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Should Hochul announce a ‘Master Plan for Aging’ during State of the State?

Then-Lieutenant Gov. Kathy Hochul introduces then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 2020 State of the State Address Jan. 8, 2020, in Albany.
Darren McGee
Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
Then-Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul introduces then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 2020 State of the State Address Jan. 8, 2020, in Albany.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul will deliver her first State of the State Address on Wednesday, a speech in which she’s likely to discuss the state’s ongoing response to COVID-19, term limits and maybe even a new Buffalo Bills stadium. 

But some would like her to mention what she’s going to do about the fact that a quarter of all New Yorkers will be 60 or older by 2030.

More than 80 agencies statewide signed a letterlast month asking Hochul to create a Master Plan for Aging, something of a state road map for addressing issues faced by the state’s rapidly aging population.

The plan would be crafted by state agencies, community organizations and other stakeholders, and could tackle everything from long-term care and unpaid family caregiving, to housing, nutritionand transportation, to the digital divide and senior isolation. It would then serve as a guide for future executive actions and legislation. 

Pamela Ward waters the flowers on the front porch of her North Buffalo home. Ward, a widow and retiree, has lived there for 44 years and plans to continue to age in place.
Tom Dinki
Pamela Ward waters the flowers on the front porch of her North Buffalo home. Ward, a widow and retiree, has lived there for 44 years and plans to continue to age in place.

Other states, including California, Colorado and Texas have made their own Master Plans for Aging in recent years. California’s websiteeven allows you to track the progress of their plan.

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Signers are asking Hochul to sign an executive order to kickstart the process of crafting New York’s plan, and would even like her to announce it during the State of the State.

“I'm sure a State of a State is like the State of the Union: If you can get three words in, you're doing good,” said Bob Blancato, national coordinator for the Elder Justice Coalition, a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group involved in the effort.

Blancato said Hochul could send a message that New York wants to be prepared for an increase in older residents as the Baby Boomer generation reaches their 70s and 80s, sometimes called a Silver Tsunami.

“Sometimes in this country, we have a tendency not to be prepared. We wait for the crisis to hit the doorstep, and then you try to make responses up,” he said. “But this would be a foresighted step that allows for planning. Again, the key word there is plan. A Master Plan on Aging.”

Several Buffalo-area leaders signed the letter, including Sasha Yerkovich, executive director of Canopy of Neighbors, the Buffalo chapter of a national nonprofit network that uses volunteers to transport older adults to places like grocery stores and doctor’s offices. Canopy of Neighbors currently services about 200 older adults in the city and has revenues in the low six-figures.

Yerkovich hopes a Master Plan for Aging could lead to groups like hers, which rely on private donations, getting funding by the state. 

“Allow organizations like Canopy of Neighbors, who are community caregivers, to be supported and reimbursed and allow us to do very cheap and direct impact intervention in the community is crucial,” she said.

It’d be worth the investment, too, Yerkovich said, as it keeps older adults independent longer and out of costly government-funded long-term care plans. New York’s Medicaid budget has ballooned to $82 billion, the second most in the nation. 

“Making sure that the senior population is not a drain on the Medicare and Medicaid system, is economically healthy for all ages and income groups in Buffalo,” she said.

And any aging plan must also acknowledge the inequities amongst older adults, said Pastor George Nicholas, chairperson of the Buffalo Center for Health Equity and one of the signers of the letter.

Older New Yorkers of color faced more housing and food insecurity than white New Yorkers during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a reportlast year by AARP. It also found that nursing homes with more Black and Hispanic residents were at greater risk for the virus.

Black New Yorkers are more likely than white New Yorkers to die before age 75 and be hospitalized for chronic conditions like asthma and heart disease, according to New York State Department of Health data.

That’s due to the “social determinants of health,” Nicholas said. That’s factors that include income, education, housing, access to quality health care, as well as air and water quality. The state has identified a cancer cluster on the Buffalo’s predominantly-Black East Side.

“And so whenever we're talking about addressing any social problem, we have to put in the equation the fact that … the problem will be much more pronounced in [the Black] community and in their life experience.” Nicholas said.

So far, Hochul has confirmed only one piece of her State of the State Agenda. On Monday she announced she will be proposing both term limits and a ban on outside income for statewide elected officials, which include governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller.

A Hochul spokesperson said in an email that Hochul plans to build on New York’s AARP designation as an “age-friendly” state, as well as expand support services and policies for older adults during the upcoming legislative session. 

However, Hochul recently received some criticism from health care workers for signing an executive order todelay new nursing home regulations for at least 30 days. The order said the laws, which regulate staffing levels and profits, must be delayed due to the state’s shortage of health care workers.

Blancato said members of his coalition have spoken with Hochul staffers about the Master Plan for Aging, but the governor has not made any commitments yet. 

“I'm sure the competition for lines in the State of the State is pretty intense, but, because this involves a cross section issue of aging, one hopes that that would be seen as a good thing to do from a policy and a political standpoint,” he said.

For Nicholas, he wants more than just a shoutout in a speech.

“My hope is that she does it,” he said. “I mean, I think having her mention it would be great, but mentioned in the context of this is what my administration is going to do. Not saying, ‘Hey, this would be a great idea, we’ll think about doing it.’ No, this is what we're going to do because it's the right thing to do. And it's going to help people who need help, and we're going to do it.”

Hochul is set to deliver her speech at 1 p.m. Wednesday from Albany. It will be livestreamed online.

Copyright 2022 WBFO. To see more, visit WBFO.

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.