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States Regional Roundup

Central Region

Clarifying health care issues and pushing for affordable homes.

Nebraska

Shop and compare Nebraskans confused about changes in Medicare Part D prescription drug plans can seek answers from the state's Senior Health Insurance Information Program.

During Part D open enrollment from Nov. 15 to Dec. 31, SHIIP will hold several events where Medicare beneficiaries can ask questions and sign up for or switch plans. Those with limited income may qualify for extra help with drug costs.

For a schedule of these events or to receive free, unbiased information about Part D plans, call Nebraska SHIIP at 1-800-234-7119. To compare prescription drug plans online and find one that best meets your needs, go to medicare.gov.

North Dakota

No place like home AARP has joined the Housing Alliance of North Dakota in urging lawmakers to establish a state housing trust fund.

North Dakota is one of only 10 states that lack such a fund, which finances construction and repair of affordable, accessible housing for a wide range of state residents, including low-income families, older adults and people with disabilities.

The alliance will spotlight the need for such housing during the upcoming legislative session. A shortage of affordable housing in western North Dakota — where a strong job market has attracted an influx of workers from out of state — has led to hundreds of workers living in tents and campers. For more information, go to aarp.org/nd.

Oklahoma

Reaching out Building on the success of its second Indian Elder Honors program, AARP Oklahoma is expanding efforts to involve more American Indians in its activities.

AARP is inviting representatives of the 38 federally recognized tribes headquartered in Oklahoma to a December meeting to lay the groundwork for a statewide AARP Indian Council. The council will help AARP Oklahoma work with tribal governments to identify issues affecting older American Indians and encourage more involvement in AARP activities. Council members will serve as liaisons, generating ideas and providing feedback for cooperative efforts between AARP and the tribes.

AARP is seeking Indian Council volunteers from every tribe in the state. To apply, e-mail Craig Davis at cedavis@aarp.org or call him toll-free at 1-866-295-7277.

South Dakota

Understanding health care AARP South Dakota has produced a bookmark listing free resources that can demystify the new federal health care reform law.

The local or online resources provide information on Medicare Part D enrollment, health care fraud prevention and the state's new high-risk insurance pool for people previously denied coverage because of preexisting conditions. A recent study found most Americans are unclear about the benefits of and changes resulting from the health care law.

To request a bookmark, e-mail AARP South Dakota at sdaarp@aarp.org. In the subject line, please write: "Health Care Resources Request," and in the body of the e-mail, be sure to include your name and mailing address. You can also download the information at aarp.org/sd or request a bookmark by calling 1-866-542-8172 toll-free.

Wyoming

One-stop shopping AARP Wyoming is urging lawmakers to set up an aging and disability resource center, which would give state residents a single source of information about all options for long-term care.

A resource center can occupy a physical location or deliver services by telephone, online or through home visits, whichever is most convenient for those seeking help. The information provided is tailored to an individual's needs and circumstances. While most states have established such a center, Wyoming still lacks a "one-stop shop" for long-term care.

AARP and 12 other groups are pressing for legislation to establish a statewide system. To learn more, go to aarp.org/wy.

mid-atlantic region

Help with heating costs and long-term care in the Mid-Atlantic.

Maryland

Plan ahead AARP Maryland is encouraging boomer women, many of whom are caregivers, to plan for their own long-term care needs.

The campaign, under way in seven states, encourages long-term care planning that includes health, financial, housing and legal considerations. The effort targets women because they typically live longer and have fewer resources than men and are more likely to need long-term care.

A study in the journal Inquiry (vol. 42, winter 2005-06) found about 79 percent of 65-year-old women will need long-term care at some point in their lives. Moreover, the study found, women will need almost four years of long-term care, compared with about two years for men.

Visit aarp.org/decide to find a free long-term care resource guide, step-by-step planning worksheet and other information and tools.

Pennsylvania

Lower your bills With rate caps in many areas of the state expiring at the end of this year, AARP Pennsylvania is encouraging residents to shop for the best electricity rates.

The state's electrical utilities were regulated until 1997, when the legislature approved a plan to move to unregulated power supplies. When rate caps began expiring in January 2010, some Pennsylvania consumers saw their electricity rates increase by more than 35 percent. PECO, Penelec, Met-Ed and West Penn Power customers will face higher electricity bills when their rate caps are removed on Dec. 31.

Visit www.oca.state.pa.us to find price comparison charts for each local electric company. Call the supplier to verify the price before signing up.

New Jersey

Stave off the chill Many New Jersey households struggling to pay their utility bills this winter may be eligible for help. AARP is working with state agencies to spread the word about programs that help state residents avoid utility shut-offs during dangerously cold weather.

