Aging in Vermont
I am proud to have always been a strong ally of Vermont’s seniors. In the Legislature I co-sponsored a plan that allowed Medicare reimbursements for home care, so seniors could age in place if they wished to, rather than enter a care facility in order to receive benefits. I also teamed up with Peter Welch and fought a large Vermont employer that had summarily canceled retiree benefits; battles like this were occurring nationally in the 90s -- but we were the first in the country to win, and restore retiree benefits. And at Google, I funded internet training for seniors aimed at protecting them from online scams; the program has been effective here in Vermont and all across the country. But there is so much more that we can do to improve the quality of life for seniors in our state.
If elected, my administration will:
Eliminate the state tax on Social Security income for middle class Vermonters. As governor, I will put an end to taxing our middle class seniors’ hard earned Social Security income, because we shouldn’t be funding government on the backs of seniors and those who can afford it the least. This tax hits when seniors can least afford it, when they’re living on a fixed income. Under my plan, middle class households earning up to 150% of Vermont median household income will be exempt from state taxes on their Social Security income.
Support services that keep our seniors active, connected, and healthy. Vermont is one of the few states in the country that does not provide aid to senior centers. We must support our senior centers so that aging Vermonters have a vibrant community hub, which is essential for well-being. Additionally, we should enhance our Meals on Wheels program, which provides incredible services beyond nutrition in checking in on seniors who may not otherwise have much contact with others. And lastly, we can expand SeniorCorps programs, which provide great value to both seniors and their communities.
Change the way property taxes are levied to reflect seniors’ ability to pay. Many seniors want to stay in their homes for as long as they can, but cannot afford continually escalating property taxes on fixed incomes. We need to revise our tax code to recognize the particular dilemma of seniors and other Vermonters whose properties may be increasing in value beyond their ability to keep up with rising taxes. Similarly, we need to better align the tax burden of paying for education to seniors’ more limited ability to pay.
Establish a Public Retirement Plan. We should set up retirement savings accounts for Vermonters whose employers don’t already offer one, and make it easy to contribute to the accounts through optional payroll deductions. By helping Vermonters retire with more, we can ultimately save the state millions of dollars by reducing reliance on state financial support.
Get prescription drug prices under control. Advances in medicine have led to longer life expectancy and a better quality of life. But the cost for prescription drugs can be prohibitive, and hits seniors on fixed incomes especially hard. Medication costs in Vermont far outpace the rate of inflation, and U.S. pharmaceutical companies charge more for medication here than in most other countries. We need to pursue creative options to reduce the cost, such as bulk purchasing of medication in collaboration with neighboring states, or even re-importation from Canada as Senator Sanders used to do.
Encourage video-conferencing for health check-ins and other needs. Video-conferencing technology exists that can improve information access and quality of life for seniors living in isolation. Whether seniors need to talk to a medical professional, or simply connect to friends and family, this easy to use, intuitive technology can make a profound difference in seniors’ lives. It can also help friends, families, and professionals identify seniors in need of services.
Get caught up on affordable housing. The high price and limited availability of affordable housing in our state affects us all, especially seniors. We need to make investments in affordable housing in downtowns, where residents can walk from their apartment to amenities like shops, libraries and and grocery stores. We should also expand access to programs that help seniors stay in their homes, like HomeShare Vermont in the Northeast Kingdom and Cover Home Repair in the Upper Valley.
Enhance our utility rate-payer advocacy group. In the wake of incidents where state government oversight has come up short, there are increasing concerns that our utility advocacy group isn’t doing enough to protect rate-payers, many of whom are seniors. The justification of the price of utilities in our state is not transparent - and it needs to be. We need to move the rate-payer advocacy group out of the commissioner’s office and into the Attorney General’s office to make sure its work is clearly aligned with the best interests of our citizens. It’s time to clean up and clarify the fine print surrounding our utility contracts.
Unleash the power of our retired professionals to help get more Vermonters to college. We have one of the best education systems in the country - 95% of Vermont kids graduate from high school. But we are lagging far behind in the number of our high school graduates who go to college. My proposed Seniors to Seniors Program will match high school students with retired professionals who can help them prepare for standardized tests, make them aware of the many higher education options available, including online and distance learning, and can help work through the maze of paperwork required for financial aid and scholarships.
Provide scam education and protection. Email, texting, and video-conferencing offer seniors the ability to connect with caregivers and loved ones as never before. But technology also makes seniors particularly vulnerable to scam artists who target seniors. We will need to increase our commitment to protecting and educating our citizens about scams of all types, from phone solicitations to knocks at the door, as well as provide a help-line for anyone to ask about suspicious activity.
Introduce new ride-sharing programs where public transportation isn’t available. Decreasing mobility is one of the biggest challenges facing elderly populations in rural states like ours. Public transportation works well in some areas, and should be expanded where it makes sense. However, in some areas the public transportation model may simply be too expensive. In these areas we should explore other models, such as ride-sharing programs. A ride-share program would allow seniors to request a ride when they need it, at lower cost than traditional taxi services. Fortunately, new technology allows for ride-sharing to be organized much more efficiently, and can be an easy and cost-effective solution for rural Vermonters who want to stay in their communities.