11/16/08 — Lobbyists for seniors set list of priorities for next year

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Lobbyists for seniors set list of priorities for next year

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on November 16, 2008 2:00 AM

With the election now behind them, Wayne County's Tar Heel Senior Legislators took time Thursday to begin promoting their 2009 legislative agenda.

Speaking to a group of about 40 residents at the Wayne County Senior Center, legislator Peggy Seegars and alternate Anne Burnette listed out the top five priorities the group -- formed in 1993 as a way to provide information to seniors and to advocate for them -- has for the 2009 General Assembly.

The first is providing $1 million in recurring funds to grow Project Caregiver Alternatives to Running on Empty -- a program that provides information, as well as referral and consultation services to people with Alzheimer's disease and their families in an attempt to keep them in their homes rather than in institutions.

"It's always better to have a loved one at home than in an institution," Ms. Burnette said. "And this program can help keep our loved ones in the home longer."

The second priority is providing an additional $5 million for the Home and Community Care Block Grant, which funds home- and community-based services such as home-delivered meals, adult day care and in-home aid.

"There comes a time in our lives, though we hate to admit it, that we just can't take complete care of ourselves, and these funds will enable us to stay in our homes longer," she said.

Not only, she continued, is that better for seniors, but it's also better for the state.

"It costs more in the long run to go to a nursing home than it does to stay in our own homes," she said.

And currently, there are 11,000 people on the waiting lists for these home-care services.

The third area of focus for the Senior Tar Heel Legislature is to increase funding for the state's 163 senior centers by $2 million in recurring funds.

Senior centers, Ms. Burnette explained, are important because they allow seniors the opportunity to leave their homes, to get a hot meal and to take part in group activities and fellowship with others.

Fortunately for Wayne County, added Yvonne McLamb, representative for the Regional Aging Advisory Committee, because its senior center at 100 S. John St. has been declared a center of excellence, it will receive $13,000 next year from the state, with a 25 percent local match required.

The fourth goal is to implement steps to address the mixing of mentally ill young adults with frail, older adults in long-term care facilities -- something that is a growing concern with the recent changes to the mental health system.

"Many problems have arisen by mixing these two populations in the same facility," Ms. Burnette said. "It's not safe. It just doesn't work. We need that separation."

And finally, the group's fifth priority is to establish a cap on the increase in the assessed value of property determined during revaluations for people who are over the age of 60 and eligible for the Homestead Exemption.

This one, Ms. Burnette warned, will likely be the hardest to accomplish as it will probably see resistance not only on the state level, but also the county level where those tax dollars stand to be lost.

"We just don't want lose our homes (because we can't afford the taxes)," she said.

The senior legislature also is hoping to push forward a new law permitting drug screens at assisted living and other nursing home type facilities -- something that Ms. Seegars said the group has been working on for several years, much like when it got permission to begin doing criminal background checks on all such non-licensed employees.

"These are the priorities we have selected to put before the (state) General Assembly, hoping they will pass," Ms. Burnette said. "As seniors, we need to have these things passed. We need this help."

And, Ms. McLamb emphasized, Wayne County especially needs help, because of its large physical size, its large aging population and its large poor population.

But the group is confident that despite losing both its experienced legislators, Wayne County and the interests of the seniors will be well-represented in Raleigh.

"We need to talk to our legislators. We're lucky we have Mr. (Efton) Sager (Republican, House District 11) and Don Davis (Democrat, Senate District 5) coming to work for us, and we hope we're going to get some help from them on this," Ms. Seegars said.