Individuals with annual income up to $21,660 and couples with income up to $29,140 may be eligible for financial aid for heating costs through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Households that have higher incomes but are experiencing a temporary financial crisis can turn to NJ SHARES, which provides grants of up to $1,000 to help with heating costs.

To learn more about these programs, call NJ SHARES at 1-866-657-4273 toll-free or go to njshares.org.

Delaware

Smooth transitions For the first time, Delaware has an ombudsman responsible for helping consumers ease back into their homes and communities after being in a nursing home.

In keeping with research showing most people would rather receive care at home than in an institutional setting, AARP Delaware pushed for the 2009 law that created the position. Operating under the state's office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman, the new ombudsman will stand up for consumers on issues such as transportation, home retrofitting and community involvement to improve quality of life for those receiving home- and community-based services.

To learn more, visit aarp.org/de or call 1-866-227-7441 toll-free.

Virginia

Energy smarts In a state where the typical household spends about $1,900 a year on energy bills, AARP Virginia is encouraging members to help others reduce consumption and costs.

Operation Energy Save tool kits — available through AARP's Create the Good initiative — offer low- and no-cost ways to rein in energy use. The tool kits make it easy for individuals and groups to help neighbors, family members and friends conserve energy. Tips range from replacing standard light bulbs with energy-efficient models to requesting a home energy audit from the local utility company.

To download a tool kit, visit createthegood.org/howto and scroll down to click on "Operation Energy Save."

Midwest

Covering the uninsured and keeping roads safe in the Midwest.

Kentucky

Keep in touch AARP is working with the state Public Service Commission and the Federal Communications Commission to spread the word about discounts on basic telephone service for low-income households.

Under the Lifeline program, eligible Kentuckians receive a discount of at least $10 a month on basic service. The Link-Up program cuts installation charges in half, up to a maximum savings of $30. In 2009, less than half of the households eligible for these programs signed up.

"Basic telephone service gives vulnerable adults more security," says Scott Wegenast, spokesman for AARP Kentucky. "It allows them not only to keep in touch with family and friends, but to contact vital emergency services and community resources."

For more information, go to aarp.org/ky. To apply, contact the business office of your local telephone provider.

Iowa

Expanding coverage More than 34,000 Iowans previously denied health insurance because of preexisting conditions such as cancer or diabetes may be eligible for coverage under the state's newly expanded high-risk pool.

The program, funded with $35 million from the new federal health care reform law, is designed to help cover the uninsured from now until 2014, when the federal law will prohibit insurers from denying coverage because of preexisting conditions. Iowa residents who have been uninsured for at least six months and have had problems finding affordable coverage because they have one or more of 40 listed conditions may be eligible.

For more information, go to aarp.org/ia. To apply, go to hipiowa.com/hipiowa-fed.

Missouri

Business plans AARP Missouri is encouraging business leaders across the state to use AARP's Workforce Assessment Tool to explore ways to stay competitive by capitalizing on the value and experience of 50-plus workers.

The free online tool is designed to help human resources managers assess and address skill shortages due to retirement and staff attrition, create a work environment that attracts qualified workers of all ages, and manage a multigenerational workforce.

AARP Missouri and Metropolitan Community College are sponsoring symposiums on Nov. 4 in Kansas City and Dec. 6 in Belton to introduce the tool to area employers.

For more information — or to schedule a speaker to discuss how to tap the strengths of an age-diverse workforce — e-mail aarpmo@aarp.org.

Indiana

Street smarts AARP Indiana is urging community leaders in Fort Wayne and Lafayette to formally adopt "complete streets" policies, which aim to make it easier for pedestrians, bicyclists and bus riders to share the roadways.

"It's time to improve transportation designs to accommodate people of all ages and abilities, and all modes of travel," says Irene Wegner, AARP associate state director for community outreach. AARP is meeting with elected officials, urban planners and transportation engineers throughout Allen and Tippecanoe counties to discuss ways to improve mobility so everyone can participate in the economic, cultural and social life of their communities.

For more information, go to aarp.org/in.

Wisconsin

Tax time AARP Wisconsin is recruiting energetic, technologically savvy volunteers to keep up with the growing demand for AARP Tax-Aide volunteers in their communities. In 2009, volunteers at AARP Tax-Aide sites in Wisconsin helped about 60,000 state residents fill out their tax forms, generating more than $25 million in refunds.

"The need for volunteers is great," says Jennifer Baier, who coordinates the program in Wisconsin. "In Madison, where tax preparation is done on a first-come, first-served basis, people start lining up at the site hours in advance."

