ALBANY — The Coalition of Advocates for Georgia’s Elderly (CO-AGE) met Wednesday to update attendees on the legislative status of bills affecting older Georgians. Seven bills passed during the recent state legislative session, one did not and several items received federal and state funding.

CO-AGE’s current priorities are Home- and Community-Based Services (HCBS) funding, establishing an elder abuse registry, Aging and Disability Resource Connection (ADRC) funding, Medicaid assisted living and personal home care requirements. The group received an additional $4.2 million in HCBS funding last year but did not get more this year.

However, other items did receive funding. The Personal Need Allowance, which gives nursing home residents money to pay for hygiene products, clothing and other necessities, was raised from $15 to $65 per month for a total of $4.18 million in combined state and federal funds. The Community Care Services Program’s Alternative Living Services received a total rate increase of $10.5 million. Adult Day Health Care centers now have a rate increase of $400,000.

Welcome elder abuse bills passed during the legislative session and are making their way to the governor’s office. These bills include SB 406, which requires FBI fingerprinting background checks for employees “with direct access to patients in long-term care settings such as nursing homes, personal care homes and home health care;” HB 803, which labels the act of trafficking an at-risk adult to steal their Social Security and other benefits as a crime, and HB 635, which helps “local communities create task forces to investigate the abuse of at-risk adults.”

Another bill of interest that passed with Georgia Coalition on Aging involvement is HB 930, which allows existing transit funds to support senior transit programs. Vicki Johnson, the chairwoman for the GCOA, recorded a video explaining the bill’s importance.

“We know that lack of transportation is a growing problem for seniors, as they no longer are able to provide their own transportation for themselves,” she said. “And many of our agencies have been able to use ridesharing services … as well as taxi services to provide transportation. We want to be sure to protect seniors.”

Other passed bills of interest include SB 370, which protects “the first $25,000 of an estate from Medicaid Estate Recovery;” SB 444, which creates the Georgia Alzheimer’s and Related Dementia State Plan Advisory Council, and HR 1257, which creates a House study committee.

HB 497, which would have granted senior citizens and other relatives de facto custody over grandchildren they take care of should they provide a better living environment than the parents did not pass. However, that does not spell the end for the bill. Kay Hind, the meeting’s presenter and an advocate who has been working with CO-AGE since it was formed in the early ’80s, recounted the group’s attempts to get another bill passed.

“We’ll try (to get a bill passed) again the next year, if we feel it’s important. We had a bill that would allow dental hygenists to go into the nursing home and care for the patients, because (the patients) can’t get out,” Hind said. “That one took us 12 years, but we did get it passed.”

The deadline to submit issues for consideration by the organization is May 1. The next CO-AGE meeting will be July 12 in Macon.

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Jada Haynes is a news reporter for the Albany Herald. Writing is one of her greatest joys. Anything from a report to a feature to a homebrew RPG campaign, she'll write it up.

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