In this May 2020 newsletter we are focused most on the impacts of COVID-19. Here is what we’ll be covering:
2020/2021 State Budget
TABOR Emergency Reserve – What is it; how is it used
- Health Care – Treatment and Triage
- Health Care – Prevention of future health issues – Report from DRCOG area Accountable Health Communities
Housing – What Has Changed in the Last Two Months
- Evictions Moratorium
- Mobile Home Parks Act Revisited
Elder Care Issues – Deaths of Colorado Residents in Senior Care Centers
Elder Care Issues – Adult Guardianship
2020/2021 State Budget:
Beginning the week of May 4th, The Joint Budget Committee (JBC) began deliberations on JBC staff recommendations for balancing the FY 2020-21 budget (what is known as the Long Bill). They already knew that based on the March revenue estimate they would have to take severe actions to meet their constitutional responsibility to recommend a balanced budget. The two most notable areas of interest to older Coloradans that were discussed are the Senior and Disable Veteran Property Tax Exemption (Homestead Exemption) and the Older Coloradans Cash Fund (OCCF).
The JBC seemed prepared to suspend the Homestead Exemption but delayed a decision until the week of May 18th. They did act on the provision in law that transfers any of the funds set aside to pay for the Homestead Exemption that go unspent in a given year to the OCCF. These unspent funds are then allocated to the state’s sixteen Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) to deliver in-home and community-based services to older Coloradans.
The JBC voted to transfer the remaining $13 million of the unspent homestead exemption funds from the OCCF to the General Fund and confirmed their previous decision to have a bill drafted to eliminate future overestimated, non-allocated, homestead fund transfers altogether. Later, when they were considering options “if deeper cuts are need”, they decided to put off a decision on the staff recommendation to run a bill to take $2 million (and possibly all $10 million) of the Older Coloradans Cash Fund statutory appropriation at least until after the May 12th revised forecast. Given the dismal forecast, we’ll be watching this one closely.
Tom Dermody (JBC staff) was clear that he was not recommending they take any of the amount ($9 million) remaining from the 2018 unspent Homestead Exemption transfer. He also reminded JBC that during the March 9 figure setting (seems like a century ago) they directed him to work with stakeholders on a plan to allocate the $13 million. He was quite complimentary of we stakeholders and even said he was committed to working with us and engaging the AAAs to develop a plan for long term funding (noting the issues we have been discussing pre-date COVID). He acknowledged that current funding is and will continue to be inadequate. When he presented the option of cutting the Older Coloradans Cash Fund, he described it as a last ditch cut option and the committee postponed a decision saying they wanted to avoid cutting primary and prevention services but they feared that couldn’t be avoided if another round of balancing is needed.
The Homestead Exemption – now valued at about $163 million ($158 million for seniors and $5 million for disabled veterans) – will likely be set to a zero value for at least the 20/21 fiscal year, likely longer – meaning those who qualify now or later this year will not be seeing it again very soon. So, many of us will be paying a bit more property tax.
At the same time, due to Colorado’s nearly impossible to understand taxing structure, residential property tax assessment rates are likely to be reduced once again. Sounds good? It really is not. Property taxes pay for a wide variety of services at the county and local levels, including schools and fire protection. Would you like a fire truck to show up if your house is on fire or would you rather watch it burn? That is a real issue here, folks. It is so easy to say you don’t like taxes and you don’t trust politicians to spend that tax money. Unless you have a better idea to raise money for public services, then taxes must exist; and unless you want to be responsible for allocating how it is spent – with limited information and while doing your own job, then you have to rely on the people you elect to make those decisions.
The JBC acknowledged that suspending the Homestead Exemption would create very real problem for many older Coloradans but to not do so will make eliminating the $3.3 billion General Fund deficit much more difficult. Where else would you cut the to come up with $163 million? The committee also acknowledge the long time concerns about the exemption not being means tested as a complicating factor in how a lot of folks think about the exemption. They led them into a discussion of anything they could do to offer an alternative to those most in need. The alternative they most were interested in is the PTC Rebate (Property Tax/Rent/Heat Rebate). They even asked staff to research options for increasing the funding for the PTC Rebate. We at Senior Lobby would support that as we were a prime sponsor of HB 19-1085, a bill that accomplished about a 5% increased in the program last year. But we still are skeptical that any increased funding is likely when they are having to make such deep cuts.
Assuming that the Homestead Exemption is suspended, a likely consequence will be to drive increased demand for senior services. As we often say, “Just because the money goes away doesn’t mean the need goes away”. Thus, the work of community organizations and the Area Agencies on Aging to keep older Coloradans safe and healthy in their residences becomes even more critical than it already is and needs to stay fully funded.
