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Georgia seniors scored big in the 2019 legislative session for their safety and independent living with the governor and lawmakers committing an extra $5.6 million to aging.
Some of the new money will go to boost home and community based care, some for home delivered meals, assistive technology and a resource network connecting aging adults to local resources and support.
Money also was added to hire 22 additional caseworkers to address elder abuse complaints and to advocate for older adults without guardians.
The Georgia Council on Aging (GCOA) commended Gov. Brian Kemp and lawmakers for addressing the needs of the state’s 1.3 million senior population.
“This has been a very good session for seniors,” GCOA Chair Vicki Vaughn Johnson said. “We want to thank the governor, the House and the Senate for listening to older adults, the vast majority of whom want to remain in their homes. The additional funding will support programs and resources that help them to do that. Adding caseworkers to investigate elder abuse complaints and to advocate for seniors gives these older adults and their loved ones the sense of security they deserve.”
A priority for the council this year was extra money for two popular programs aimed at allowing seniors to remain in their homes: Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) and the Aging and Disability Resource Connection (ADRC). These also were the priorities of the 900-plus member Coalition of Advocates for Georgia’s Aging (CO-AGE).
Some 7,000 older Georgians are currently waiting for HCBS services such as personal assistance, transportation and home modification, according to the GCOA. More people are also utilizing the state’s 21 ADRC centers to seek help for seniors and adults with disabilities. The call centers responded to more than 107,000 requests during the last fiscal year, an increase of 12,000 from the year before.
“We know that our elderly population is growing, and more seniors are seeking help so they can stay at home and out of expensive nursing homes,” Johnson said. “This is a win for seniors and taxpayers since home and community care cost the state about one-tenth of nursing home care.”
Izzie Sadler, director of the SOWEGA Area Agency on Agency, said: “Every extra dollar of money that was approved is so appreciated and so needed. Many of our seniors need just a small helping hand, and, no doubt, thousands of them will be better off under the 2020 state budget.”
Also during the legislative session, lawmakers agreed to study the pressing issue of affordable housing for seniors, tightened elder abuse laws and introduced legislation to provide greater scrutiny of personal care homes.
Here’s a recap of the legislative successes of the GCOA and CO-AGE.
$2 million for Home and Community Based Services. Additional funding addresses a waiting list of about 7,000 older Georgians seeking support services such as personal assistance, transportation and home modifications. This is projected to fund an additional 1,053 slots.
$338,802 for Aging and Disability Resource Connection. The call centers helped 107,287 seniors in Fiscal Year 2018 find local resources and support. This funding will help create a public facing web site to provide 24/7 online information.
$1,406,232 for Meals on Wheels to reduce the waiting list for home-delivered meals.
$157,000 for assistive technology labs to provide $7,500 for technology for each of the 21 assistive technology labs across the state. Assistive technology helps improve the functional capabilities for adults with daily living challenges.
$1,355,873 for 17 additional caseworkers to investigate allegations of elder abuse.
$366,752 for 5 additional caseworkers to advocate as guardians for older adults.
Study committee on housing options – Lawmakers approved the House Study Committee on Innovative Financial Options for Senior Living. Rep. John LaHood, R-Valdosta, called for creation of the committee, citing a lack of affordable independent living options for seniors. The committee will be comprised of five House members selected by Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, and will have until December to make recommendations.
Elder abuse – Rep. Deborah Silcox, R-Sandy Springs, sponsored important legislation to strengthen elder abuse statutes. Her bill allows law enforcement to inspect unlicensed personal care homes when regulators are not present, allows higher penalties for elder abuse crimes and clarifies the definition of exploitation so the abuse of an incapacitated person is a crime. This legislation passed the House and Senate and goes to the Governor’s desk.
Personal Care Home sanctions – House Bill 722 was introduced by Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, to increase the maximum allowable sanctions that the state can impose on personal care homes for causing death or serious harm to a resident.
Health Coverage for Low Income Seniors – Senate Bill 185 was introduced by Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, to help low income Medicare beneficiaries with out-of-pocket health care costs. This bill did not move this session but provides a vehicle to educate legislators and the public about this problem.
Senior Transportation – Rep Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, introduced HB 511 which passed the House but stalled in the Senate. HB 511 was amended onto SB 131 last week but failed to pass in the Senate. Johnson noted: “For the last two years, GCOA has partnered with other advocates and the House Commission on Transit Governance and Funding in developing a new model for human services transit programs. A good plan was put forward, but it did not gain enough traction this year. We remain interested in finding solutions for the 200,000 seniors who lack transportation access due to fragmented and inefficient transit administration.”