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Does Massachusetts Governor Have An Elder Agenda?

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Four years ago, newly-elected Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker gave an inaugural address that offered no elderly-specific agenda for the Commonwealth.

By Al Norman

Four years ago, newly-elected Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker gave an inaugural address that offered no elderly-specific agenda for the Commonwealth. In succeeding State of the Commonwealth speeches each year, Governor Baker listed no major elder policy challenges, and no victories either.

In his 2019 inaugural address in early January, the Governor again made no direct mention of any initiative that will improve the quality of life for the state’s nearly 1.25 million citizens over the age of 65.  Seniors should be an important constituency for a Governor who represents a rapidly aging demographic. During Governor Baker’s second term, the 65+ population in Massachusetts is projected to increase by 14.8 percent to 1.436 million seniors. The overall population of the state will increase by only 2.2 percent. Some 185,267 more seniors will be citizens of Massachusetts when Baker ends his second term in office. 1

The Governor specifically focused on issues like education, the MBTA, climate change, housing, justice reform, the opioid epidemic and the Soldiers Home in Chelsea. The Governor had his 90-year-old father hold the Bible he was sworn in on — which was great for optics — but the only issue that directly related to the broad class of seniors in the Baystate was his boast that he cut ‘the annual growth rate in Medicaid spending’—a program that low-income seniors highly depend on for their health and long term care. What the Governor did not say is that in his first term he proposed millions of dollars in cuts to elderly community care services, like day care and adult foster care.

Lest you think I am picking on Charlie Baker, I made the same observation about his predecessor, Deval Patrick, during his eight years in office. For the past 12 years, I have been surprised and disappointed that the top elected officials on Beacon Hill have had so little to say about such a large piece of the citizenry. Both Governors have been very popular with the media, and have largely been given a pass by reporters on the subject of elder rights and benefits.

If Governor Baker is looking for a list of substantive policies to help the nearly one in five citizens in the Commonwealth who are seniors, he should review the recommendations in the April, 2016 Elder Economic Security Commission report, which has several dozen recommendations regarding income, housing and in-home services for older people. 2

According to a recent analysis by the U. Mass/Boston Gerontology Institute, Massachusetts ranks second only to Mississippi in the percentage of its elderly population living in economic insecurity. “Our economy is booming,” the Governor said in his State House speech. But so is our elderly population. I have said that many public officials are “demographically deaf.” They cannot hear the voices of their elderly constituents. It’s not enough for the Governor to say he wants the Baystate to be ‘age-friendly.’ How does the Governor want to improve the lives of the elderly while he is in office?

I am hoping that next January, when Governor Charlie Baker steps up to the lecturn in the Senate Chamber on Beacon Hill, that he will remind us that our “elderly population is booming,” and that he will take the time to outline a specific action agenda that includes his plan to ensure that older residents are able to remain living at home as long as possible.

Al Norman worked as an elder advocate for 38 years in Massachusetts, and helped write a number of key elder rights laws in the Commonwealth. He can be reached at alnormaneldercare@gmail.com.

1 Population data source: http://http://pep.donahue-institute.org/downloads/2015/new/UMDI_LongTermPopulationProjectionsReport_2015 percent2

2. Elder Economic Security Commission report: file:///C:/Users/Albert percent20Norman/Downloads/sd2550 percent20(1).pdf

 

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