A Dignified Retirement
Here in Colorado, we take care of each other. We all have a role to play in making sure that everyone in our great state is able to live a great life and succeed. And, with Colorado expecting major growth in the coming years, it’s more important than ever that we plan for a future that manages growth effectively while maintaining our Colorado quality of life—that especially matters for older Coloradans on fixed income. In fact, by 2030, the Colorado Health Institute projects that population growth among older adults is set to grow by 61 percent. To put that in perspective, Colorado has one of the fastest growing populations of older adults in the country.
We need to begin planning for the impacts this will have on services for older Coloradans now. The good news is that according to the United Health Foundation, Colorado is ranked as the 4th healthiest state for older adults. But, there’s still more to do. Too often, policies meant for older citizens neglect the importance of everyday issues such as convenient transportation and affordable housing in the overall quality of life in our later years.
I’ve been proud to fight for older adults in Congress. One of the great honors of my life was working alongside President Obama to help pass the Affordable Care Act, which expanded Medicaid, lowered the cost for prescription drugs, and increased preventive services for older adults. I’ve also rejected efforts to reduce funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides millions of low-income older adults with access to food. And, in 2014, I voted to reauthorize the Older Americans Act in Congress, which provides funding for critical nutritional and health services to help people age with dignity. As governor, I will fight to make sure that Colorado’s older citizens aren’t left behind in all aspects of everyday life as we confront the challenges of the future.
Our state needs to refocus its local and state governmental bodies to think, legislate, and act in a way that acknowledges this age shift and confronts future challenges now. This is not a political issue, nor is it a partisan one. This is about taking care of our friends and family the best we can so that every Coloradan can age with dignity.
Improve transportation options that meet the needs of older Coloradans
For many older adults who live in assisted-living communities, or are transit-challenged and live alone, a lack of access to transportation options can be isolating and a health risk. The Colorado Department of Transportation should better tailor their work to address this problem across all transportation projects to ensure our infrastructure projects provide older adults with realistic transportation options. That’s why in my plan to build a fully interconnected transit system for Colorado that relieves traffic and saves people money, I prioritize the development of transit-centered affordable housing, and encourage safe ride-share companies, taxi cab companies, and public transit agencies to help close first and final-mile points of access to transportation options. Front Range Rail, a commuter line that will connect Fort Collins and Pueblo by rail, will be of great help in building out our intercity connectivity throughout Colorado. By building with older communities in mind, we can bring families closer together and make simple tasks like running errands less of a challenge.
Make life easier and more affordable for those on fixed-incomes
Older Coloradans living on a tight fixed income know how challenging it can be to afford to live in the home you love. The Colorado Property/Rent/Heat credit (PTC) is a lifeline for low-income older adults and individuals with disabilities by helping to offset the rising cost of property taxes, rent, and heating. This gives more Coloradans the ability to age in place and afford the cost of living in our state. In 2016, just over 18,000 Coloradans were able to benefit from this program. Relative to our nearly $30B state budget, this program costs approximately $7M to fund. That’s just .023% of our state budget. As governor, I support funding this program and indexing rebate amounts to inflation so that older adults on fixed income can continue to live in the homes they love now and in the future.
We can also do a better job of informing older adults of their eligibility for SNAP, and also aid in enrollment. With the cost of living outpacing Social Security benefits, many older adults are left with the choice of paying utility bills or putting food on the table. In Colorado, 13.7 percent of people over the age of 60 struggle with food insecurity.This is unacceptable. Simply put: no one in Colorado should go hungry. As a former Member of Congress, I have the unique experience necessary to make sure Colorado is working effectively with the federal government to make sure every eligible older adult has access to affordable and nutritious meals.