Finally, we should all be grateful for the service of the six legislators who sit on the Joint Budget Committee. Their job is incredibly, impossibly, difficult right now. You, in your household, have difficult decisions to make when your household income falls 25% or more; this is what the JBC is doing for our state. Maybe you have to decide between cooking and ordering takeout, or paying your rent vs. your car payment, or cutting your internet services.
The JBC has larger, and no less important, choices. Never take for granted their service; thank them whenever you get the chance. I know of no one who would want to be a JBC member today. They cannot win, no matter what they do. Cut them some slack.
They are doing the best they can. No one has ever been in their shoes.
Learn more about the Joint Budget Committee – CLICK HERE
TABOR Emergency Reserve – What is it; how is it used:
“On March 11, 2020, Governor Polis issued Executive Order D 2020 003,1 declaring a disaster emergency pursuant to state law due to the presence of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The disaster emergency declaration triggers certain provisions in the Colorado Constitution and state law. This memorandum presents information on emergency fiscal provisions in Article X, Section 20, of the Colorado Constitution (TABOR). Specifically, it discusses the emergency reserve and emergency taxation provisions contained in subsections (5) and (6) of TABOR, respectively …” – READ MORE
Treatment and Triage:
Your CSL has worked on various aspects of the Governor’s Crisis Standards of Care (CSC) to eliminate negative biases around age.
The CSC was created and designed to be used only in the event of an emergency medical resource availability crisis and it details the standards by which triage teams will determine who gets treatment (or not) in the event the Governor declares an emergency and put the CSC into full effect.
CSL (and others) has raised several issues around the use of age as a factor in making those triage decisions. After further consideration by the Governor’s team, several of those factors have been modified. At this writing, we have one large remaining concern – That concern regards the continuing use of age (over 50) in the triage criteria point system. We have addressed the Governor on this issue and others in the aging community have also spoken up. The American Geriatric Society clearly supports CSL’s recommendations. For further details – CLICK HERE.
Prevention of future health issues – Report from DRCOG area Accountable Health Communities
As we can see from the following information, food security – always number one – has moved up in importance in the past several weeks.
Accountable Health Communities: In 2017 the DRCOG-AAA was awarded funding from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to establish the Denver Regional Accountable Health Community (AHC). The AHC is a regional network of health, community and public partners working to create a clinical-community continuum of care to better address individuals’ health-related social needs. Partners in clinical settings complete evidence-based screenings to identify Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries’ housing, food, utility, transportation and safety needs. They then refer individuals to community partners to meet their needs and support their health. Learn more about Accountable Health Communities – CLICK HERE
- Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, 7 AHC clinical sites screened between 1,200 and 1,600 individuals with Medicare and/or Medicaid coverage every month. Due to the decline in clinical visits associated with Colorado’s stay-at-home order, only 673 individuals were screened in April.
- Prior to April 2020, an average of 33% people screened indicated at least one health-related social need. In April, 42% reported one or more needs.
- The AHC Food Security Workgroup, convened to evaluate possibilities for a COVID-response project. Recognizing that food insecurity is a persistent need exacerbated by COVID, any response project must be designed to address the heightened need but also support longer-term food security solutions. The Workgroup is currently investigating a co-location service model to increase access to food resources by placing them at clinical health sites.
Housing – What Has Changed in the Last Two Months:
The Office of the Governor of the State of Colorado has issued and updated an evictions moratorium – READ MORE
Mobile Home Parks Act Revisited
Source: Colorado Sun
The mobile home park business model – in which residents pay to park their manufactured homes on someone else’s rental lots – traditionally left residents vulnerable to abuse, yet also economically or logistically unable to move homes generally rooted to the land. In most cases, residents had no choice but to take disputes to court – if they could even afford it – where well-heeled park owners held a distinct advantage.
Laws enacted last year to strengthen the Mobile Home Parks Act, which hadn’t been significantly updated since 1985, included creation of a dispute resolution process designed to avoid the need – and expense – of court. That momentum carried into this legislative session as two more bills, one that would further update language in the Act and another that would offer residents the opportunity to purchase their park, made it to the Senate before the pandemic brought the General Assembly to a halt.
Even now, with lawmakers focused on reimagining the state budget and school finance, Hooton feels that both measures fall into line with the pared-down legislative focus and could make it to Polis’ desk.
