Staying independent and being able to choose what one’s life looks like after retirement is one of life’s top priorities for many older adults. It’s also the focus of ongoing legislative efforts – some of which were left unresolved in 2022 – to support older adults in Massachusetts.
If you’re looking to stay-up-to-date, here are a few key areas to pay attention to in 2023.
Caregiver Tax Credit
One proposed legislation that AARP Massachusetts has been supporting would provide qualified family caregivers, including those caring for older family members, a tax credit to reimburse them for expenses up to $1,500 incurred in the care of their loved one.
The legislation recognizes that caregivers are not only working for family members, often without receiving compensation, but in many cases also offering financial support for expenses such as medical equipment, safety-related home modifications, or the hiring of personal care aides.
Speaking at a Coastline Elderly Service program in December, AARP Massachusetts Director Mike Festa said by supporting caregivers, the state helps keep older adults in their homes.
“There are 800,000 to 850,000 caregivers that are taking care of loved ones of all ages and not getting any pay or benefits,” he said.
Festa noted that recent legislation on the tax credits did not make it through the Joint Committee on Ways and Means but that AARP has been fighting and will continue to fight for it.
“As a state we should support family caregivers as they take on the costs and responsibilities associated with caregiving,” AARP Massachusetts said in an online statement. “Family caregivers spend about $7,000 each year on out-of-pocket costs. As such, we’re backing a bill to provide a state tax credit of up to $1,500 to eligible caregivers to help cover expenses such as transportation and home health care aides.”
Better Retirement Savings
One way to support older adults in staying financially secure is to expand retirement planning and saving.
“Too many people are hitting retirement without adequate resources,” said Festa. “We need to rethink only living on social security.”
To change this, AARP is putting its support behind legislation that would expand the state’s Defined Contribution CORE Plan, a tax-deferred and post-tax 401(k) savings plan now open to small nonprofits that choose to participate.
Currently, nonprofits must have fewer than 20 employees to be eligible for the CORE plan. AARP is pushing to extend that limit and make the plan available to larger nonprofits, Festa said, in hopes of supporting better retirement planning for a larger group of people.
Accessory Dwelling Units
The housing shortage is having an impact on many communities, including here in the SouthCoast. One potential solution that has been resisted by many cities and towns to date is the creation of accessory dwelling units, sometimes called in-law apartments.
For older adults, these units can house younger family members who might provide assistance around the house, doing lawn care for example, in exchange for housing. They could also serve as living spaces for caregivers, or be an accessory dwelling that an older adult lives in at an adult child’s home.
In his comments, Festa said that AARP has supported recent changes to voting requirements in local municipalities – reducing 2/3 majority vote requirements to simple majority – in the 2020 Housing Choice legislation. That change is expected to help support advocacy efforts and decisions around accessory dwellings, he said.
“Beyond that, the fight is in communities and local-based advocacy,” said Festa, adding that AARP will “look to create a volunteer corps of folks who can support that work.”
Comprehensive Nursing Home Reform
The pandemic and devastation wrought by the COVID-19 virus taught us many things, including spotlighting much-needed changes at Massachusetts nursing homes to keep older adults safe and ensure a positive quality of life experience.
While reform hasn’t been enacted yet, there is hope moving forward in a few key areas, according to Festa, who said, “We want very much not to learn those lessons again and not to lose our memory of the lessons learned from COVID.”
The proposed bill – put forth by Sen. Patricia D. Jehlen, D-Somerville, and Rep. Thomas M. Stanley, D-Waltham – is one AARP plans to continue to support.
“The main points are to be sure that nursing homes are adequately staffed, prepared for future viruses, and maintain quality of life,” Festa said.
AARP worked with Jehlen, who with Stanley co-chairs the Joint Committee on Elder Affairs, and Rep. Ruth Balser, D-Newton, to develop the strategies included in the proposed legislation.
In it they addressed the need for adequate staffing of nursing homes, mandated planning for future viruses, and ensuring quality of life issues such as limits to the number of people in nursing home rooms.
Specifically, proposed legislation stated that staffing levels must include “a minimum number of hours of care per resident per day of 4.1 hours, of which at least 0.75 hours must be care provided per resident by a registered nurse.”