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State Regional Roundup

Central Region

Pushing for prudent budgets and choices in long-term care.

Wyoming

Powerful network Lawmakers are considering establishing a network of Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRC), which would help state residents learn about and sign up for long-term care services in their communities.

Such centers — which already exist in 43 states — have been found to save money on long-term care while linking many people to services that help them continue to live independently. From 2006 to 2009, a pilot ADRC connected 1,250 residents of Casper, Douglas and Glenrock with local resources. In 2009 the state received a grant to explore creating a statewide ADRC network.

Legislation is required to sustain funding for such a network. AARP is asking members to urge their legislators to support the effort. For contact information, go to legisweb.state.wy.us. Learn more at aarp.org/wy or call 1-866-663-3290 toll-free.

Oklahoma

Long-term successes Four new laws passed in 2010 aim to crack down on abuse in nursing homes and ensure that Oklahomans who manage their own home-based care receive the services they need.

The four laws, backed by AARP during the 2010 legislative session, close a loophole in the state's Nurse Aide Registry to prevent people previously convicted of crimes from working as aides; require nursing facilities to immediately report rape; refine a rate plan that gives nursing homes incentives to improve quality of care; and expand the cash and counseling program, which helps consumers direct and manage their home-based care.

To join in legislative efforts to bolster choices and quality of long-term care, call 1-866-295-7277 toll-free, or visit aarp.org/ok.

Nebraska

Home sweet home While lawmakers grapple with how to fund programs for the next two years, AARP is urging them to shift a greater share of long-term care dollars into programs that can help frail older adults continue to live at home — and avoid more costly nursing home care.

Programs providing home-delivered meals, transportation and other services that help people age at home already face funding shortages, and the state's eight area agencies on aging are struggling with high caseloads and waiting lists. The legislature will be in session from January through June, and state budget issues will dominate the agenda.

To learn more and get involved, call Mark Intermill, AARP associate state director for advocacy, at 1-866-389-5651 toll-free or e-mail him at mintermill@aarp.org.

New Mexico

Minding the store With New Mexico facing a $450 million shortfall, AARP is monitoring proposed cuts in services to make sure the budget is not balanced at the expense of the state's older citizens.

"We understand the tremendous challenges our lawmakers are facing and that everyone will have to give a little," says Michael Donnelly, AARP associate state director. "But AARP will be monitoring and testifying on bills to ensure they are equitable and fair."

Those bills include proposals to reinstate a food tax and to fold the New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services Department into another state agency. AARP opposes both measures. To learn more about AARP's legislative priorities, visit aarp.org/nm.

South Dakota

In the know In a state with a short legislative session, AARP is encouraging members to stay informed.

Members can receive updates either online or by phone on issues such as tax relief and Medicare. The updates will keep people up to speed when issues are being debated or are headed for a vote and will include information on how to contact lawmakers to weigh in. The legislative session runs from Jan. 11 through March 11.

Sign up to receive short recorded telephone messages by calling 1-866-542-8172 toll-free. To receive text message updates, text "sdaarp leg" to 368674 (message and data rates may apply). Or visit aarp.org/sd to view weekly updates.

Mid-Atlantic Region

Keeping the heat on at home and at work in the Mid-Atlantic.

Maryland

No disconnections AARP Maryland is working with the utility company BGE to encourage customers to designate a friend, relative or social services agency to receive notice of pending shutoffs.

BGE's voluntary Third Party Notification Program is designed to help prevent unnecessary disruptions in gas and electric service. Any shutoff notice sent to the customer also is sent to the designated third party. That person can bring the problem to the customer's attention to be sure it hasn't been overlooked, and perhaps can offer assistance in addressing any payment problems.

AARP is helping to publicize the program because higher midwinter utility bills can lead to payment problems and service disconnection. To enroll, go to bge.com and click on "Manage Your Account" then "Other Billing Services," or call 1-800-685-0123.

Virginia

Penalty returns Once again, AARP is asking legislators to eliminate a state law that discriminates against many workers age 62 and older by reducing unemployment benefits for those who have Social Security retirement income when laid off from a job.

The General Assembly did away with this practice in 2005, with the caveat that it would be reinstated if the state's unemployment trust fund dipped below 50 percent of the amount needed in a calendar year. In a tight economy, the fund dropped below 50 percent for 2010 and is expected to remain below that level for several years.

AARP advocates are lobbying to change the law. Virginia members can help by contacting their legislators to push for a repeal of the penalty. Learn more at aarp.org/va.

Pennsylvania

Rx help AARP is encouraging Pennsylvanians age 65 and older who need help paying for prescription drugs to apply to the state's PACE or PACENET program.

