Snyder announces initiatives for Michigan senior citizens

LANSING – New initiatives to improve services for Michigan seniors will include a “one-stop shop” website for aging information, Gov. Rick Snyder said Monday.

The Republican governor, whose re-election bid depends in part on appealing to senior voters, said he wants the four state agencies that serve the growing population to collaborate to increase efficiency.

The website, he said, will improve access to state services and provide guidance for things such as retirement planning by early 2015.

“Ensuring that more older adults have the opportunity to be healthy, independent and productive individuals in age-friendly communities that support their needs will be critical as the state plans for the future,” Snyder said in the Detroit suburb of Rochester.

“The simple truth is Michigan has more work to do to prepare for its aging population.”

Roughly one in four Michigan residents will be at least 60 years old by 2030, Snyder said. And people age 85 and up comprise the fastest-growing segment of Michigan’s population.

“It is said that it’s not like a wave of seniors coming, it’s a tidal wave of seniors that are getting to be that age that are going to need to be served,” said Lori Stephens-Brown, director of AMCAB’s Meals on Wheels program in Marquette. “Right now, it’s very tight. When the number of seniors eligible for services will increase by that much, it’s really going to be a problem unless the funds increase. Without increases, there are going to be a lot of people that aren’t able to stay in their homes.”

She said she thinks it’s really exciting that there’s focus now on seniors in the state of Michigan, and that Snyder is actually looking to put money into senior services.

In the prepared version of his eighth special message to the Legislature, Snyder asked lawmakers on Monday to approve about $20 million in additional funding for senior services in his 2015 budget, including $1 million to address elder abuse and $5 million for programs such as Meals on Wheels. The Senate and House budgets included similar funding; lawmakers are expected to finalize a budget this month.

State agencies will develop performance incentives for Michigan’s 400 nursing homes, which house roughly 40,000 residents, Snyder said. Less than 30 percent of Michigan nursing homes have programs that give residents control of their schedules or activities, he said.

Snyder also announced pilot programs for improving dementia treatment and increasing seniors’ participation in school volunteer programs.

Elyse Bertucci, director of the Ishpeming Senior Center, said that the announcement was great, because anything that works to improve the quality of life and boost services to seniors is obviously something that senior centers would approve of.

“My concern always is implementing,” she said. “I hope there’s money behind some of these initiatives so they can be brought to fruition. You can’t just have ideas, you have to have the finances behind it to implement them.”

She added that she doesn’t get too wrapped up in the politics of issues like this, but it’s always good when there is attention given to the needs of seniors and all Michigan residents.

“We’re just here in the trenches providing the services,” she said.

Democrats, including gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer, have criticized Snyder for eliminating an exemption on certain retirement income after taking office in 2011.

Public pensions that had been exempt from state taxes and other retirement income that had been partially exempt is now taxed as regular income for those born after 1945 – with the exception of Social Security payments and military pensions. Exemptions can be claimed for up to $20,000 for a single filer and up to $40,000 for joint filers.

Snyder said Democrats’ characterization of the 2012 change as a “pension tax” is incorrect and that he tried to “clean up our tax code.”

“What we did was is to say, you shouldn’t pay tax simply because you have a certain type of retirement income,” Snyder said.

Schauer said Monday he would start his term as governor “by getting rid of Snyder’s pension tax.”

Jacqueline Morrison, Michigan director for the AARP, said the organization opposes the tax but is not actively working on the issue. She said she was “encouraged” by Snyder’s proposals, especially efforts to increase job opportunities for seniors.

“Many of the members who are short financially are looking for work, looking for ways to replace that lost revenue,” she said.