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Jack Harrington. Photo from Jack Harrington

Concerned about the direction of Brookhaven in recent years, Stony Brook attorney and U.S. Navy reservist Jack Harrington (D) has decided to take his first step into politics to push a new vision — one he hopes will make him the town’s top leader this fall.

Harrington, 34, who grew up in Sound Beach and was a student in the Miller Place school district before graduating from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and Yale Law School, is the official nominee of the Democratic, Working Families, and Women’s Equality parties. In November, he will run against Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), who has held the position since 2012 and is pursuing his third term at the helm.

As the father of a 2-year-old son, with another child on the way with his wife Sarah, Harrington said his main motivation to run was to make sure his kids have as many opportunities to succeed as he had growing up in the town in the 1980s and 90s.

“It’s getting harder and harder for middle class families to survive in this area and I think local government plays a large role in that.”

— Jack Harrington

But, Harrington expressed, a lot has changed in Suffolk County since then, and not for the better.

“It’s getting harder and harder for middle class families to survive in this area and I think local government plays a large role in that,” Harrington said.

Since deciding to run in May, he spends two hours a day going door-to-door to speak with residents about issues they have.

“It’s getting increasingly difficult to find a job and increasingly difficult to enter the property market,” he said. “I’m worried that if we don’t elect leaders that have a long-term vision for what Brookhaven should look like, when my son graduates college and if he decides he wants to stay in the town, he’s not going to have the means to do so.”

The candidate said he wants to grow Brookhaven’s economy by promoting transit-oriented development, high-tech corridors and vibrant downtowns in line with Patchogue Village and the planned revitalization project in Port Jefferson Station.

According to Harrington, Suffolk County should be utilizing its research hubs like Brookhaven National Lab and Stony Brook University, where he has taught as an adjunct professor of business, to bring back jobs.

He also wants to create alternative housing options for young people and seniors, and help make Town Hall a better overall partner to local businesses and residents by cutting through the “bureaucratic red tape” many have complained to him about.

“If I’m elected, one of the first things I want to do is evaluate every program, office, person in Town Hall that interacts with businesses in any shape or form and ask a very simple question: how can we make these interactions easier? How can we reduce wait times?” Harrington said. “I want to ensure that every resident in Brookhaven has an ironclad belief that their government is working on behalf of their interest and their interest alone.”

“I want to ensure that every resident in Brookhaven has an ironclad belief that their government is working on behalf of their interest and their interest alone.”

— Jack Harrington

He said he plans on releasing a package of tough ethics and contracting reforms that include term limits, a database for residents to see exactly where their taxpayer dollars are going, and public financial disclosures of elected officials.

Harrington commended the town on its initiatives to preserve open space, and made it clear he is actively running, but not waging a personal campaign against Romaine, who was unable to be reached for comment.

Raised by a public school teacher and a restaurateur, Harrington grew up valuing education and hard work. Upon receiving a full academic scholarship to Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, he attended  University of St Andrews in Scotland, where he received a bachelor’s degree in international relations, and managed initiatives at The Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence.

He then pursued international security studies at Georgetown University. After taking time to work in Washington, D.C. as a counter-terrorism and intelligence analyst, he began studying law at Yale, from which he graduated in 2010.

In between passing the New York State bar examination and entering private practice in Stony Brook, Harrington interned for President Barack Obama (D) in the White House Counsel’s Office —  an experience he said was remarkable.

“The hours were long, but they’re gratifying,” he said, “and if you don’t get chills walking into the Roosevelt Room for the staff meeting five feet from the Oval Office, then you might have other problems.”

When he and his wife moved back to Long Island to settle down, Harrington decided to join the Navy Reserve, serving for almost four years, and become locally active.

“He has a real dedication and commitment to his community,” said Lillian Clayman, chairwoman of the Brookhaven Town Democratic Committee, which is where she first met Harrington. “He cares deeply about his family and he’s very conscious of his role as husband and father, and is active in his church. I had approached him and asked if he considered running for office because he’s just the kind of quality young person that Brookhaven needs. I think he’s going to win.”

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By Nancy Burner, Esq.

What does “look-back” mean? What is spousal refusal? Will Medicaid take my house if my husband has to go into a nursing home? All too often these are the questions we hear from our clients who are faced with navigating the Medicaid landscape once a crisis occurs. 