Those facing changes in Medicare Part D or other insurance plans may now be eligible to join the more than 300,000 enrolled in the Pharmaceutical Assistance Contract for the Elderly and PACE Needs Enhancement Tier programs. Participants pay no more than $6 to $8 for a month's supply of generic drugs and $9 to $15 for brand-name prescriptions. To qualify for PACE, annual income must not exceed $14,500 for an individual or $17,700 for a couple; for PACENET the limits are $23,500 for an individual or $31,500 per couple.

To learn more, call 1-800-225-7223, or ask for information at your local Area Agency on Aging or pharmacy.

West Virginia

Oh no, not again AARP is fighting a proposed electricity rate hike that comes on the heels of an increase that was imposed last July.

If the 14.8 percent rate hike requested by Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power is approved, the combined increase would raise rates by more than 23 percent. Approval of the latest hike would cost residential customers an additional $155 million a year, and would mean a 70 percent rate increase over the past five years. The state's Public Service Commission is expected to rule on the request by this spring.

Send public comments to: WV PSC, 201 Brooks St., PO Box 812, Charleston, WV 25323. Refer to case number 10-0699-E-42T.

New Jersey

Warm up With more than 100,000 New Jersey households in need of heating help, AARP has been pushing the state to release funds to help middle-income households on the verge of losing utility service because of past-due bills.

The NJ SHARES program provides grants of up to $1,000 to those facing temporary financial troubles. A law passed a year ago allotted $25 million for emergency relief. Those funds should finally be available starting this month.

To apply for an NJ SHARES grant, call 1-866-657-4273 toll-free. To apply for the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, call 1-800-510-3102. Also, call 609-292-6000 to ask Gov. Chris Christie, R, to continue supporting emergency energy relief.

MidWest Region

Rooting out scams and keeping electric rates fair in the Midwest.

Kentucky

Predatory lending AARP is urging legislators to protect consumers from predatory lenders by capping the interest rate on payday loans at 36 percent.

Under current regulations, payday lenders in Kentucky can charge $15 per $100 for a 14-day loan, which is equivalent to an annual interest rate of 390 percent. Many payday loan customers are unable to repay the loan in 14 days. Instead, they pay the interest in cash on payday and immediately take out another loan for the same principal amount plus new fees, turning a short-term loan into a cycle of debt.

AARP Kentucky is encouraging state residents to share their personal stories about payday loans to persuade lawmakers to cap payday lending rates. To share your story or to become a citizen advocate on this issue, e-mail kyaarp@aarp.org or go to aarp.org/ky.

Indiana

Staying home With lawmakers considering across-the-board cuts to balance the state budget, AARP Indiana is pressing for full funding for CHOICE, a program that helps people live in their own homes as they age.

AARP held news conferences highlighting the personal stories of people receiving CHOICE services such as home-delivered meals, attendant care, transportation and respite care, and is using those stories to press for adequate funding. Gov. Mitch Daniels, R, is expected to release his budget proposal in January, and legislators will hammer out their own version this spring.

Indiana's state-funded CHOICE program provides alternatives to nursing home care for more than 10,000 residents. More than 4,000 people are waiting to enroll.

To oppose cuts in CHOICE, call the House of Representatives at 1-800-382-9842.

Michigan

Dollars and sense AARP, the Investor Protection Trust and the Michigan Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation will cosponsor five seminars this year to help state residents age 50-plus avoid investment scams.

Participants will learn how to spot and sidestep fraudulent tactics, such as the "free lunch" scam, in which potential investors are served a nice meal before being asked to sign on the dotted line.

Preventing fraud and identity theft was the top consumer issue for state residents in AARP's 2010 national member survey, with 76 percent of Michigan respondents indicating they were "extremely" or "very" concerned.

For more information, or to request a seminar in your community, call AARP Michigan at 1-866-227-7448 toll-free.

Missouri

Electric shock As part of a coalition called the Fair Energy Rate Action Fund, AARP is fighting to keep electricity rates fair and affordable for Missourians.

The two major utility companies in the state, Ameren Missouri and Kansas City Power & Light, are seeking 11 percent and 14.5 percent rate increases, respectively, which could affect nearly 2 million residential customers. The proposed hikes would come on the heels of an 11 percent rate increase, approved in June 2010, that is costing Ameren customers $226 million.

The Public Service Commission plans to hold hearings on the rate hikes this month. AARP is encouraging members to attend. For dates, locations and more information, go to psc.mo.gov or aarp.org/mo.

Minnesota

Protect yourself AARP is cracking down on con artists in Minnesota by informing consumers about how to avoid scams and by recruiting volunteers to help protect their neighbors from such crimes.

AARP Minnesota will host a tele-town hall meeting on fraud at 2 p.m. on Jan. 18. Members who participate in the telephone conference will learn how to avoid investment fraud, Internet crimes and health care scams.

AARP also is seeking volunteer fraud fighters, who will be trained to spot and report fraudulent activity in their communities and to push for strengthening state laws to crack down on scammers. For details, visit aarp.org/mn or call 1-866-554-5381 toll-free.

