2004-01-07 / Seniors

Senior Spotlight

Report Bush 2005 Budget Eyes Possible Veterans
By John Toscano
Senior Spotlight By John Toscano

Report Bush 2005 Budget Eyes Possible Veterans’ Cuts

A report out of Washington over the weekend cited the Bush Administration officials as saying they have drawn up a draft budget for Fiscal Year 2005, beginning Oct. 1, 2004, which would cut domestic spending on veterans’ benefits and housing vouchers for the poor.

The report appearing in the New York Times, said the politically sensitive budget, coming in a year when President George W. Bush is seeking re-election to a second term, requires cuts in domestic spending to help offset huge budget deficits estimated to range between $374 billion to $450 billion.

The story said the Pentagon is considering a proposal to increase pharmacy co-payments for retired vets with at least 20 years of military service. This would increase payments for a generic drug from $3 to $10, and the cost of a brand name medicine from $9 to $20. The proposal was criticized by the Military Officers Association of America, a veterans’ group.

Previously, the president had talked about doubling copayments on prescription drugs for many veterans, primarily those with higher incomes and no service-connected disabilities.

On the public housing issue, administration officials were reportedly concerned about the increase in the cost of rent vouchers to low-income families and said they would try to prevent local housing agencies from giving out more vouchers than are authorized by Congress.

Another step being considered, according to the report, was to obtain more accurate income reporting from applicants for vouchers.

IMPORTANT SOCIAL SECURITY INFO FOR 2004: In case you didn’t notice the recent mailing from the Social Security Administration let us fill you in.

*Earnings Limits for workers under full retirement age (65 and 4 months in 2004) is $11,640 annually.

Earnings Limits for people turning 65 and 4 months during 2004 is $31,080.

If you earn more than the Earnings Limits, your benefits will be reduced.

*If you receive Social Security Insurance (SSI), you must report all of your earnings to Social Security.

*The combined tax rate for Social Security and Medicare is 7.65 percent of gross earnings. Social Security is 6.20 percent on earnings up to the taxable maximum of $87,900 and 1.45 percent of all earnings for Medicare.

*If you have children or grandchildren under age 19 who are not covered by health insurance, the Children’s Health Insurance Program may be available. Go to www.insurekidsnow.gov or call toll free 877-KIDS-NOW (877-543-7669).

*New York state may help pay for Medicare expenses through Medicare Savings Programs if: 1) you have Medicare Hospital Insurance, Part A, 2) your monthly income is no more than $1,031 for an individual or $1,384 for a couple and 3) property you own, but not your home or one car, are worth no more than $4,000 for an individual or $6,000 a couple.

To find out more, contact Medicare or your local social services or welfare office.

If you have any questions about Medicare, other than eligibility or enrollment, visit www. medicare.gov or call 800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227) or TTY 877-486-2048, 24 hours a day.

HEAP FUNDS RELEASED: Two days after a bipartisan group of 35 United States Senators petitioned federal Secretary of Health and Human Service Tommy Thompson to release funds to assist seniors under the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), Thompson released $598 million to all 50 states to help them cover the program’s cost.

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D–New York) who was one of the most vocal of those pressing Thompson, hailed the bipartisan pressure, but maintained, "It should never have come to this. What matters is that at the end of the day, New Yorkers will get the heating aid they need and deserve."

An aide to Schumer said that New York state should be getting about $46 million of the HEAP funds. Health and Human Services (HHS) estimated that about 750,000 seniors and disabled individuals in New York state would benefit from the funds to offset their heating costs or help to do housing improvements to keep the cold out of their dwellings.

NOTE TO ‘SNOWBIRDS’: We’re sure there are many "snowbirds" living in Gazette coverage areas who spend winters in Florida, so we thought we’d pass this note along to those who still drive a car and may need a Florida driver’s license.

Beginning January 2, the law states that drivers 80 years of age or older must have their eyes examined when they renew their Florida licenses, which renew every four to six years. Previously, a driver could go as long as 18 years without a vision check.

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