At last there’s some good news from Albany. Recently, the Senate Health Committee narrowly passed a medical marijuana bill that will allow 20 licensed manufacturers to grow marijuana that can be dispensed to people over the age of 21 who suffer from any of the 20 diseases eligible for prescriptions.

Less controversially, the state has agreed to expand the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption Program (SCRIE), which allows tenants 62 and older who pay more than one-third of their household income in rent to stabilize their rent in rent-regulated apartments.

While there were folks on hand to cheer the passing of the medical marijuana bill the other day, there are sure to be thousands of elder renters joyfully applauding the expansion of the program, which will be effective July 1. It is estimated that at least 24,000 more seniors will be added to the already 50,000 enrolled in the program.

Getting these new enrollees is the problem, because so many of our seniors are not aware of their eligibility. And that’s where the media, particularly the Black press, can help by notifying our elders and giving them the guidance they need. As the officials at SCRIE have stressed, a public awareness campaign is absolutely necessary if the expansion of the program is to reach a critical mass of seniors, especially those on a fixed income.

One of the problems for many elders is that the enrollment process is online, and they may not have either the computer or the knowhow to navigate the site—if they are lucky enough to access it to begin with. There are some indications that the department is taking steps to make the website easier to navigate.

It is good to know that the city’s Finance Department, which now handles the program, plans to send out letters to all the applicants who were formerly rejected over the last five years for having incomes higher than the program’s cutoff. Opening additional offices would also be a major way to assist applicants, because there’s nothing that compares to personal contact for the elders.

SCRIE has been in existence since 1970 to help older, low-income tenants, and last year, the program cost the city $124 million. Over the next two years, according to a Finance Department report, the state will be contributing $1.2 million in expansion dollars.

But having the money available without the applicants to spend it on is meaningless. Here are some steps we recommend for senior applicants to obtain more information:

  • You can obtain the SCRIE application form by visiting the New York City Department of Finance’s SCRIE page.
  • You can call 311, New York City’s central information number, and request that the form be mailed to you.
  • You can visit local senior centers or other social agencies, many of which will have the SCRIE applications.

Also, if you are a relative with an elder in the family who might be eligible for assistance, take some time to get them enrolled. Apparently there are thousands of seniors in our community who are not even aware of the program or that they might qualify. Help us spread the word so they can take advantage of this valuable assistance program.