RALEIGH -- For several years, AARP members and other advocates working to support the needs of older adults in North Carolina have been calling on state lawmakers to make necessary investments to help meet the needs of the state’s fastest growing segment of the population – adults ages 60 and older.
Today in North Carolina, over 15.6% of state residents are 65 and older, and that number will continue to grow as Baby Boomers age. That is why AARP is pleased that, even after a very long budget debate, the Governor and the legislature ultimately worked out a bipartisan deal to provide the funding support needed to better care for the aging.
State investments to make communities more livable for people of all ages, to address problems in long-term care exposed by COVID-19, reduce food insecurity, improve physical activity and to expand the technology that will make health care more accessible in the long run, are several of the positive outcomes from this year’s budget.
AARP North Carolina Director Mike Olender explains, “During this legislative session, AARP members contacted their lawmakers time and time again to stress what is most important when it comes to their health and economic security. Important advancements were made through policy changes and funding support. We look forward to continuing this next year and beyond, including the small start-up costs for a program that will make it easier for workers to save for their retirement.”
Investing in the care of older adults
An important lesson learned during the nearly two years the state has been impacted by the pandemic, is the importance of improving long-term care, both in facilities, and by supporting the programs that allow individuals to age in their own homes and communities.
For example, increases to the Personal Needs Allowance, the stipend nursing home residents who have no assets or income receive to pay for incidentals like toiletries and postage stamps, was increased from $46 to $70 a month, the first raise in decades.
AARP has been seeking solutions to address the direct care workforce, those who care for older adults in nursing homes as well as at-home care. Low wages and difficult working conditions make recruiting and retaining these workers difficult. Wage increases and bonuses for direct care workers were included in the budget to help address this workforce crisis.
Other advancements for older North Carolinians include:
- A permanent increase in support for home and community-based services (HCBS) ($6.4 million by 2023) and the inclusion of a new fund to support innovative programs – helping rebalancing long-term care options and allow more to get the care they need while staying in their homes and communities.
- Increased support of nearly $5 million for the Adult Protective Services program that works to address elder abuse and exploitation – both for staffing and program improvements.
- $40 million to NC food banks to help alleviate food insecurity made worse by the pandemic.
- Nearly $3.6 million for nutrition services for older adults
- Significant new funding ($1 billion) for broadband infrastructure, mapping of broadband service, and awareness and digital literacy – all critical for telehealth, social connectivity, jobs, and information access.
- Over $29 million to the Complete Trail Fund and $169 million in earmarked funding for specific trails and greenways that will help increase physical activity, allow for healthy active aging, increase transportation choices and spur economic development.
- $2 million for shared use (bicycle/pedestrian) path feasibility studies.
- Nearly $1 million for Rural Transit Assistance and Mobility for Seniors and Persons with Disabilities.
Policy improvements include items such as regulatory modernization to provide flexibility for reimbursement rates for Adult Day Care. The bill also establishes a joint legislative study committee on health care access and Medicaid expansion. Working with our partners we were able to defeat a provision for a new Adult Care Home accreditation which would bypass NC Department of Health and Human Services inspection, and instead will be a 2-year pilot program with AARP NC named to the Stakeholder Advisory Group.
AARP North Carolina Manager of Advocacy and Community Outreach Lisa Riegel said she is very pleased with the outcome. “This budget makes significant progress when it comes to the continuum of care for older adults and improvements to make communities age friendly. Looking ahead to 2022, there is still much work to be done to help workers save for retirement, find long-term solutions to health care access and to stabilize our direct care workforce.”
If you want to get involved to help North Carolina continue its progress on addressing the needs of its aging population – sign up for AARP Advocacy alerts today.