Northeast Region

Preventing pound-foolish budget decisions in the Northeast.

Connecticut

Balancing act When the legislature convenes Jan. 5, lawmakers hammering out a two-year budget will face a shortfall of more than $7 billion.

AARP Connecticut is urging legislators not to slash services across the board, but rather to preserve safety-net programs and maximize cost-effective alternatives to nursing home care. AARP opposes cuts in the state's Dial-a-Ride and Alzheimer's Respite Care programs. In addition, AARP is asking lawmakers to lower electric rates. At 19.03 cents per kilowatt hour, the state's average residential rate is 58.4 percent higher than the national average.

AARP is seeking advocacy volunteers to work on these and other issues. After training, some volunteers will meet one-on-one with legislators and legislative staff. To learn more and get involved, go to aarp.org/ct or call 1-866-295-7279 toll-free.

New Hampshire

Home care AARP New Hampshire is asking newly elected state and federal officials to make good on their campaign promises to apply a greater share of long-term care funding to home- and community-based care. Such services provide a cost-effective alternative to nursing home care and make it easier for state residents to continue to live in their own homes as they age.

"We'll need a groundswell of volunteer support to help us accomplish our task of holding elected officials to their campaign promises," says Kelly Clark, AARP state director. AARP advocates will remind lawmakers of pledges recorded on video during the fall debates, which are now posted online at facebook.com/aarpnh.

To get involved in the effort, e-mail nh@aarp.org.

Rhode Island

Need a ride? In a state where funding slumps when demand for public transportation is high, AARP has joined a coalition trying to improve the state's transit system.

Rhode Island funds public transportation through gas taxes — a system that critics say provides less funding when the state needs it the most, because people tend to drive less and use public transit more when gas prices go up.

As a member of the Coalition for Transportation Choices, AARP Rhode Island is promoting strategies to strengthen the system. One possibility is to apply for federal funding to install a new street-car system in Providence. Another is to increase the 25 million bus trips state residents take each year by adding express routes and increasing park-and-ride capacity. For more information go to aarp.org/ri.

Maine

Stay warm In a state where the chill of winter can bite to the bone, AARP is working with Maine Triads and Maine Area Agencies on Aging to distribute coats to older state residents in need.

Coats for Seniors is an annual community service project that begins each November at L.L. Bean's flagship retail store in Freeport. All the coats donated are cleaned and redistributed to community members. In addition, L.L. Bean donates $5 for every coat collected to the Keep ME Warm Fund, which provides emergency heating assistance to state residents.

Anyone needing a winter coat can contact a local Area Agency on Aging by calling the toll-free state help line at 211. To find out how to donate a coat, e-mail aarpme@aarp.org.

Vermont

Business plans Of the more than 20,000 Vermonters out of work, some may be pondering the feasibility of self-employment. That's why AARP Vermont is working with the Women's Small Business Program at Mercy Connections, a Burlington nonprofit, to help women age 50-plus start their own businesses.

Participants in the 15-week course learn how to develop an idea into a bank-ready business plan. The course covers financial planning, marketing, and personal and professional development.

The next class begins Jan. 27. Tuition costs $1,995, but grants pay the entire cost for most low-income applicants. For details, go to wsbp.org.

Southeast Region

Protecting investors and helping drivers in the Southeast.

Alabama

Savvy and safe AARP is working with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and the Alabama Securities Commission to help state residents protect themselves from investment fraud. A series of free workshops will be held throughout the state this year to highlight ways to spot a scam and avoid becoming a victim.

Scammers are often masters of persuasion, using deceptive titles and guarantees of spectacular profits to gain investors' trust. A 2007 FINRA Investor Education Foundation survey of investors ages 55 to 64 found many left themselves vulnerable to fraud by not checking on an investment broker's credentials or finding out whether the investment was registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission or state securities regulators.

Check the schedule at aarp.org/al, and call 1-877-926-8300 toll-free to register for a workshop.

Arkansas

Rub a dub AARP is touring the state with an unusual exhibit: a full-size bathroom modeling universal design features that can help individuals continue to live at home as they age.

The exhibit includes attractive examples of features such as nonslip floors; raised, comfort-level toilets; and low- or no-threshold shower stalls with built-in benches or seats. Housed in an 18-foot trailer, the bathroom exhibit is available for display at fairs, home shows, conventions and other gatherings. The project was made possible through the efforts of Partners for Inclusive Communities at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, the state Division of Aging and Adult Services, the Arkansas Home Builders Association and other organizations.

Visit aarp.org/ar to see the bathroom exhibit's tour schedule.

South Carolina

Drive smart AARP is asking lawmakers to make it easier for motorists in South Carolina to become eligible for car insurance discounts after successfully completing an AARP Driver Safety course.

