of these book groups came together in Plainfield when Ann Irvine asked Peg Whalen to lead a series of Being Mortal discussions, which drew 32 seniors over the course of five weeks. Dr. Whalen is the outreach coordinator for a group of councils on aging in Chesterfield, Goshen, Cummington, Westhampton, Williamsburg, Worthington and Plainfield. The consortium of COA’s receives grant funding from the state’s Executive Office of Elder Affairs.
In Plainfield, the book discussion group has morphed into the Plainfield Cares program, which offers seniors rides to social events, recreation, entertainment, shopping and medical appointments. It also coordinates short-term help during an illness or after hospitalization. Trained members of the group have recently started visiting homes of the town’s oldest residents to identify unmet needs.
Another program, for all seven of the northern Hampshire hilltowns, is called Community Credits. The program matches people who want to offer volunteer help with those who would like to receive help. Chores that can be taken care of through the program range from gardening to wood stacking to cooking to house painting. Coordinator Lorrie Childs said she hopes that students from Hampshire Regional will become part of the group of volunteers who can provide help to seniors. Community Credits is supported by Highland Valley Elder Services Title 3 funds.
In Cummington, the Being Mortal book group has turned into a monthly discussion group called Living Fully, Aging Gracefully and Befriending Death. Additionally, a new program is forming in town called Cummington Community Care. The group’s plan is to strengthen townspeople’s abilities to face emergencies, large and small. One of the work groups is cataloging resources and needs. Another work group is getting trained to become a Community Emergency Response Team. A third group is planning to create a community freezer stocked with meals that can be had by those short on funds, energy or time.
It seems clear to me that all of this work is essential. It’s imperative that we care for our neighbors – and it’s important that we learn to accept help from others as we move into old age. So thank you, volunteers, who are maintaining and building community. And for making it possible for more seniors to stay in the homes they love.
For more information on these programs:
Plainfield Cares Transportation:
Jeannie Sargent, (413) 634-0170
Community Credits Program:
Lorrie Childs, (413) 296-4742
Cummington Community Care:
State Senator Adam G. Hinds (D- Pittsfield) represents the 52 westernmost communities of the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin & Hampden District. He serves as the Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts & Cultural Development and the Senate vice-chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development & Emerging Technologies. He is serving his first term in the Massachusetts Senate.
- Written by Senator Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Senator for Massachusetts
Let’s keep our promises to seniors, families, and people with disabilities
One of my top priorities since joining the U.S. Senate in 2013 has been fighting to ensure seniors and people with disabilities have the support they need to live with dignity and economic security.
Today I’m really worried about the new federal budget proposed by President Donald Trump’s Administration. The president’s proposed budget would take a meat ax to many important programs that directly benefit people in Massachusetts. For example, President Trump’s budget would:
- Eliminate federal funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which helps about 120,000 Massachusetts households with elderly family members, people with disabilities, and young children stay warm during the cold winter months.
- Slash funding by more than 25 percent for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which last year helped feed 779,000 people in Massachusetts, nearly half of whom are in families with members who are elderly or who have disabilities.
- Cut more than $70 billion from vital income assistance programs for people with disabilities – including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
- Eliminate the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, which helps organizations right here in Franklin County and across the Commonwealth provide essential services like Meals on Wheels.
- Eliminate the Serving the Health Insurance Needs of Everyone (SHINE) health counseling program. This program last year helped about 75,000 people across Massachusetts navigate basic health plans like Medicare, Medicare Advantage, Medicaid, Prescription Advantage, Health Safety Net and other programs. Thanks to SHINE and the program’s more than 600 trained volunteers, many seniors and families across the Commonwealth were able to access free health insurance counseling.
This budget proposal is wrongheaded and reckless. And it comes just after House Republicans passed their health care repeal bill, legislation that would slash Medicaid spending by $834 billion. These are cuts that would directly hurt people with disabilities, working families, babies, and seniors in nursing homes. Why make these cuts? All so that Congress can give giant tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires.
These are the wrong priorities for our country. The federal government should invest in America’s families, to make sure that every person has a real opportunity to build a future – we should not break the promises we’ve made to seniors, families, and people with disabilities. To defeat this budget, all of us must fight back. As Senator from Massachusetts and as a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee and the Special Committee on Aging, I’m staying focused on these fights every day. I hope you will join me.
If you would like to contact me about any issues you’re concerned about, or if you need help with a federal agency, please don’t hesitate to call my Western Massachusetts office in Springfield at 413-788-2690 or email me.
- Written by Congressman Jim McGovern (MA-02)
Protecting home care services for our seniors
There is no place like home, and for many seniors there is no place better to live than at home. With retirement on the horizon for many of the Baby-Boomer generation, so is the planning they will do as they continue to age. Home health care is one of the most affordable and comfortable ways for individuals to receive the daily care they need without having to move to a nursing facility. Today’s home health care industry offers one of the most effective and cost-efficient delivery systems of comprehensive, high-quality healthcare services.
Especially important for millions of America’s seniors and people with disabilities, home health care allows them to live independently and receive care in a patient-preferred setting – in their own home.
The home health industry employs a workforce of more than 1.2 million as nurses, therapists, home care aides, social workers and clinicians. Daily, 10,000 Baby Boomers become eligible for Medicare, and we need to continue to build on home and community-based care as a means to take care of our rapidly growing senior population.
With the communication and technological advances over the last several years, the home health community has pioneered leading-edge models and therapeutics to deliver comprehensive, high-quality, patient-centered care across the health care delivery system.
These models lead to better patient care coordination, medication management, disease and chronic care management, and behavioral and preventative education. The innovative approaches of today’s home health care show great promise in addressing many of the concerns associated with disparities in health care and access in rural communities.
For many seniors, the ability to age in place and continue to live a full and independent life are some of their top priorities as they enter into retirement. I hear time and time again from the seniors I talk to that they and their families are more comfortable and prefer receiving care in their own homes when appropriate as opposed to receiving care in an institutional setting. But in order to receive the home care they desire, programs like Meals on Wheels, visiting nurses care, senior day care, and many more are crucial.
Unfortunately, the recent budget released by President Trump guts many of the critical programs that seniors turn to when times are tough and they need some extra help – you can rest assured that I will do everything I can to ensure that these programs are preserved and seniors are protected.
Please feel free to call my office in Northampton at (413) 341-8700, Worcester at (508) 831-7356, or Leominster at (978) 466-3552 if you have any questions or if my office can be of any assistance to you at all, and please accept my best wishes for a warm and pleasant summer!