By John Toscano
Clinton Releases More Fuel Aid Funds; Pataki Distributes
Under heavy pressure from a wide array of public officials, including virtually every representative from Queens, President Bill Clinton last week ordered the release of more funds to aid low-income families and seniors to cope with wildly escalating heating oil costs.
The president ordered the release of $125 million remaining in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which subsidizes home heating expenses for low income families. Of this, $36.3 million is allocated to New York state, bringing the total LIHEAP funding for this area to $73 million.
The president said he would also ask Congress to approve $600 million more to help the needy meet the additional costs of heating oil, which has spiked to $30 a barrel, a three fold increase.
Clinton also urged the states’ governors to make more seniors and low-income families eligible for the emergency fuel aid.
Responding to Clinton’s actions, Governor George Pataki announced last Friday that the first $28.3 million LIHEAP allocation had been received by the state and would be distributed. Pataki also announced that the basic emergency heating benefit for delivered fuels would be increased from $270 to $400; that there would be a second such benefit on top of the first; and that there would also be a second "regular" benefit.
About 800,000 Social Security recipients ages 65 through 69 who worked last year and are now required to give back part of their benefits because of what they earned may be getting good news this year.
Republicans in the House of Representatives have introduced legislation to eliminate the give-back requirement and President Bill Clinton is reportedly in agreement on it, saying he will sign the proposal if it comes before him without its being linked to any other legislation.
Presently, seniors 65 to 69 lose $1 of Social Security benefits for every $3 they earn. So if someone earns $3,000, lets’ say, that person must give back $1,000 of the Social Security benefits received during the year.
Needless to say, that person and the 800,000 others in this category, can’t be happy with this arrangement, which is just another tax added to the income taxes everyone, seniors and non-seniors alike, must pay every year. The policy also discouraged many seniors from working.
Commenting on the bill that was introduced by two Republicans, the president said he was "thrilled" because the extension of life expectancy to 83 puts many retirees in a position to continue working. "So I don’t think we should penalize them," the president told a CNN reporter.
The bill will not in any way affect the status of Social Security recipients aged 62 to 65 who must return $1 of their benefits for every $2 earned. Nor does it affect those 70 and over, who can earn as much as they want to without giving back any benefits.
PRESCRIPTION DRUGS COVERAGE ACTIVITIES:Congressmembers Joseph Crowley (Elmhurst) and Anthony Weiner (Queens/Brooklyn) moved last week, along with their Democratic colleagues, to get action on bills to provide drug prescription benefits to seniors. In a separate action, Crowley and Congressmember Nita Lowey (Queens/Westchester) charged Queens and Bronx seniors are being forced to pay twice as much for their prescription drugs than seniors in Mexico and Canada.
Democrats in the House want the Republicans, who control the House, to agree to have Rx bills presently blocked in committees to be discharged so there can be debate on them and possibly a vote and passage. President Clinton is firmly behind one of the acts addressed by Crowley, Weiner and the other Democrats. This legislation would give 13 million Medicare recipients a prescription benefit which they don’t presently have. Other seniors under other health plans usually have a drug prescription coverage plan.
The second bill the Democrats want to force out to the floor would bring down the prices of prescription drugs for seniors. Besides the Crowley/Lowey study which showed Mexican and Canadian seniors paying less than those in the United States and Weiner’s study showing pet owners paying less for drugs for their pets when they buy the same drugs sold to seniors at higher prices, Crowley has also complained that seniors pay more for drugs than the U.S. government, HMOs and hospitals, all of whom get discount prices from large pharmaceutical firms.
Weiner stated, "Including a prescription drug benefit in Medicare is simply common sense, and it is time for the Republicans in Congress to end their logjam of this crucial legislation."
Lowey and Crowley said their study is "further evidence of the troubling trend of price discrimination against our seniors."
HOUSING OPTION FOR VETS:Under current law, a veteran can use a Veteran Administration loan to buy a house, townhouse, condominium or mobile home, but not a co-op. Last week, Congressmember Carolyn Maloney (D–Manhattan/Astoria) filed a bill to give a veteran the added option of buying a co-op apartment with a VA loan.
"A home is a home," Maloney stated, "and veterans should have a right to live in a co-op if they so choose." She noted, "HUD (Housing and Urban Development) and other government agencies already give loans for co-ops, so why shouldn’t the VA give veterans the same opportunity?"
COHEN ASKS MORE $ FOR ADULT DAY CARE:Citing Social Adult Day Care as "the best defense against the premature institutionalization of our senior citizens," Assemblymember Michael Cohen (D–Forest Hills) declared "New York state must create a dedicated funding stream that covers the cost "of this service"
"I also believe," Cohen added, "That we, as legislators must make a commitment to aid the most vulnerable section of our society, our frail elderly.
Cohen said the state would recoup some of these funds as family members who would be forced to quit their jobs to stay home to take care of their loved ones would return to their jobs and resume paying taxes. Other savings would be made by keeping more seniors at home and not in senior citizens’ facilities.
Cohen made his comments after a visit with Lewis Harris at the Forest Hills Community House, where Lewis is the executive director. For information on the FHCH’s adult day care program, call (718) 592-5757.
HEALTH TALKS:Early March brings health care to the fore at the Selfhelp Clearview Senior Center at 208-11 26th Ave., Bayside (718-224-7888). Every Monday there’s a lecture on maintaining your health, given by a nurse from the Hunter College School of Nursing.There also will be free blood pressure checks.
On Thursday, Mar. 9th, at 10:15 a.m. a representative of state Senator Daniel Hevesi (D–Central Queens) will talk on health care proxy legislation.
NYCERS MOVES:Note to retired city employees:NYCERS has moved from Manhattan to 340 Jay St. in downtown Brooklyn. The new Customer Service Center there will be available for all transactions, including those for pensioners and their survivors. The NYCER mail address is 345 Adams St., Suite 2300, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11201-3751. Telephone number is (347) 643-3000.
TRIPS:There’s still time to get in on the Rego Park Senior Center’s overnight trip to Delaware and Pennsylvania on Wednesday and Thursday, Mar. 8th and 9th. The price includes round-trip transportation, box lunch, tours and wine and cheese receptions, a dinner and show ("Fiddler on the Roof") at three Little Bakers Dinner Theater and shopping at King of Prussia Mall. Price per person is $165 (single) and $145 (double). For reservations, call Sandra Epelman at (718) 895-8511.
The Rego Park Senior Center, located at 93-29 Queens Blvd., Rego Park, also has a trip planned on Wednesday, Mar. 22d to Queens Theater in the Park, in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park. There’s lunch at the theater and then the rousing Klezmer music of the popular Brave Old World music group. Tickets are $29 per person. Again, call Sandra Epelman for details and reservations.
AARP MEETING:Dr. Fred Feldstein will give a talk on nutrition at the next meeting of AARP chapter 2889 next Wednesday, Mar. 1st at 12:30 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown, 54-05 Seabury St., Elmhurst.