Housing, transportation top list of legislative priorities for Georgia seniors

Vicki Vaughn Johnson

ATLANTA — To keep up with Georgia’s growing elderly population, aging advocates are making affordable independent housing and transportation two of their major priorities for the 2020 General Assembly.

Officials with the Georgia Council on Aging and Coalition of Advocates for Georgia’s Elderly, or CO-AGE, said they will press lawmakers to increase funding for home- and community-based services, such as home-delivered meals and transportation to the doctor.

Officials said about 7,000 Georgia seniors are currently on waiting lists for these services. CO-AGE members also are pushing for funds to launch a two-year pilot program addressing behavioral health needs of older residents in subsidized living communities.

“We are experiencing explosive growth in our older population,” Vicki Johnson, chair of the Georgia Council on Aging, said. “Without more funding and programs, Georgia’s seniors will end up in the less-appealing and more costly option of nursing homes.”

CO-AGE established its 2020 legislative priorities based on voting by its members, including representatives of organizations working with older adults and seniors. GCOA and CO-AGE members will back a Georgia House of Representatives transportation bill addressing the needs of more than 260,000 Georgians age 70 and older who no longer drive.

“Accessible and affordable transportation is one of the most unmet needs seniors have, and the most requested,” Johnson said. “Not having access to transportation can lead to critical social determinants of health, leading to medical problems, social isolation and depression.”

During the 2019 General Assembly, House Bill 511 was introduced to supply regional collaboration for transportation resources and create new “Mobility Zones” throughout the state to help older Georgians, especially those in rural areas. The transportation bill was passed in the state House and now awaits action in the Senate.

CO-AGE members also voted to support tougher personal care home requirements addressing elder abuse, such as increased penalties and sanctions for homes not following existing regulations.

Home- and community-based services continues to be a top funding priority for GCOA and CO-AGE. Officials said more seniors are asking for help with in-home tasks, such as bathing and dressing, and are looking for programs like respite and adult day care that promote independent living.

Georgia aging officials said in-home care costs a fraction of the cost of a nursing home bed, and in-home services can help delay nursing home care by an average of 51 months.

Officials said funding for a behavioral health and housing initiative would help to keep the independence of residents needing aid in subsidized senior living communities and keep them from having to move into higher levels of care, or from becoming homeless.

The program — which involves providing behavioral health coaches and getting residents to clinicians for treatment — has been successful as a pilot project with the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Area Agency on Aging. With state funding, this service could extend to affordable housing sites in multiple areas of the state.

Creating more affordable senior housing options, such as allowing Medicaid funding to pay for assisted living facilities, is another top legislative priority for GCOA and CO-AGE. Currently, 46 states and Washington, D.C. use Medicaid waivers to supply some level of supportive aid for individuals in assisted living.

A House study committee on innovative financial options for senior living, chaired by Rep. John LaHood, R-Valdosta, will begin meeting in September.

Created in 1997, GCOA advises Gov. Brian Kemp, the General Assembly and state agencies on issues affecting Georgia seniors. The 20-member council advocates for aging Georgians and their families and makes recommendations to lawmakers and agencies on programs for seniors.

CO-AGE has been advocating for the needs of the state’s elderly for more than 30 years and has more than 1,000 members.

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