A letter from CEJC’s Incoming Steering Committee Chair, Carol Sewell

Elder Justice in Sacramento: The Yin and Yang of Policy-Making

 

With Elder and Dependent Adult Abuse Awareness Month now behind us, the juxtaposition of recent events at the State Capitol is hard to ignore.

 

For the second year in a row, the Department of Social Services led efforts to hold a vibrant and inspiring Elder and Dependent Adult Abuse Awareness Month Kick-Off event. Developed in partnership with more than 20 aging and disability organizations, the June 7th event featured “Ted-Talk” style presentations on promising practices in legal services, scam prevention, and a victim advocating against sexual assault of persons with disabilities. The excellent winners of the Raising Abuse Awareness Multi-Media Contest were awarded cash prizes for their winning entries.

 

Two Elder and Dependent Adult Awareness Month resolutions were introduced at the Capitol – Senate Concurrent Resolution 140, by Senator Bill Dodd of Napa, and Assembly Concurrent Resolution 238, by Assembly Aging & Long-Term Care Committee Chair Ash Kalra of San Jose.

 

On the other side of the equation were events at the Capitol that present varying views of “elder justice.”

 

Older adult programs mostly fared poorly in state budget negotiations. In a year when the State of California has an $8 billion surplus, no additional funding was granted for senior nutrition programs, despite the fact that the current program serves fewer than 6% of California’s food-insecure elders. The Multi-Purpose Senior Service Program increase to stabilize the program’s Medi-Cal reimbursement rate was left out of the final budget, as was an Alzheimer’s Association request for funds to increase education and outreach to Alzheimer’s patients and their families. Only a portion of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s $7.3 million request was approved, providing $2.3 million to support administration of the 35 Ombudsman offices, but the allocation is paired with the loss of $1 million from the Nursing Home Citation Penalty Account, resulting in a funding cut for the larger Ombudsman offices. With 21 percent of California’s older adults living at or near poverty and one in 10 the victim of abuse, these outcomes are certainly disappointing.

 

There are a few bright spots in the State Budget, however. The budget includes $15 million for the Home Safe demonstration program, jointly sponsored by CEJC, the County Welfare Directors’ Association and California Commission on Aging. The program will allow fifteen county adult protective service agencies to assist abuse victims who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. A $3 million allocation was approved to gather data on long-term services and supports needs. And the Governor approved a cost-of-living increase for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients and the end of the “cash-out” practice that kept elderly and disabled SSI recipients from receiving Supplemental Nutrition benefits.

 

On the legislative front, advocates learned late about a bill that would effectively limit the access of older adults and underserved communities to mental health prevention and early intervention funds (PEI). The legislation, SB 1004 (Wiener), rejects the Mental Health Service Act (MHSA) policies of providing PEI across the lifespan and of developing service priorities through a stakeholder process. SB 1004 instead assigns responsibility for priority-setting to the Legislature, while at the same time prioritizing PEI programs for children and youth in school and college. The bill ignores data on adult and older adult suicide that we provided and makes no mention of new UCLA research on the need to increase PEI services for older adults. The bill specifically prioritizes services for students in college, leaving out underserved communities and youth who are not in school.

 

The fight over equal access to MHSA programs is one that aging advocates thought had been resolved in 2007 following a struggle to balance program priorities, and successful mental health programs for all age groups have operated successfully since that time. Do the contrasting approaches reflect anything more than the yin and yang of policy-making? It’s difficult not to believe there’s more to it. Despite the growth of the aging population and the far-reaching opportunities and shortfalls it creates, California’s policy makers remain focused on short-term goals, doling out budget crumbs for programs serving the generation that raised us, fought our wars, and built our economy. No one could argue against funding important programs for children, but elder justice requires parity across the lifespan.

 

That’s why CEJC’s work is so important. Our advocacy on behalf of older adults moves us to form partnerships and collaborations in many policy areas in order to strengthen our call for parity and justice for vulnerable adults.

 

Thank you for being a CEJC member and supporting our efforts!

 

Sincerely,

 

Carol Sewell

Legislative Director California Commission on Aging

CEJC Steering Committee Chair

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  • LAAAC is managed by St. Barnabas Senior Services; Funded, in part, by Archstone Foundation.
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