The state office is pressing for changes such as shortening the class from eight hours to six and allowing drivers who have passed the course to take a four-hour renewal class every three years to remain eligible for insurance discounts. Studies have shown drivers have fewer accidents after taking the AARP Driver Safety course.

Contact your state senators and representative to ask them to support these legislative changes to help drivers age 50-plus stay safe on the roads. To find contact information for state lawmakers, visit aarp.org/sc.

Louisiana

Ticket to ride Building on the momentum of a transportation conference in December, AARP is seeking legislation that could help Louisianans who can't drive maintain their independence and quality of life.

AARP volunteers will play a critical role in urging lawmakers to support legislation to ensure access to public transportation for all state residents. Almost 20 percent of state residents have at least one disability. And, according to a 2004 study from the Surface Transportation Policy Project, 68 percent of state residents age 65 and older who don't drive reported they regularly stay home due to lack of transportation.

To learn more or to volunteer to help with this issue, visit aarp.org/la or e-mail jtudor@aarp.org.

Tennessee

One-stop shopping AARP is asking incoming Gov. Bill Haslam, R, to better coordinate programs for older Tennesseans and make those services easier to access.

Currently, 23 agencies oversee programs that provide home-delivered meals, home health care, transportation and other home- and community-based services. Streamlining access to such services will become increasingly important as boomers age. By 2020, nearly one in four state residents will be 60 or older.

At AARP's request, Haslam has agreed to host a summit on aging within six months of taking office. To learn more or to join AARP's advocacy effort on the issue, visit aarp.org/tn.

Western Region

Demystifying Social Security and health insurance in the West.

California

No exclusions Californians who have been denied coverage because of preexisting health conditions and have been uninsured for at least six months are now eligible for the state's new Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan.

Created by the federal health care law, the program offers lower premiums and greater coverage than the state's Major Risk Medical Insurance Program, plus no lifetime limits. PCIP premiums are generally 40 percent less than MRMIP's — and cost about what a subscriber without any preexisting conditions would pay for an individual plan on the open market.

The plan covers inpatient and outpatient care provided by doctors, psychologists, hospitals, laboratories and imaging centers, as well as generic and brand-name drugs. To learn more, go to pcip.ca.gov or call 1-877-428-5060 toll-free.

Hawaii

Social Security 101 Over the next 10 years, about 200,000 Hawaii boomers will become eligible for Social Security, nearly doubling the number of state residents receiving benefits. To dispel confusion about eligibility, benefits and the program's solvency, AARP is working with the Social Security Administration to conduct three interactive webinars. Anyone with Internet access can listen and ask questions.

The three-part series aims to clarify Social Security's role in providing financial security to almost everyone who faces loss of income caused by retirement, disability or death. The first session, to be webcast from 12 to 1:15 p.m. on Feb. 8, will explain how the program works — including who's eligible for what and when — and how to maximize benefits.

To register, go to aarpsocialsecurity.eventbrite.com.

Utah and Montana

Speak up now AARP is urging members to get involved in upcoming legislative sessions in Utah and Montana.

AARP Utah is cosponsoring Democracy Day on Jan. 31, a week after the annual 45-day session convenes. Citizens will gather at the Capitol for advocacy training and meetings with legislators to discuss health care reform, the state budget and a proposed food tax increase. For more information, go to aarp.org/ut.

In Montana, a projected $368 million budget shortfall is forcing lawmakers to consider major cuts in services. AARP is recruiting an army of activists to fill legislators' e-mail in-boxes with pleas to maintain services for older Montanans. To join the effort, go to aarp.org/getinvolved.

Idaho

Critical measure In response to members' concerns expressed in a recent survey, AARP is asking the legislature to amend Idaho's "conscience law" to strike "end-of-life care and treatment" from the measure. The law currently allows health care professionals to let their conscience override a patient's living will.

Rep. Tom Trail, R, is expected to introduce the amendment, which advocates hope will resonate with other legislators — 82 percent of whom are over 50. "For all of us to have confidence in our living wills and advance directives, this amendment must pass," says Jim Wordelman, AARP state director.

AARP is asking members to urge their legislators to support the amendment. To get involved, call 1-800-232-0581.

Oregon

Fighting hunger Come spend an evening with AARP staff and other members at Portland's Rose Garden on Feb. 27 as the Portland Trail Blazers play the Atlanta Hawks. A portion of each ticket sold will benefit Loaves and Fishes Centers, which provide home-delivered meals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture ranks Oregon among five states with the highest prevalence of hunger.

Discounted tickets for the event range from $19 to $47. The evening will include a pregame buffet and a postgame free-throw contest. The optional buffet costs $10.

To order tickets for the event, call Blake Wehling at 503-963-3964, or e-mail him at blake.wehling@trailblazers.com.

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