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By Kings County Politics News Service
In the 25th State Senatorial District, 32-year incumbent Velmanette Montgomery is facing challenger Michael Cox in the Democratic Primary in a district that includes the neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Red Hook and parts of Brooklyn Heights, Boerum Hill, Sunset Park, Park Slope and Crown Heights.
Montgomery is one of Central Brooklyn’s most respected lawmakers and has wide institutional political support as the dean of Brooklyn’s Senate delegation. She is currently the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Children and Families.
Cox is among the new class of African-American millennials – young, educated and linked more to the possibilities of the future than the traditions of the past. Originally from Crown Heights, Cox graduated from Syracuse and worked as a public schoolteacher and policy aide in both Congress and the Obama Administration.
Our Time Press posed the following question to both candidates:
The 25th Senate District includes many seniors on a fixed income and no longer in the workforce. What type of issues do you see seniors confronting in the district, and what help would you/do you currently offer to seniors legislatively, funding-wise and through constituent services?
Sen. Velmanette Montgomery: “Based on the latest official population statistics of my Senate District, there are approximately 35,000 to 40,000 residents who are over 65 years of age. Increasingly, people who are above age 80 are becoming the majority of the elderly in my district. These statistics indicate that there needs to be coordinated community planning in order to allow seniors to age in place, reducing the need for costly nursing home care.
“My office is located in the YWCA building in downtown Brooklyn. The YWCA is one of the oldest, largest and most notable women’s organizations in the nation. The YWCA of Brooklyn provides an ideal community which includes affordable housing for approximately 300 women, many whom are seniors. In addition to my support for this organization, I have supported an increase in the number of residential developments that provide affordable and secure housing for the elderly.
“My office has produced a brochure which provides information for services including housing for seniors in the district. Throughout the years, we have held many conferences where federal, state and local officials and not-for-profit service providers have attended to provide information and resources to help seniors navigate complicated issues such as estate planning to protect their property, Medicaid and long-term care planning.
“We have focused special attention on seniors who are homeowners. We work very closely with community partners such as Bridge Street Development Corporation, Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, Neighborhood Housing Services, IMPACCT and others to help seniors protect their property from foreclosure, fraud and theft by unscrupulous and predatory practices.
“Legislatively, I have fought to increase funding and resources to assist grandparents who are the guardians of their grandchildren. Moving forward, I plan to continue to work on these issues and initiatives to assist my aging constituents to remain active members of our community.”
Michael Cox: “Seniors in Brooklyn face incredible challenges, especially related to affordable housing, the rising cost of prescription medication on a fixed income, an increasingly complicated system of support, and the constant threat of predatory practices and elder abuse. As I have listened to seniors across Senate District 25, I have found that many are homeless or facing homelessness, and in desperate need of advocates.
“Our seniors should not have to sleep on couches and in the homes of friends for shelter; the fact that seniors are forced to do so is a failure of our social services and our leadership. If elected, I would fight to make sure any residential construction project that received state tax breaks include provisions for affordable senior housing. I would also provide low- and moderate-income seniors with a voucher they would remit to existing landlords who, in exchange, would receive tax abatements for housing seniors who would not otherwise be able to afford units under their management.
“On the legislative front, one of the first initiatives I would introduce is Starters and Silvers, a program that would allow seniors and people who are “just starting out” to earn a stipend or student loan abatement for assisting individuals and research-based causes in the community.
“Starters and Silvers builds on President Obama’s Senior Corps Program of the Corporation for National Service (CNS) and provides an opportunity for able seniors to supplement their income.
“For example, a senior who was a teacher might volunteer support in a classroom or school and receive a stipend for their work. A senior who served as a mentor to an at-risk child or a co-caretaker to a child would also receive a stipend that would supplement their income.
“Starters” seeking student loan relief would be provided with a menu of qualifying tasks, including working with individual seniors as advocates that could help navigate an unorganized system of resources, serve as technical assistants to prevent against displacement, or support the needs of senior centers and nursing homes.
“This system would ensure a well-deserved added layer of support for seniors who currently are not protected or provided for in a way that we can be proud of as a community. We have had the opportunity to implement these programs for seniors and somehow they only get discussed during elections—we must do better.”