Meals on Wheels funded: On June 9 the Rhode Island House Finance Committee approved a state budget that will take effect on July 1, 2015. It will fully restored $330,000 in state funding for the Meals on Wheels. This was part of Governor Raimondo’s promise, made at the Senior Agenda’s Candidates Forum on August 4, 2014 to increase funding for Meals on Wheels. However during budget negotiations she could not persuade the General Assembly leaders to restore $500,000 for senior centers’ programs and $263,000 for respite care for seniors’ caregivers. She had also promised to restore these funds at the Candidates Forum.
Strong phone campaign wasn’t enough: On June 1st and 2nd the Senior Agenda Coalition generated several hundred phone calls to the RI Speaker of the House and Senate President asking them to support the entire package of funding. Some senior centers’ members made many calls during their lunch programs. Senior Agenda Executive Director Bill Flynn said, “We thank everyone who made these calls, and we share their disappointment, but their calls were not in vain. They cemented the deal for the Meals on Wheels funding and demonstrated there’s an active constituency that cares about seniors.” He added, “This marks the beginning, not the end, of this effort. We will not quit and we will win.” He pledged to follow up with the Governor to request that she seek funding from other sources for these two programs.
As with funding restorations for senior services, the budget contained both positive and negative provisions.
State income tax on Social Security eliminated for some: In a compromise, the state income tax on social security income was lifted for couples with gross income less than $100,000 and for individuals with gross income less than $80,000. Both Governor Raimondo and Speaker of the House Mattiello had made some level of tax cuts on Social Security income part of their legislative priorities. Unfortunately this provision provides no benefit to couples with income below $32,000 and individuals with income below $25,000 because their Social Security income is already exempted from tax. For several years the Senior Agenda has backed Medicare Premium Savings Plan bills that would pay the Medicare Part B monthly premiums for persons whose income was between 135% and 185% of poverty. Over 9,000 seniors, who would receive no added savings from the state’s tax cut, would save $1,258.80 per year. For the third year in a row this legislation made little headway.
Salary increases for homecare CNA’s and RN’s not enacted: Homecare providers are ’ concerned that raising the minimum wage would make jobs in fast food and elsewhere more attractive than more challenging CNA work. The General Assembly failed to enact both legislation raising state reimbursements to homecare providers, for pass-through to CNS’s and Nurses, and also the Governor’s request for a pas-through increase in homecare rates to raise CNA wages.