In New York State, the Medicaid program can provide a source of payment for those who are financially eligible and require care, either in a nursing facility or in their own home. In order to be eligible for Chronic Care Medicaid (payment for nursing home care), an individual must meet certain income and asset requirements.

To start, the applicant may have no more than $14,850 in liquid nonqualified (nonretirement) assets in their name. They may have qualified (retirement) assets in an unlimited amount provided they are taking a monthly distribution. 

When applying, the Department of Social Services will require a full financial accounting from both the applicant and his spouse for the five years immediately prior.  This is what is often referred to as the look-back. The purpose of this investigation is to determine among other things whether any transfers were made during this time period that would affect eligibility. The rule is that for every $12,390 that was transferred, a one-month penalty will be imposed.

For example, if in the financial review it is discovered that the applicant gifted $40,000 to his children during the look-back period, a determination will be made that imposes a penalty for roughly three months. This means that Medicaid will not pay for the first three months of nursing care, and the family will be responsible to pay privately. The aggregate result of this type of penalty is roughly a dollar-for-dollar penalty, meaning that for each dollar that you transfer you will have to pay a like amount in nursing home care should the need arise. This rule applies unless the transfer is considered an exempt transfer.  Transfers that are exempt do not create a penalty and therefore do not affect Medicaid eligibility. In New York State, transfers to spouses are exempt under the provisions of spousal refusal.

We use the term “spousal refusal” when the community spouse (the spouse who is not institutionalized) chooses not to contribute to the cost of care for an institutionalized spouse. This means that the institutionalized spouse cannot be denied Medicaid because the community spouse refuses to contribute. Moreover, the above penalties cannot be assessed due to the fact that the signing of a spousal refusal makes it such that the transfer is an exempt transfer.  The refusing spouse must still provide any and all financial information and cooperate fully with the Medicaid application. It is important to note that once Medicaid is approved, the county does have the right to seek recovery against the community spouse. Other exempt transfers include transfers to disabled children, transfers of the primary residence to a caretaker child and finally transfers of a primary residence to a sibling with an equity interest. 

With respect to income, an applicant for Chronic Care Medicaid may only keep $50.00 of his income monthly. His spouse may retain the greater of (1) all of his or her own income or (2) all of his or her income and enough of the institutionalized spouse’s income to bring them to $2,980.50. 

Community Medicaid is the program that covers care at home.  This program will cover the cost of a personal care aide to assist with activities of daily living such as bathing, cooking, dressing, etc. The program may also cover day programs, transportation to medical appointments, assisted living programs and some durable medical equipment and supplies. For 2015, an individual applying for Community Medicaid can have no more than $14,850, not including their home, in nonqualified (nonretirement) liquid assets. They may have qualified (retirement) assets in an unlimited amount, provided they are taking a monthly distribution. 

It is important to realize that the home is an exempt resource while the Community Medicaid recipient is alive; however, additional estate planning should be considered to avoid a Medicaid lien after the recipient’s death. While these limitations may seem daunting, the good news is that there is no look-back period. That means someone looking to get care at home can transfer assets in one month and be eligible for Community Medicaid the following month with no penalty assessed for the transfer of assets. 

With respect to income, an applicant for Community Medicaid may have no more than $845 per month.  An individual with an income over the $845 can opt to use a Pooled Income Trust. The excess income would be paid to a pooled trust company, and the trustees of the trust would pay expenses for the benefit of the applicant.

As you can see from this brief overview of Medicaid, there are many options available for care when the need arises. Make sure you are seeking advice from those knowledgeable in the area to make sure that you are getting the care that you require without sacrificing all that you have worked for.

Nancy Burner, Esq. has practiced elder law and estate planning for more than 25 years.

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By Linda M. Toga, Esq.

The Facts: My daughter told me that I should have a health care proxy.

The Question: What is a health care proxy and should I have one?

The Answer: A health care proxy is a legal document recognized in New York  State by which competent adults appoint a person to make medical decisions for them in the event they are unable to make those decisions themselves.

Unlike a power of attorney that may be effective immediately upon signing, a health care proxy does not become effective unless and until you are no longer able to make health care decisions. Although only one person can act as your health care agent at a time, in your health care proxy you should name an alternate agent in case the first person you name is unavailable.

In a health care proxy you may give your agent unlimited authority or you may list the circumstances under which your agent can act. However, if you want your agent to be able to make decisions concerning artificial nutrition and hydration, you must specifically state in your health care proxy that your agent has the authority to make decisions about these life-prolonging treatments. You must also mention the Health Care Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, in your proxy. Most health care proxies prepared prior to 2003 are no longer valid because they lack the required HIPPA language.

