The following is a statement by AARP New York State Director Beth Finkel:
"AARP thanks Assembly Speaker Silver and Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz for taking a major step toward protecting New York's overburdened residential utility ratepayers by including a strong and independent utility consumer advocate in their state budget proposal.
"New York is home to some of the highest residential electric rates in the nation, yet we're one of just 10 states without an independent and meaningful voice protecting residential ratepayers.
"We don't think that high rates and the lack of consumer representation is a coincidence, and AARP believes the Assembly's proposal would level a playing field currently tilted too much in favor of utility companies that spare little expense in pressing for rate hikes - expenses they pass on to the ratepayers themselves.
"By giving New York's utility consumer advocate the independence to pursue the best course for ratepayers and providing the power to sue over unfair rate hikes, the Assembly's plan would be a game-changer when rate hikes go before regulators.
"AARP would like to commend the leadership of Senator Klein, the head of the Independent Democratic Conference, for spearheading the need for an independent consumer advocate in the New York State Senate.
"AARP is strongly urging the Senate Republicans and Governor Cuomo - whose own Moreland Commission on Utility Storm Preparation and Response recommended an independent utility consumer advocate (pages 44-46) - to recognize the need to level the playing field and give consumers a voice.
"AARP appreciates that the Assembly provided an additional $1 million for community based services in their one-house budget but is disappointed because it will not go far to help overwhelmed family caregivers keep pace with growing demand resulting from an aging population.
"The lack of any substantial increase in funding for non-Medicaid, in-home services for the elderly will do little to assist family caregivers struggling to help our frail elderly parents, spouses and loved ones age with the independence and dignity they deserve in their own homes.
"And it may well drive up taxpayer costs for Medicaid-funded nursing homes, which is often where burned out caregivers - who provide care valued at $32 billion annually - must send their loved ones when they lack sufficient supports to provide the care themselves.
"This issue is not going away, as our population ages and more frail elderly need care from fewer potential caregivers. With New York already 48th in state support for family caregivers, the Governor and lawmakers will have to address the issue sooner or later. The sooner they do, the more likely New York can prevent what's now a crisis from becoming a full-blown disaster.
"There are other ways the state can help family caregivers cope with the often difficult and challenging tasks required in taking care of a frail loved one at home, and we will work with Governor Cuomo and our legislators in the coming months to ensure caregivers are better equipped for the job."
AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, with a membership of more than 37 million, that helps people turn their goals and dreams into real possibilities, strengthens communities and fights for the issues that matter most to families such as healthcare, employment and income security, retirement planning, affordable utilities and protection from financial abuse. We advocate for individuals in the marketplace by selecting products and services of high quality and value to carry the AARP name as well as help our members obtain discounts on a wide range of products, travel, and services. A trusted source for lifestyle tips, news and educational information, AARP produces AARP The Magazine, the world's largest circulation magazine; AARP Bulletin; www.aarp.org; AARP TV & Radio; AARP Books; and AARP en Español, a Spanish-language website addressing the interests and needs of Hispanics. AARP does not endorse candidates for public office or make contributions to political campaigns or candidates. AARP Foundation is an affiliated charity of AARP that is working to win back opportunity for struggling Americans 50+ by being a force for change on the most serious issues they face today: housing, hunger, income and isolation. AARP has staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Learn more at www.aarp.org.