2008-10-01 / Seniors

Senior Spotlight

More Home Heating Funds Voted By Washington Officials

With cold winter nights not far off and heating costs expected to spiral upwards, seniors will welcome the warm and friendly news coming this way from Washington where lawmakers, overwhelmed by the trillion-dollar financial industry bailout, still managed to find time to vote an increase in home heating assistance funds.

State Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith reports that U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D- New York) and Democrats in Congress were successful in securing $490 million in additional funding to address the heating crisis. Under the appropriations bill, the state is set to receive $490 million in Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funding. That's $137 million more than last year, Smith (D- Jamaica) said.

The agreement reached last Thursday, he said, will allow New York state to increase home heating aid of more than $600 for low-income families earning up to $45,000 a year. This includes seniors and people with disabilities, Smith said.

The prospect of more home heating aid from Washington for some New Yorkers also provided encouragement for Smith to try to win approval for a program for middle-income families also facing mounting home heating costs. Smith, who leads the Democratic minority in the state senate, is pressuring the Republican majority to back the program.

One other encouraging note in securing home heating aid comes from U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D- New York). She has introduced a bill which would provide direct aid in the form of a refundable tax credit for low- and middle income renters and homeowners. A companion bill has also been introduced in the House of Representatives.

"We need to take action now to provide hardworking New Yorkers who are feeling the crush of growing financial and mortgage crises, and are now facing the prospect of skyrocketing home heating costs as winter fast approaches," Clinton declared.

WANTS BAILOUT FOR SENIORS: As Washington lawmakers are set to enact the $700 billion bailout of well heeled Wall Street investment bankers, many observers have complained that millions of seniors whose 401 (k) investment nest eggs have been depleted by the meltdown of the economy are also entitled to a bailout by the federal government.

Besides calling for help for shaky 401 (k) accounts, there have been a spate of articles proposing protections for other savings accounts held by seniors.

In one such proposal for aiding 401 (k) account holders, Teresa Ghilarducci an economics professor at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan, noted that the Washington bailout plan should have given not only investment banks but also retirees and those close to retirement the opportunity to clear the junk—bad mortgagedbased securities and their derivatives—out of their 401 (k) accounts and invest in government-guaranteed bonds.

Then, Ghilarducci continued in a New York Times Op Ed, "Once the current losses are stemmed, the federal government should protect Americans from further risks to the savings they set aside for their old age by creating a more secure system of investment for retirement accounts."

The professor also calls for a governmentbacked pension plan "more like the old kind, with defined predictable benefits". Individuals while still working would contribute 5 percent of their salaries and the government would provide an annual deposit of about $600. This huge pool of money would then be invested by the federal government in a diversified portfolio of both safe and risky assets because, "The government is large enough to handle this risk," Ghilarducci said.

An individual account holder would start to collect benefits at fixed intervals at about the same time he or she began to collect Social Security benefits, Ghilarducci added.

SENIOR FITNESS PROGRAM: City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. is encouraging seniors to sign up for the new City Parks Senior Fitness fall program, which hosts activities to encourage exercise and wellness for older adults. Vallone (D- Astoria) secured $5,000 from the council to support the program.

The program is open to anyone over 60 years of age and takes place in city parks in every borough. In Queens, it's offered at Astoria Park, Roy Wilkins Park and Flushing Meadows- Corona Park.

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