Massachusetts legislators focus on aid for seniors during pandemic

Massachusetts State House. (Photo by Aaron Ye/BU News Service)

By Anju Miura
BU News Service

BOSTON – Several legislators are expressing concern over senior citizens who could struggle not only with social isolation, but also with financial issues such as new tax filing deadlines and scams during the coronavirus pandemic.

State Sen. Rebecca Rausch, D-Needham, chair of the Committee on Elder Affairs, said one of her top priorities is addressing concerns of senior citizens.

She described a bill passed by the Senate on March 30, a provision to ensure that sewer and trash collection and other essential municipal services will not be cut if a resident can’t pay because of COVID-19.

“That’s certainly a concern for seniors who probably at this point may very well own their homes outright and are paying other taxes and fees to their municipalities directly,” Rausch said.

After the federal government extended its tax filing deadline to July 15, Massachusetts did the same for state taxes.

“There wouldn’t be [any] confusion, and that would make life simpler for people,” said state Rep. Carmine Gentile, D-Sudbury, who presented the House version of the bill, adding the state’s rainy day fund will cover any deficit in this fiscal year caused by the deadline change.

Grace O’Donnell, director of elder services at the Framingham Council on Aging, said many seniors are concerned about the actual filing of their taxes, an event for which they often rely on volunteers from the American Association of Retired Persons.

“Many of their volunteers are seniors themselves, and that is the high risk group,” O’Donnell said, adding that such assistance is normally done in person.

The AARP has closed all tax-aide sites in response to the spread of the coronavirus, and has not announced whether it would resume appointments for tax-preparation services before the deadline.

While the spread of the coronavirus has had an impact on the incomes of countless residents, including seniors, some relief is coming in the form of federal stimulus checks for eligible taxpayers.

Senior citizens, as well as others who are not typically required to file a tax return, do not need to file a form to receive the economic impact payment, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

In addition to financial difficulties due to the coronavirus, seniors also have to be wary of scams, said state Sen. Ryan Fattman, R-Webster.

“There are, unfortunately, people out there trying to take advantage,” he said, adding that the Senate has been working to distribute accurate information as many seniors in multiple districts reported scams.

Seniors should take a moment to consider when someone tries to take their personal information, O’Donnell said.

“It’s a shame,” she said. “Situations like this tend to bring out the best in people but, in some people, brings out the worst in them.”

Gentile, whose mother-in-law lives in an independent senior living facility, said many people with seniors in their family struggle to communicate with them as nursing homes, assisted living and other facilities are currently closed to the visitors.

An increasing number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts puts seniors at higher risk to leave their residences or interact with others, he said.

“A woman, who is 93-years-old, has to stay in her apartment 24/7. It’s going to be really, really difficult,” Gentile said, adding that his family members are calling her every day to check on her.

“This is tough on all ages,” Fattman said. “Just the remoteness and isolation of people. It’s not good for anybody’s mental health.”

He said technologies have helped him connect with his parents, who do not see their grandchildren in person to avoid the risk of the coronavirus.

Moreover, for those who are at the higher risk of COVID-19, taking a walk can be life-threatening.

With municipal elections upcoming, Fattman said the Legislature supports seniors’ right to vote while ensuring their safety through an emergency bill signed by Gov. Charlie Baker to allow expanding absentee and early voting by mail.

“We want to make sure that they do vote and have the ability to do so,” he said.

This article was originally published in The MetroWest Daily News.

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