Enact fair, transparent, and ethical arbitration laws
When an older Coloradan moves into a nursing home, one of the most common documents signed is a forced arbitration agreement between the resident and the nursing home. Let’s be clear: most nursing homes are serving our family members incredibly well. The people who work in them are often unsung heroes in improving the quality of life for older Coloradans. And, when conflicts do arise, arbitration can help Coloradans get justice quickly and at a much lower cost. However, one thing we can immediately do to make sure Coloradans who have entered into these agreements aren’t put at a legal disadvantage when they suffer psychological or physical abuse is to enact fair, transparent, and ethical reforms to our arbitration laws that help level the playing field for families while also expediting the long and costly legal process. A dignified retirement requires a no-tolerance policy for elder abuse of any kind, and reforms that set high standards on ethics and include strong enforcement of criminal laws against elder abuse can help ensure that ailing older adults are treated well.
Protect the Public Employee Retirement Association (PERA)
for current and future retirees
Throughout their careers, state employees from teachers to state troopers have ceded making investments in Social Security in favor of the state managing their pensions through PERA. Making sure that PERA is solvent for years to come is more than just smart budgeting: it’s keeping our promise to those who have served our state.
While I’m grateful that the legislature came to a compromise on ensuring PERA’s solvency for decades to come during the 2018 legislative session, I believe the bill placed too much burden on retirees to do so. No governor should ever play political games with the secure retirement of more than 500,000 Coloradans. We must preserve PERA’s designation as a defined benefit pension system as a way of keeping our promise to those who have served our state.
I will reject efforts to reform PERA on the backs of our teaching professionals and state or local employees in the future. If we must make adjustments, we need to make sure the changes are as fair as possible to all involved – retirees, current employees and employers. And, my record on this is clear. I’ve always stood up for a dignified retirement in Congress by rejecting attacks on Social Security and Medicare. I will do the same thing as governor — by rejecting extreme proposals to undermine PERA in ways that risk its future solvency and the benefits promised to hardworking Coloradans.
Create a Secure Savings Plan for Working Coloradans
According to a recent study, the average Social Security benefit for a Coloradan aged 65 or older is $16,900 per year while the average cost of living for that age group is $19,785. For Coloradans without any independent savings, this can cause hardship, delay retirement, and create financial uncertainty in later years. Legislation has been offered in the General Assembly to help private-sector workers plan for their future by creating a portable secure savings plan to help workers build wealth. Not only could this open the door to a dignified retirement for more people, but it could help promote healthy saving habits and financial literacy for working Coloradans in the future.
End prescription drug price gouging and increase cost transparency
As governor, I will improve support for Colorado’s state-of-the-art All Payer Claims Database and conduct a system-wide audit of the database, cross-referencing other publicly available data to help identify additional health care savings and implement improvements to data collection. I will also work to require pharmaceutical companies to disclose development, manufacturing, marketing, and distribution costs to ensure older adults are paying fair prices for their medication. Further, I’ve long supported the importation of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada, and will fight to make that easier in Colorado.
Help older Coloradans stay in the homes they love and age in place
Far too many older adults face significant financial hurdles to remaining in their homes as they age. High-quality home care is often restricted to those who are fortunate to have been able to put money aside for their retirement throughout their lives. Others are left behind and unable to afford the high cost of home care. For those who can afford it, home care has proven to reduce hospital readmissions and secure a higher quality of life in later years. However, we are suffering from a critical shortage of qualified home care workers. With our population of older adults set to grow rapidly, I will refocus our efforts to build a professionalized and sustainable workforce of qualified home caregivers, better utilize DOL-certified apprenticeship programs, and help more Coloradans receive home and community-based service waivers for in-home care through Medicaid.
We can also provide relief for the rising cost of living through existing programs. Colorado currently offers a Senior Homestead Property Tax Exemption which helps older adults afford the cost of living in their home after a lifetime of work. However, this property tax exemption isn’t guaranteed and our Constitutional requirement to have a balanced budget combined with the negative impacts on our revenue collection from TABOR often put this benefit for older adults at risk of cuts when economic downturns occur, and I will explore efforts to provide multi-year stability for this program.