Most people assume that health care proxies are only used in cases where an elderly patient is unable to make end-of-life medical decisions. However, health care agents may also play an important role when a younger patient is temporarily unconscious. Since people of all ages may lose consciousness or even slip into a coma as a result of a serious illness or injury, I recommend that every adult sign a health care proxy to avoid conflict between family members and to ensure that their wishes are honored.

It is important to discuss your wishes with the agents you name in your health care proxy so that they know what types of treatments and procedures you find acceptable and which ones you may not want to receive.

Although New York State passed a statute in 2010 called the Family Health Care Decisions Act (the FHCA), which gives people the authority to make health care decisions for loved ones who did not sign a health care proxy, having a health care proxy is preferable because it gives you control over who will be making decisions on your behalf.

If your health care provider relies upon the FHCA to identify the person who will decide whether or not to provide life-sustaining treatments, the statutory decision maker may not know your wishes and may not be able to make the hard choices that are often faced by health care agents. In contrast, if you named a health care agent in a health care proxy and discussed with that agent your wishes, it will be easier for the agent to take the necessary steps to honor those wishes.

Linda M. Toga, Esq. provides legal services in the areas of litigation, estate planning and real estate from her East Setauket office.

Environmental advocates call for the banning of microbeads in order to protect waterways like the Long Island Sound. from left, Adrienne Esposito of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Dr. Larry Swanson of Stony Brook University, Dr. Artie Kopelman of Coastal Research Education Society Long Island, George Hoffman of Setauket Harbor Protection Committee, Rob Weltner of Operation SPLASH, Matt Grove of Surfrider, Enrico Nardone of Seatuck Environmental, and Katie Muether of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society. Photo from Maureen Murphy

When it comes to water pollution, size does not matter.

That’s why a group of environmental advocates gathered along the shoreline of the Long Island Sound in Stony Brook last week to call for state legislation that would ban the tiny but potentially harmful microbeads in personal care products.

The rally was organized to coincide with June 8’s World Oceans Day and zeroed in on the Microbead-Free Waters Act, which would ban personal care products made with the tiny plastic pellets called microbeads, which advocates said are hurting waterways and wildlife because New York’s wastewater treatment plants are not equipped to filter them prior to the water’s release into the environment.

The legislation passed the Assembly in April but has remained idle in the Senate.

The bill is sponsored in the Senate by Republican Environmental Conservation Committee Chair Tom O’Mara (R-Big Flats), with 37 cosponsors — a total that surpasses the 32 votes it needs to pass.

William Cooke, director of government relations for the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, helped orchestrate the rally and called on Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) to use his new role as majority leader to help ensure a microbead ban passes before legislative session ends June 17.

“While microbeads are small, the problem they are creating is very large,” Cooke said. “The solution is unbelievably simple and absolutely free. The answer is to take them out of our products now. This legislation currently has more support than is needed to pass. The only question is will the new Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan allow it to move forward.”

The New York State Attorney General reported that 19 tons of plastic microbeads enter the wastewater stream in New York annually, and the tiny beads are passing through treatment plants on Long Island and throughout the state. Plastic microbeads in state waters accumulate toxins, are consumed by fish, and can work their way up the food chain, putting public health at risk.

“The Microbead-Free Waters Act has a clear pathway to passage. If it’s not brought up for a vote, it’s a clear sign that industry has once again silenced the majority of New York’s state senators,” said Saima Anjam, environmental health director at Environmental Advocates of New York, who was at the rally. “New Yorkers expect more from new leadership. … Senators Flanagan and O’Mara need to allow a simple up or down vote on bills supported by a majority of members.”

Flanagan’s office declined to comment on the matter.

Late last year, Suffolk County committed to studying the health and economic impacts of banning microbeads on the county level to the praise of county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who argued that Suffolk needed to follow the likes of municipalities like Illinois, which was the first state to outright ban the sale of cosmetics containing plastic microbeads.

“On a macro level, there is no doubt that microbeads are finding their way into our nation’s rivers, lakes and oceans,” said Hahn, chairwoman of the Legislature’s Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committee. “What we need to know is to what extent, locally, these additives [impact] our environment and, if corrective action is needed, what ramifications would be expected.”