Categorized | Pushback

Massachusetts Gubernatorial Debates: No Elderly Issues

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At the Oct. 9 debate, an elderly man submitted a question which stated: “My immediate need is property tax reduction. I’m paying 28 percent of my income to City Hall.”

By Al Norman

Massachusetts voters have re-elected Charlie Baker to serve as their governor for a second, four-year term. A total of three public debates were held, on Oct. 9, 17 and Nov.1. A review of the transcripts from those three debates suggests that there were very few issues affecting older people that were worth debating.

There was a wide range of contentious issues brought up by Gov. Baker and his challenger Jay Gonzalez: women’s productive rights, gun control, natural gas line inspections, climate control, the MBTA, childcare and preschool, the opioid crisis, state police personnel records, tax breaks for Amazon, Donald Trump, and criminal justice reform.

There was only one issue raise affecting the elderly. At the Oct. 9 debate, an elderly man submitted a question which stated: “My immediate need is property tax reduction. I’m paying 28 percent of my income to City Hall. What will the current administration do to give me some relief?”

In response, Baker said: “First of all, we have supported in the past, and continue to support and advocate, for giving people property tax relief over the age of 65, and many local communities have chosen to do that. We think pursuing that on a statewide basis would be a good idea as well.” That was all the public heard on elderly issues during three debates.

Ironically, on Oct. 23, right in the middle of the gubernatorial debates, the Governor’s Council to Address Aging in Massachusetts issued a 31-page report from its Workgroups. As an example of a critical issue facing seniors, one of the Council’s 10 priorities is to “consider options, including new sources of capital, for increasing production of accessible, affordable, service enriched housing.” The waiting list for elderly housing in many local communities is two or three years — or longer. Its astonishing that this gets tolerated.

The Massachusetts Healthy Aging Data Report from 2015, which was commissioned by the Tufts Health Plan Foundation, found that:

✔️Monthly expenses for a single renter in Massachusetts was $1,000, and 1 in 3 elders in Massachusetts have annual income less than $20,000.

✔️61 percent of elders in Massachusetts either live below poverty or below the elder economic security index — which means they don’t have enough money to pay all their bills and make ends meet.

✔️By 2030, 1 in 5 Baystate residents will be age 65 or older

✔️2 out of 4 elders in Massachusetts have 4 or more chronic conditions, and 1 in 4 are obese.

✔️We don’t have enough caregivers — informal or paid — to care for this population, and the pay for such caregivers is sometimes worse than fast food workers.

✔️Several thousand “low acuity” elders are living in nursing facilities when they could be living at home — despite a law which says they have a right to live in the “least restrictive setting” appropriate to their needs.

There is no shortage of elder issues to talk about, yet in the past decade or more, we have heard very little from elected officials about their “aging plan.” Not in their “State of the State” addresses, and not when they are running for office. Major media outlets often give little prominence to aging issues.

During the midterm elections, there were a lot of references at the federal level to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and pre-existing conditions. At the state level, it appears that elders should be seen, but not heard.

Al Norman served for 32 years as the head of a statewide elder services and advocacy group. He can be reached at






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