It was a Wednesday in August when Rep. Joseph McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Cranston, Warwick) found himself talking about the state’s senior-focused legislation with a female constituent. The woman, …
It was a Wednesday in August when Rep. Joseph McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Cranston, Warwick) found himself talking about the state’s senior-focused legislation with a female constituent. The woman, who lost her husband to cancer a year ago, told McNamara she had purchased hundreds of dollars worth of medication for him to fight his illness. When he died, the prescribed drugs had to be destroyed. She told McNamara it was like being hit twice for the same loss because not only was her husband gone, but she had also grown up in a generation that was taught not to waste.
To address the issue of unused medications being thrown out, McNamara and Senator Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence) sponsored legislation to create and implement a pharmaceutical redistribution program. Gov. Dan McKee ceremonially signed this senior-focused legislation along with two others at Warwick’s Pilgrim Senior Center on Aug. 16.
“Unused medication worth billions of dollars gets thrown out every year,” said McNamara, in a press release. “Medication will often go unused because a patient’s condition improves, they change doses or they pass away. Instead of disposing of the unused medicine, people would be able to donate it. By collecting these unused drugs and redistributing them to qualifying individuals, we would be able to increase medication access, especially to underserved populations.”
Miller added that patients who suffer from serious illnesses find it difficult to afford care. Therefore, a drug redistribution program with safety measure to protect patients, could save lives while preserving the financial well-being and dignity of many in Rhode Island who cannot afford medication.
Warwick Mayor Frank Picozzi spoke to the pharmaceutical redistribution program at the Aug. 16 signing. He said when his mom was sick, she needed some expensive medication and when she passed away it was destroyed.
“When she died, one of the first things the hospice nurse did was destroy her medications,” said Picozzi. “We were shocked they wouldn’t be distributed to someone who could use it.”
Speaker of the House Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick) said the medicine will be given back to pharmacists under the proper channels. They will inspect the medications to ensure tampering has not been involved and will redistribute it to people who need it the most. This legislation is set to go into effect Jan. 1, 2023.
McKee also signed legislation that makes it easier for senior citizens to apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. Bill sponsors Rep. Kathleen Fogarty (Dist. 35 – South Kingstown) and Senator V. Susan Sosnowski (Dist. 37 – New Shoreham/South Kingstown) said many seniors don’t apply for SNAP benefits because the application and recertification process are cumbersome.
“Those over 60 are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity, and this bill takes a difficult process and makes it a little easier by reducing the length of the application, increasing the recertification period from two to three years, and waiving the requirement of interviews for recertification,” said Fogarty, in an Aug. 16 press release.
“We have an aging population that’s really suffering nutritionally, and we should do everything we can to make the benefits more accessible to them,” said Sosnowski.
The state is working to ensure that seniors live a full and rich life and can age in place. Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos called upon her personal experience of having her 98-year-old grandmother living in an apartment below her parents.
“I can see firsthand the difference that this legislation is going to make in her life and in my parents' life,” said Matos.
The third piece of legislation McKee signed lowered the age at which a victim can be considered an elder under the state’s elder financial exploitation law. Rep. Jason Knight (D-Dist. 67, Barrington, Warren) Senator Cynthia Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence) sponsored this legislation.
“This bill recognizes that elder financial abuse can take many forms. It isn’t limited to people who are no longer able to handle their own affairs, and our laws need to account for more possibilities to ensure real protection against these crimes,” said Knight.
Coyne said the legislation protects more Rhode Islanders and that the wider definition better ensures that more cases can be successfully prosecuted; the legislation closes a gap between the requirement to report abuse and when charges can be brought for elder financial exploitation.
Shekarchi gave examples of phone and email scams – saying that the elderly may be convinced to sign up for something that costs a lot of money and they don’t receive the product, or they are told a grandchild needs money and gives out financial information over the phone.
Knight added that elder exploitation is on the rise nationally and asked individuals to check on the elders in their lives and ask if they’ve been approached online or by someone who wants them to do something financially.
At the ceremonial signing, McKee also discussed the new Circuit Breaker Tax Credit, which will benefit the state’s seniors and those with disabilities. Additionally, he highlighted the increase in the amount of pension income that is exempt from state taxation for all retirees. Among those investments is $4 million in the FY23 state budget to increase the Circuit Breaker Tax Credit available to qualifying seniors and adults with disabilities, raising the maximum credit received to $600 and increasing the income threshold for eligibility to $35,000. This property tax credit program provides relief to eligible seniors and adults with disabilities who own or rent their homes. The budget also increases the amount of pension income that is exempt from state taxation for all retirees from the first $15,000 to the first $20,000.
“Whether it’s tax relief, housing, food security or utilities, our Administration is looking at these issues through the lens of ensuring our seniors are able to not just live in the Ocean State, but that they are also able to thrive here,” McKee said.
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