Volunteers receive training and ongoing support. To sign up, call 1-888-227-7669 toll-free. Press 1 for AARP Tax-Aide, then press 2 to volunteer.

Northeast

Improving health coverage, long-term care in the Northeast.

Maine

Dollars and sense To help residents preserve their savings and protect themselves from fraud, AARP Maine and the state Office of Securities are sponsoring statewide seminars on wise investing.

At a recent event in Presque Isle, presenters discussed how to balance risk tolerance with investment goals, check brokers' and advisers' backgrounds and find out whether they are licensed, and sidestep common scams. Similar seminars will be held in other towns in 2011.

"Scammers often target older investors who have spent decades accruing a nest egg," says Nancy Kelleher, AARP state director. "Unsafe investing can mean financial ruin for older people because they have little time to recover."

For online tips on how to invest wisely, go to www.investors.maine.gov. For the date and location of the next seminar, go to aarp.org/me.

Connecticut

Home care In a state that spends most of its Medicaid long-term care budget on nursing home care, AARP is pushing for more services that help older people and adults with physical disabilities live independently at home.

The new federal health care law provides funding for states to increase home- and community-based services. AARP is part of the state's Long-Term Care Advisory Council, which will make recommendations to the new governor and legislature on how to best use those funds.

Connecticut currently spends about $2.4 billion annually in Medicaid dollars for long-term care. That sum could double by 2025 if lawmakers fail to shift a greater share of such funding to cost-effective home- and community-based care.

New Hampshire

Business planning AARP is encouraging New Hampshire employers to use an online tool that can help them capitalize on the strengths of a multigenerational workforce.

AARP's free Workforce Assessment Tool can help employers fine-tune recruitment practices and tailor benefits appropriate for an age-diverse company in order to attract and retain talented older employees.

"The current economy has put workforce planning on the back burner for many businesses," says Fran Allain of the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development. "This tool encourages companies to create a strong strategic workforce plan now that can give them an edge in the future."

For more information, visit AARP's Employer Resource Center at aarp.org/employerresourcecenter.

Rhode Island

Covering the uninsured AARP Rhode Island is serving on the Healthy RI Implementation Task Force, established by Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts (D) to help the state expand coverage under the new federal health care reform law.

The task force drew leaders from physicians' and nurses' groups, hospitals, health centers, government agencies and the business community to explore how to establish a statewide insurance exchange to satisfy the federal mandate that all state residents have access to health insurance by 2014. The task force will send recommendations to the legislature this fall to help lawmakers decide how best to leverage federal funds earmarked for expanding coverage.

To follow the issue, go to aarp.org/ri.

New York

Be prepared AARP New York is encouraging state residents to designate a health care proxy to help ensure their wishes regarding medical care are carried out.

Although a recent state law allows family to make medical decisions for an incapacitated patient without a proxy, family members may not understand or agree to the kind of treatment the patient wants.

"Clearly stating your wishes to a trusted family member or friend whom you have designated as your health care proxy is the best way to ensure that health care professionals will carry your wishes out," says Lois Aronstein, AARP state director.

For more information or to download a proxy form, visit aarp.org/ny.

Southeast

Helping people live at home as they age in the Southeast.

Mississippi

Stay warm as winter approaches AARP Mississippi is spreading the word about programs that help with heating costs.

The federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides financial aid to eligible households to help pay their energy bills.

Benefits vary. Households may qualify either for regular LIHEAP assistance or the emergency Energy Crisis Intervention Program to pay for natural gas, wood, electricity, propane and other heating fuels or services. Individuals with less than $16,245 annual income and couples with less than $21,855 may be eligible.

These programs helped more than 66,000 Mississippi households last year. To apply, call the Community Action Agency at 1-800-421-0762.

To find out how you can help AARP advocate for affordable utility rates for everyone, visit aarp.org/ms or call 1-866-554-5382 toll-free.

South Carolina

Can't wait With more than 4,000 people on a waiting list for services that can help them live at home as they age, AARP South Carolina is urging lawmakers to restore funding for the Community Choices program.

"That's the longest waiting list in more than a decade," said Teresa Arnold, AARP state legislative director.

Community Choices links residents with services such as home-delivered meals, assistance with personal care and transportation. Cutting funds for home- and community-based services may be a quick budget fix, but it has long-term consequences: Nursing home care costs up to five times as much, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For more information or to ask your legislator to support funding for Community Choices, visit aarp.org/sc or call 1-866-389-5655 toll-free.

