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Shelby, Bullard attend AARP conference on senior legislation goals

Jerry Shelby from Salisbury and Pat Bullard from China Grove attended an AARP North Carolina “Key Legislative Contact” Conference in Raleigh on Jan. 29.
The purpose was to train volunteers to increase legislators’ responsiveness to AARP’s key legislative priorities through regular personal contact with lawmakers in their districts. The conference, involving more than 150 persons, is part of a continuing effort by AARP to establish a network of at least one key legislative contact person from each of North Carolina’s 120 state house legislative districts. Shelby and Bullard are representatives from Rowan County House districts 76 (Carl Ford) and 77 (Harry Warren), and Senate districts 34 (Andrew Brock) and 35 (Gene McLaurin).
At the conference, the Rowan County delegates participated in issue briefings and advocacy panel discussions, heard presentations on “How to Advocate” and “Keeping up with Legislature.” A review of the 2012 legislative actions was compared to the 2012 priorities. Workshops were held on the Nuts and Bolts of Being an Effective Advocate, Preparing for Contact with Legislatures, Working with Media, Reaching Out to Others to Enlist Their Support, and Making Presentations on Priority Issues.
Representative Tom Murry, Wake County, was the keynote speaker. Murry is the House Commerce and Job Development Committee Chairman, and the Appropriations Vice Chairman. He discussed what to expect in 2013, some of the key issues like revising the tax program, and he gave pointers for being an effective advocate.
Dennis Street, North Carolina director of Aging and Adult Services, presented areas of concern on budget cuts, especially the Home and Community Care Block Grant programs, home-delivered meals, in-home aides, transportation, respite care and other cuts. As more people need help, they are added to waiting lists instead of being helped. He showed that the population is getting older and poorer. When the Affordable Care Act goes into effect in 2014, more people will qualify for extra help and Medicaid.
Bill Wilson, deputy director N.C. Justice Center, spoke about what to expect in the 2013 legislative session and the role of key legislative contacts in the current political climate. He noted the changes to the legislature as a result of the last elections, the redistricting. The overall N.C. Legislature has a low approval rating of 16 percent, and the state per capita spending is at a 25-year low. He pointed out that all three legislative branches and the Supreme Court are controlled by the Republican party, and they have a two-thirds super majority. With the redistricting, there are only a few competitive districts. Forty percent of the house and senate districts had no opposition in the last election.
Some key issues to watch: the reduction or elimination of the individual income tax and corporate tax, replaced with an increase in the sales tax and services, more than 100 services could be taxed; the reduction of unemployment benefits and number of weeks that can be drawn; cutting Medicaid health benefits; approving the annual Duke Power utility increases; requiring voter identification; funding non-public schools with public schools funds.
Helen Savage, NCAARP, presented AARP’s national Medicare and Social Security Campaign to save these “earned benefits” programs for retirees. She presented research data, poles and statistics showing what the poverty rate and quality of life would be without these benefits or even a reduction in the programs. There is a growing need to improve these programs because they are the lifeline for seniors and the disabled. In 2011, Social Security benefits provided $23.5 billion to the North Carolina economy.
Tazra Mitchell, Public Policy Fellow, Budget and Tax Center, presented data on the different tax reforms the legislature will look at and the effects of cutting or eliminating personal income tax and corporate tax and increasing the sales tax to offset the loss. People receiving Social Security and low wage earners could be hurt the most. Taxing Social Security and taking away the extra $600 standard senior citizen deduction could also be considered.
At the planning sessions, Shelby presented his ideas for fixing Social Security and Medicare that he sent to President Obama, Secretary Sebelius, Rep. Mel Watt, and senators Kay Hagan and Richard Burr.
Key legislative agenda Items for AARP North Carolina for 2013 include:
• Increase funding for programs to enable older adults to stay in their homes, including support for the Home and Community Block Grant.
• Work to implement the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, including Medicaid eligibility and establishing Health Benefits Marketplace.
• Advocate fair tax reform measures to ensure seniors and the disabled are not disproportionately impacted.
• Increase support for family caregivers, including restoring funding for project CARE.
• Protect the interests of consumers in the merger of Duke Energy and Progress Energy.
• Promote employment of older workers.
• Maintain optional Medicaid services for older and disabled adults.
• Ensure voter ID legislation does not impose undue burden on older and disabled adults.
• Increase funding for adult protective services.
• Support reinstating the Study Commission on Aging to study aging issues and senior friendly communities.
The key contact delegates will concentrate on the first three priority issues and pursue the others. A planning session was held for the delegates to set up meetings with their local representatives and senator to discuss the issue areas.
The local AARP Chapter meets the first Thursday of each month at Rufty-Holmes Senior Center starting at 1 p.m. Senior citizens over the age of 50 are welcome. Shelby and Bullard are available at the meetings.

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