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Legislators Keep Programs To Benefit Seniors

The 2016 Colorado Legislature did not pass much new legislation that affects seniors, but they kept many of the programs that benefits older adults without any cuts or changes, which can be considered a “win”. Colorado legislators were faced with balancing a budget, Tabor refunds and maintaining programs to benefit the citizens.

Even when funding is more flexible, advocates are always concerned about maintaining funding for senior programs. Most of the funding is discretionary meaning if legislators need to balance the budget, those programs are often seen as “not necessary”.

The Property Tax Homestead Exemption program was continued. The Homestead Exemption provides for a tax break of 50% of the first $200,000 of value on a personal residence in which the homeowner has lived for ten years and is over the age of 65. Home owners can apply at the county assessor’s office for this tax break. In 2014-15, there was an excess of approximately $1 million in the Homestead Exemption fund which was made available to older adults through the Area Agencies on Aging and will help fund programs such as transportation, home care, and meals on wheels.

The Older Coloradoans Fund was funded at 2015-16 levels, thus allowing local service providers to continue serving the needs of many seniors with services that promote independence in the home and often help to delay the need for long term care services. Funding for these programs is available through the Area Agencies on Aging with a focus on serving those in most economic and social need.

Health Care Policy and Financing was awarded $3 million to serve non-Medicaid individuals 60 and over and whose monthly income is less than 250% of poverty with dental services. Services are provided through 21 grantees throughout the state including federally qualified health centers, private dentists who contract with community agencies, and dentists who are in private practice.

Funding was also maintained for low income seniors whose monthly income is less than $12,953 ($17,560 for a couple) to provide a rebate on rent, heat and/or property taxes. Applications can be made through the Colorado Department of Revenue.

In 2014, many individuals either by their license or the type of institution in which they work were deemed mandatory reporters of elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation for anyone who was over the age of 70. This year the legislature expanded those same protections to any individual age 18 and over who is identified as an at-risk adult. The group of individuals who are mandatory reporters was also expanded.

More and more people are caring for elders and loved ones in their own homes. The legislature directed a study in late 2015 and passed a bill this session to begin to address the needs of families and those providing care to the disabled and those with chronic conditions. For the next three years, the project is tasked with identifying the needs of families needing respite care, creating a central registry to list respite services, training for those providing respite services, and making it easier to use Medicaid funds to provide respite services.

Transferring title to property that is owned in joint tenancy upon the death of one of the joint tenants was simplified. The surviving joint tenant has to file paperwork with the county clerk to affirm that the individual is deceased. The bill also outlines how creditors can file a claim against the estate and makes new provisions for those who want to challenge the Last Will and Testament.

Suicide in Colorado is high compared to other states, especially among the elderly. The Colorado Department of Public Health has been charged with collecting data to identify ways to reduce suicide rates. While no funding was provided for this mandate, the department is also required to develop a plan to improve training and to develop a plan by July 1, 2019.

County departments of human services process applications for food stamps, Medicaid, Old Age Pension and long term care. Colorado has consistently paid fines to the federal government for taking too long to process the applications and for the inaccuracies in processing applications. Senator Pat Steadman led an effort to require the Colorado Department of Human Services to share bonuses with the counties if the State meets certain requirements for accuracy and timeliness. This should improve benefits for older adults who use these programs.

For more information on these and other bills affecting older adults, call 303-333-3482. Individuals who need assistance with applying for any of the programs are encouraged to call for help and talk with a counselor.

About the Author

Eileen Doherty

Eileen Doherty, MS has been the Executive Director of the Colorado Gerontological Society since 1982. She has more than 40 years of experience in education and training, advocacy, clinical practice, and research in the field of gerontology. She is an adjunct instructor at Fort Hays State University teaching non-profit management. She can be reached at 303-333-3482 or at doherty001@att.net.

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