Georgia General Assembly

Thousands “will be better off“ under the 2020 state budget

Advocates for Georgia seniors said Wednesday the 2019 legislative session was a big win, with an additional $5.6 million committed to services that protect the safety and independence of the elderly.

“Every extra dollar of money that was approved is so appreciated and so needed,” said Lynne Reeves, director of the Northwest Georgia Area Agency on Aging.

“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.”

The budget runs on a fiscal year, funding programs from July 1 through June 31, 2020.

Some of the new money will go to boost home- and community-based care. There also are earmarks 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.

Vicki Vaughn Johnson, chair of the Georgia Council on Aging, issued a statement thanking Gov. Brian Kemp and lawmakers for addressing the needs of the state’s 1.3 million seniors.

She said the vast majority want to remain in their homes.

“The additional funding will support programs and resources that help them to do that,” she said. “Adding caseworkers ... gives these older adults and their loved ones the sense of security they deserve.”

Priorities for the council this year were the Home and Community Based Services program and the Aging and Disability Resource Connection program. The Coalition of Advocates for Georgia’s Aging, with 900-plus members, also pushed for the funding.

Some 7,000 older Georgians are currently waiting for HCBS services such as personal assistance, transportation and home modification, according to the GCOA. The additional $2 million in the budget is projected to fund another 1,053 slots.

The state’s 21 ADRC centers responded to more than 107,000 requests for help last year for seniors and adults with disabilities — an increase of 12,000 from the year before.

There’s $338,802 to help create a website to provide 24/7 online information.

The budget also contains $1,406,232 for Meals on Wheels, $1,355,873 for 17 additional caseworkers to investigate allegations of elder abuse and $366,752 for five additional caseworkers to advocate as guardians for older adults.

A smaller, but important, allocation of $157,000 will send $7,500 to each assistive technology lab, including the one overseen by Reeves in Rome. The money will fund technology that helps improve the functional capabilities of adults with daily living challenges.

“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.”

Also during the legislative session, which ended Tuesday, lawmakers agreed to study the issue of affordable housing for seniors, tightened elder abuse laws and introduced legislation to provide greater scrutiny of personal care homes.