Maggie Kuhn

by: Sanford R. Altman, Esq., retired
Jacobowitz & Gubits, LLP

Some of your past columns have dealt with changes in the law that can hurt seniors and what we might be able to do about them. Any progress?

This past weekend I attended the “Great Hudson River Revival”, more popularly known as the “Clearwater Festival”. Aside from fantastic music and musicians, this is a place literally filled with individuals and groups talking and singing about social issues. Of particular interest to me as an Elder Law attorney, was a group called the “Raging Grannies” with whom many of you may already be familiar. They appeared on stage in flowered dresses and hats (this time with folk legend Pete Seeger) looking as if they were about to serve a plate of home-baked cookies. But once they started singing, any illusion of elderly frailty immediately vanished as they belted out “Oh, we’re a gaggle of Grannies – urging you off your fannies”.

The gloves were off. They sang songs such as “Give Iraq our Constitution” (we don’t use it any more) to the tune of “Yankee Doodle Dandy”; “Are you Sleeping?” (Uncle Sam? Uncle Sam?) to the tune of “Frere Jacques” and “Halliburton” to the tune of “Hava Nagila”. They were truly inspiring – a model for us all.

What does this have to do with us? Let’s look back about a year and a half to when the Deficit Reduction Act was signed into law. As you may remember, buried in this huge federal budget bill were provisions that simply made it more difficult for those entering nursing homes to become eligible for Medicaid. One of those insidious sections changed the commencement of the gift-giving penalty from when you gave the gift to when you were otherwise eligible for Nursing Home Medicaid. This means that if you gave a gift for any reason (to your children, to charity, etc.) any time within the past five years and now were penniless and entering or already a residence of a nursing home, you would have to wait perhaps many months until you were eligible for Medicaid. Would you be denied nursing home care or would they have to take you in for free? We still don’t know the answer to this.

Despite the intense fight against this bill, it passed by a solitary vote in Congress.

Organization such as AARP, National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and countless individuals who oppose the new law supported candidates of like mind. The Congress changed but the law remains. Why? Perhaps it’s because there have been other issues seen as more urgent and certainly more headline worthy that have taken precedence. Or perhaps, as a speaker at a recent conference I attended explained, no one feels they can touch that part of the budget earmarked for the military so any budget balancing must come from social programs, Medicare and Medicaid. Balancing the budget on the backs of the seniors has suddenly become acceptable.

So the short answer to the question about has progress has been made on this issue is “NO“. And what can we do about it? First, be aware, as politicians are, that seniors are a large percentage of the population and growing. Also be aware, as the Grannies are, that we must speak out and let those in office know that they cannot forget about vital issues such as the one discussed above and remain in office.

The second thing that we can do was discussed in an earlier column about helping our own. We looked at the Town of Montgomery Seniors Independence Project as a good example. There, volunteers are paired with seniors, helping them stay in their homes longer by providing services such as driving them to doctors and supermarkets and helping with chores around the house. In this area, there has been progress. While just beginning when that particular column was written, seniors are now being helped and the Project is growing. Why is this working? It works because people know it’s important for others now and themselves in the future — they’re willing to get involved (although more volunteers are always needed) and this is something of which we have control on the local level. This may well be a good example for other communities to follow. In fact, if you are in need of help, wish to volunteer or would like more information, call 845-457-4138.

In short, there has been some progress on a local level but not much federally. So, be proactive: plan ahead for yourself, get involved locally and remind your Congressmen and Senators that you’re still here watching them and waiting. Or, you can join a local chapter of the Raging Grannies. Because, as the Grannies say, “If you are not outraged, you’re not paying attention”.