Georgia

Halt the hike AARP Georgia is fighting a $1 billion rate hike proposal by Georgia Power that would raise the typical residential customer's electric bills by about $11 a month beginning in January and nearly $18 a month by February 2013. The Public Service Commission will decide by Dec. 21 how large a rate increase to allow for additional system improvements.

Already, Georgia Power customers' monthly bills have gone up by $5.59 for a fuel cost increase and are set to rise again in January to pay for a previously approved power plant expansion.

AARP opposes the new proposal because it would also allow Georgia Power to raise rates in the future through surcharges, with less oversight from the PSC. Learn more at aarp.org/ga.

Arkansas

New navigators The state has expanded its Options Counseling program, more than doubling the number of staff on hand to help Arkansas residents explore the range of choices available for long-term care. The program helps individuals and families determine their eligibility and apply for the services they need.

AARP Arkansas lobbied lawmakers in 2007 to create the program, which launched in 2008. The program has proved so successful, the state increased its staffing this year from 16 to 38 members at a cost of about $2 million.

To access the free service, call the Choices in Living Resource Center at 1-866-801-3435 toll-free from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.

Florida

Feeding the hungry With the economy in a slump and hunger on the rise, AARP Florida is working with food banks, Meals on Wheels and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to help feed Floridians.

Among state residents age 60 and older, participation in SNAP has increased 65 percent since 2006, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families. In central Florida alone, more than 100,000 people age 50-plus turn to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida and its 600 related feeding programs to get enough to eat.

To learn more about SNAP and local food programs, go to benefitscheckup.org/snap.cfm.

West

Strengthening Social Security, insuring uninsured in the West.

Washington

Gotcha covered Health insurance is now available for Washington residents previously denied coverage because of preexisting conditions.

Funded by the federal government, the new Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan is being run by the state's current high-risk pool. Unlike that pool, however, PCIP's coverage of preexisting conditions begins immediately. The new plan will continue until 2014, when the new federal health care law will prohibit insurers from denying coverage because of preexisting conditions.

To qualify for PCIP, applicants must have been uninsured for at least six months and have a serious medical condition. Monthly rates for adults age 50-plus range from $476 to $1,577, depending on deductible ($2,500 or $500) and other factors.

For more information, go to wship.org/PCIP-WA or call toll-free 1-877-505-0514.

Idaho

Save the safety net About half of Idahoans age 65-plus would find themselves living in poverty if their Social Security benefits were cut, and prospects could be even bleaker for future retirees.

That's why AARP is urging U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo (R) and other members of the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform to back off the idea of reducing Social Security benefits to cut the federal deficit. The presidential commission is supposed to issue recommendations by Dec. 1 on how to balance the nation's budget by 2015. AARP contends it would not be fair to reduce the deficit by cutting benefits for retirees who already are cash-strapped in a floundering economy.

Funded by workers' and employers' contributions, Social Security is a self-sustaining program that has not added to the deficit. To learn more, go to aarp.org/id.

Montana

Guiding lights To help shape its legislative agenda for the biennial session that begins Jan. 3, AARP Montana is turning to AARP members across the state.

A nonscientific survey aims to capture members' opinions and concerns on a range of issues, from the importance of background checks for health care workers to whether AARP should focus on strengthening financial safeguards for consumers. The survey responses will be combined with feedback from focus groups to help AARP Montana determine its priorities.

"We want to know what's on people's minds," said Bob Bartholomew, AARP state director. To participate in the 10-question survey, go to aarp.org/mt or call 1-866-295-7278 toll-free.

Utah

Free speech Meeting planners for civic groups and community organizations can turn to AARP Utah's newly formed Speakers' Bureau to book presentations on a variety of topics.

Having recently completed AARP's training on issue content and presentation skills, a fresh cadre of speakers stands ready to talk to groups across the state. Topics include the new federal health care reform law, wise use of medicines, financial literacy, Social Security, identity theft and investment fraud. Speakers include AARP staff members and volunteers, as well as experts from state agencies that work cooperatively with AARP.

To book a speaker for a group of 25 or more, call 801-567-2645.

Oregon

Strength in diversity The number of Oregon adults age 65 and older is projected to double by 2050, and more than half of them will be minorities. To accommodate the state's changing demographics, AARP Oregon has established a Diversity Advisory Council and is seeking volunteers to serve on the 12-member panel, representing the interests of ethnic, racial, immigrant, refugee, gay, lesbian, disability, faith-based and geographic communities. The council will provide guidance to AARP staff and volunteers to ensure diversity and inclusion in AARP activities throughout the state.

To apply, complete the form available at aarp.org/or and submit it by Nov. 30.

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