“Looking at the criteria of legislation, housing is an absolute priority,” she said. “Now, there are no guarantees. We have three weeks. But I feel very optimistic.”
For months since the bill passed last year, DOLA worked on the rulemaking process with stakeholders and scheduled sessions to convey that information to the larger community of mobile home residents. But when the coronavirus was discovered in Colorado in March, the stay-at-home order stifled outreach efforts by the state and advocacy groups alike.
Peirce said that made it difficult to familiarize residents with the dispute resolution program. He added that the plan was to give homeowners a copy of the complaint form and a list of rights under the Mobile Home Parks Act that would help residents formulate valid complaints.
“So the idea was to get training materials up, so people know whether they can make a complaint DOLA has power to act on,” he said. “None of that training material has been communicated.”
The law went into effect May 1.
Elder Care Issues – Deaths of Colorado Residents in Senior Care Centers
An article on May, 2020 by Bernard Condon, Jim Mustian and Jennifer Peltz, with The Associated Press read, “More than 430 Colorado nursing home or senior care center residents have been killed by coronavirus”. Read more to learn about this issue.
NEW YORK — Faced with 20,000 coronavirus deaths and counting, the nation’s nursing homes are pushing back against a potential flood of lawsuits with a sweeping lobbying effort to get states to grant them emergency protection from claims of inadequate care. More than 430 nursing home or senior care center residents have been killed by coronavirus in Colorado.
COVID-19 in Colorado – Full Coverage from Associated Press
At least 15 states have enacted laws or governors’ orders that explicitly or apparently provide nursing homes and long-term care facilities some protection from lawsuits arising from the crisis. And in the case of New York, which leads the nation in deaths in such facilities, a lobbying group wrote the first draft of a measure that apparently makes it the only state with specific protection from both civil lawsuits and criminal prosecution.
Now the industry is forging ahead with a campaign to get other states on board with a simple argument: This was an unprecedented crisis and nursing homes should not be liable for events beyond their control, such as shortages of protective equipment and testing, shifting directives from authorities, and sicknesses that have decimated staffs.
“As our care providers make these difficult decisions, they need to know they will not be prosecuted or persecuted,” read a letter sent this month from several major hospital and nursing home groups to their next big goal, California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom has yet to make a decision. Other states in their sights include Florida, Pennsylvania and Missouri.
Watchdogs, patient advocates and lawyers argue that immunity orders are misguided. At a time when the crisis is laying bare such chronic industry problems as staffing shortages and poor infection control, they say legal liability is the last safety net to keep facilities accountable.
They also contend nursing homes are taking advantage of the crisis to protect their bottom lines. Almost 70% of the nation’s more than 15,000 nursing homes are run by for-profit companies, and hundreds have been bought and sold in recent years by private-equity firms.
“What you’re really looking at is an industry that always wanted immunity and now has the opportunity to ask for it under the cloak of saying, ‘Let’s protect our heroes,” said Mike Dark, an attorney for California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform.
“This has very little to do with the hard work being done by health care providers,” he said, “and everything to do with protecting the financial interests of these big operators.”
Nowhere have the industry’s efforts played out more starkly than in New York, which has about a fifth of the nation’s known nursing home and long-term care deaths and has had at least seven facilities with outbreaks of 40 deaths or more, including one home in Manhattan that reported 98.
New York’s immunity law signed by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo was drafted by the Greater New York Hospital Association, an influential lobbying group for both hospitals and nursing homes that donated more than $1 million to the state Democratic Party in 2018 and has pumped more than $7 million into lobbying over the past three years.
Elder Care Issues – Adult Guardianship:
April 30, 2020: The Colorado Office of Public Guardianship Commission and Director announce the launch of the Colorado Office of Public Guardianship Pilot Program in the 2nd Judicial District (Denver County). The Colorado Office of Public Guardianship Pilot Program will provide guardianship services to adult Colorado citizens who lack the mental capacity to act on their own behalf, are without appropriate relatives or friends to serve as guardian, or lack any other resources to assist them with basic decisions regarding health care, living arrangements, and all other needs to ensure their safety and well-being.
The Colorado Office of Public Guardianship is now accepting referrals for nomination of the Office for permanent guardianship petitions. The online referral process is available through the Colorado Office of Public Guardianship website at https://colorado-opg.org/opg-referral-process/
And from last month we are still wondering, “So, what is next?” We are still not sure, but we still have strong belief in all Coloradans to be strong and resilient. Be safe, stay well and let’s work together! We will get through this.
Regards, Bob Brocker
President – Colorado Senior Lobby