Andrew Cuomo’s Antipathy to Older People Didn’t Begin With COVID

April 29, 2021 Updated: April 29, 2021


It’s worth a glimpse back to see how most news organizations covered Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2020. A classic in this journalism hall of shame was a Washington Post column, in which our governor was lionized as “the strongman who can admit he’s wrong. He speaks fluently about the facts. He worries about his mother, and by extension, yours too.”

With such fawning coverage from mainstream media, it’s no wonder that Cuomo “won” an Emmy for his updates on the COVID-19 crisis. Now we know that the governor’s briefings were misleading, with manipulated, shell-game statistics as to how many nursing home residents actually died from COVID-related complications. Finally, even the New York Times is reporting on the lengths to which Cuomo and his aides went to conceal the true number of New York nursing home patients who died from the virus.

Total deaths of nursing home residents related to COVID-19 are approaching 16,000, but by Gov. Cuomo’s calculus, more than 5,000 of these tragedies should be hidden from the public, since they technically died after transfers to hospitals and other arrangements.

Cuomo’s antipathy to the elderly didn’t begin with COVID-19, but given the veneration he’s enjoyed, you’d never know it.

When I was commissioner at the NYC Department for the Aging, I was in Washington in 1998 on city business. While meeting with New York congressional staff, they complained about the actions of the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in taking his hatchet to the popular “Section 202” housing program for the elderly. That secretary was Andrew M. Cuomo.

Public housing, nearly everywhere in the nation, is usually adjudged to be a failure in serving its lower income residents.

However, the success of the “202” program is due to the fact that it is privatized. The HUD’s Section 202 program issues competitive grants to private, non-profit agencies, who oversee the construction and operation of residences for low-income seniors.

Enter the lobby of a “202” residence and you might think you’re in a Hyatt or a Marriott, not in a typical public housing property.

The Clinton-Cuomo budget request for Section 202 housing was $595 million in fiscal year 1997, but was chopped down to only $300 million for fiscal 1998, nearly a 50 percent cut. If Jack Kemp, Ben Carson, or another Republican HUD secretary had proposed that, the howls might still be echoing.

It was because of 202’s popularity, said congressional aides, that Secretary Cuomo calculated he could rob $295 million (nearly $500 million in 2021 dollars) from it to fund his homeless initiatives, and figured Congress would restore the senior housing dollars.

He was right. Congress did replenish the funds for the “202” housing, and Secretary Cuomo kept the money he had re-directed to homeless programs.

Secretary Cuomo’s raid on senior housing was a precursor to his deadly decisions to rush COVID-infected patients into New York’s nursing homes.

In coming decades, New York state is projected to lose population in all age categories, except one: those 65 and older. By 2040, the number of state residents over 65 will increase by fully 25 percent. The 85+ population, our frailest, will grow by an astounding 75 percent.

A CUNY study funded by the Association on Aging in New York (pdf) concludes that “softer” services such as meals for the home-bound, senior centers, and the Expanded In-home Services to the Elderly Program (EISEP), can prevent rapid deterioration in frail elderly, often resulting in very expensive reliance on Medicaid and institutionalization.

“Based on past outreach to over 1,900 individuals awaiting services [such as EISEP home care and home-delivered meals] in eight [New York] counties, the Association [on Aging in New York] determined that 10 percent of them had been admitted to nursing homes, while 6 percent had received Medicaid home-based or community-based care,” the study states.

For fiscal year 2022, which began April 1, the governor proposed to reduce the budget of his State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA) by 2 percent while the senior population is rapidly expanding. Similar proposed cuts to the aging budget have been the general pattern during the Andrew Cuomo era.

But by being penurious with these relatively inexpensive NYSOFA-funded services, the Cuomo administration is driving fragile seniors into hospitals and nursing homes. The cost to offer part-time home care to a frail senior is less than $7,000 per year, yet that study exposed that one of every six people on waiting lists soon winds up on much more expensive Medicaid home care, or even in nursing homes costing $150,000 and up.

New York spent $84 billion on Medicaid this year, and Gov. Cuomo is proposing to spend $91.6 billion (pdf) in fiscal year 2022, which began this month.

That’s surely the single largest increase in annual Medicaid spending in any U.S. state, ever. Wouldn’t a $7,000 investment in senior home care be an obvious choice versus risking a $150,000 Medicaid nursing home payment before very long?

Our governor is facing multiple scandals, but disturbing as they all are, he deserves due process before final judgments are rendered.

Gov. Cuomo’s treatment of seniors, however, is apparent. Forcing COVID-19 patients into nursing homes had fatal consequences. And his actions at HUD and pinching state aging services reflect a decades-long indifference to the problems of older people. To begin atoning in a small way, why not eliminate those waiting lists for home care and meals for the home-bound elderly?

You’d save many times that expense in Medicaid costs this very year.

Herbert W. Stupp is the editor of and served in the presidential administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Stupp was also Mayor Giuliani’s Commissioner (1994–2002) at the NYC Department for the Aging. Early in his career, he won an Emmy award for television editorials.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.