... The anticipation, the edge-of-your seat excitement and the nail-biter finish. No, I’m not talking about the NCAA college basketball season; I’m referring to the Texas legislative session. And I can assure you, the action we’re in for this session should prove to be more exciting than anything taking place on the hardwood.
We have a lot of issues in play this session that impact the health and pocketbooks of Texans 50+. I thought I’d take this opportunity to give you the rundown.
Protecting Public Pensions:
In Texas, public pensions are critical for workers who don’t participate in Social Security; like most teachers. The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) and the Employees Retirement System of Texas (ERS) provide the foundation of retirement security for more than one million workers. Just how essential are pensions? Older households without pension income are roughly nine times more likely to live in poverty than those with pensions.
Protecting pension funds so teachers and public employees have continued access to defined benefits is one of AARP’s top priorities.
Keeping Smart Meter Data Private:
Smart electricity meters constantly monitor and transmit information–significantly more than conventional electricity meters. The Public Utility Commission is making it easier for marketers to gain access to this data, which can indicate whether anyone is home and awake. It even reveals what kind of TV you own! What’s more, the agency says it can’t protect your information once the marketers get access to it.
AARP supports legislation that directs the Public Utility Commission to create privacy protections for all entities access smart meter data.
Reforming Small Dollar Loans:
This is our second session tackling this issue and we’ll be building on our success from last session. In 2011, the Texas Legislature took an initial step toward meaningful reform for the first time in a decade. House Bills 2592 and 2594 established basic licensing, reporting and regulation. But they fell short in addressing the cycle of debt these loans create. This just isn’t enough to prevent payday and auto title lenders from draining wealth from Texas families and often pushing them further into debt.
AARP supports legislation that will end the cycle of debt and create reasonable and just regulation of the industry.
Long Term Care:
Improve quality of care
Let’s face it; some Texans in nursing homes don’t fare so well. A recent report, “Raising Expectations – A State Scorecard on Long-Term Services and Supports for Older Adults, People with Physical Disabilities, and Family Caregivers,” ranks Texas nursing homes poorly when it comes to providing quality care, including a relatively high percent of high-risk residents with bedsores and long-term stay residents admitted to the hospital. Both are indications of poor nursing care and can be expensive for the state.
AARP wants to hold the operators of dangerous nursing home accountable through tough financial penalties and contract sanctions. We also support publishing more nursing home performance data to help Texans find safe and caring homes for their loved ones.
Community care and nursing home diversion
In addition to improving the quality of care for Texans in nursing homes, we need to make sure that folks don’t needlessly end up in one.
Folks want to age in place. In fact, 88 percent of seniors age 65 and over want to stay in their own home. But Texas isn’t doing enough to help Texas seniors and their families access cost-effective community-based long-term care.
We fall far behind other states in screening and diverting the right folks to much less costly community-based care. Texas ranks a poor thirty-eighth on the percent of nursing home residents with low-care needs, in other words, folks who don’t need to be in a nursing home in the first place.
Helping seniors get care at home is a better deal for Texas, considering community-based care costs a third to a half of the cost of nursing home care. Plus it just makes folks happy.
That’s why AARP supports the development of an effective nursing home diversion system that helps seniors stay at home, if possible, as well as increased wages for attendants in all community care programs that serve seniors.
In order for Texans to age safely in their own homes, they need to be able to get around their communities safely. Not only do they need to be able to get where they need to go, but walking has the added benefit of boosting your mood and increasing your health and longevity. While Texas communities tend to be car and truck friendly, most aren’t built to accommodate walkers. Common problems like broken or missing sidewalks, poor lighting and unsafe intersections can place folks in danger when they walk out their front door.
AARP is urging decision makers to ensure that our streets are safe and functional for all Texans--pedestrians, cyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.
The next few months will bring many opportunities and challenges as we advocate on behalf of 50+ Texans and their families. Thank you for joining us in leading the charge for positive change.
Bob Jackson, AARP Texas State Director