Minnesota Lawmakers have the opportunity to make needed reforms to strengthen the Long Term Services and Supports (LTSS) for older adults devastated by the coronavirus. The gravity of the workforce crisis will require additional resources and investments to protect residents in nursing homes and other residential facilities, individuals who need assistance in their homes and communities, and support for family caregivers.
AARP urges lawmakers to also address the growing health and financial needs of older Minnesotans including hunger, investments in broadband, the retirement crisis, and the high cost of prescription drugs.
Both the federal funding available from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), and the Infrastructure Investment Act, present enormous opportunities for Minnesota to be bold and make investments to address these challenges.
Below you will find an update on AARP Minnesota’s legislative priorities for 2022. AARP Minnesota sent a letter to Governor Walz asking to adopt the outlined priorities in the 2022 budget.
Strengthen the LTSS workforce and policies to support older Minnesotans receiving services in facilities:
- Expedite Access to Home and Community-Based Services & Achieve Savings
Today older adults and people with disabilities who need long-term care under Medicaid may have to wait sometimes up to 90 days for establishing eligibility, which inadvertently funnels many families who would prefer home-based care towards nursing homes. AARP supports expediting access to Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) under a policy called presumptive eligibility that can help avoid unnecessary admissions to nursing homes, where the spread of the virus has been devastating.
- Provide Equal Protections for Vulnerable Seniors in HUD & Low-Income Housing
AARP supports legislation to strengthen the rights of seniors receiving Assisted Living Services in HUD (Housing and Urban Development) and Low-Income Housing exempted in the landmark 2019 law Assisted Living Licensure Law. These important rights include protections against arbitrary discharges, enhanced dementia training for staff, protections against retaliation, and emergency disaster and evacuation plans.
- Address the Staffing Crisis: Invest in Both Wages and Benefits for the Direct Care Workforce
AARP supports improved wages and benefits for direct care staff in nursing homes and for individuals providing care in home and community-based services under the Elderly Waiver (EW) Program and for Personal Care Attendants. Without paid sick leave, front-line staff are getting sick but can’t afford to stay home, putting vulnerable seniors at risk. With these dynamics, nursing homes often have staff shortages and chronic infection control deficiencies. Increases in reimbursements should be tied to quality improvements and strong oversight to ensure funds are being spent on direct care. Minnesota should ensure that nursing homes spend at least 90% of revenue received from any source on direct residents’ care. With this strategy, residents won’t be shortchanged on care and quality standards will increase.
- Support Family Caregivers
AARP believes we must do more to support unpaid family caregivers who are the backbone of our long-term care system. Without paid family and medical leave, caregivers can suffer financial setbacks, emotional hardships, and dire health consequences. The Paid Family and Medical Leave Act (PFML) would allow up to 12 weeks of paid time off to care for a seriously ill family member or a worker’s own serious health condition. By passing a PFML program, we can keep workers who are caring for their loved ones on the job longer and help reduce the placement of older Minnesotans in high-cost nursing homes often paid for by taxpayers.
Economic security issues for older Minnesotans:
- Address Food Insecurity for Older Minnesotans & Working Families
The COVID-19 pandemic and associated job losses have led to significant increases in food insecurity for older adults, especially among Black and Hispanic older adults. Food insecurity has significant negative impacts on older adults, particularly on their health. AARP supports increasing eligibility for SNAP benefits for the 50+ population from today’s income threshold of 165% of poverty to 200% of poverty. Both Wisconsin and North Dakota have increased the eligibility for this population and Minnesota should too.
- Invest in Broadband Using an Age-Friendly Lens
There is no longer any doubt about the critical importance of broadband access. The pandemic has exposed how Minnesotans without access to affordable high-speed internet are at a disadvantage in combatting isolation, scheduling vaccine appointments, accessing telehealth services, and much more. Yet, AARP’s research indicates that older Americans’ access to affordable and convenient broadband connections continues to lag other age groups. AARP studies show that 15% of adults 50+ do not have access to any internet, and 60% say the cost of high-speed internet is a problem. ARPA funds provide a critical opportunity to address these gaps, and prioritize older adults’ needs in plans to allocate those funds.
- Oppose Telecom Deregulation
AARP opposes legislation that threatens access to reliable, affordable phone service by removing critical consumer protections requiring phone companies to serve everyone. Today, telephone landline service is still a basic necessity, particularly for older Minnesotans who are more likely than any other age group to rely on its service to maintain social contact and to preserve health and safety. This is especially true in northern and western Minnesota, where mobile and wireless services can be spotty or unavailable.
- Address the Retirement Crisis by Creating New Retirement Savings Vehicle
Today Minnesota, like many other states, is facing a retirement crisis. The decline in employer-sponsored pensions and lack of savings is impacting people’s ability to achieve a secure retirement. Approximately 40% of Minnesota private-sector employees - approximately 873,000 individuals - work for an employer that does not offer a retirement plan, including many direct care workers in nursing homes. The good news is that we can get ahead of this crisis by implementing the MN Secure Choice Retirement Program that allows workers to set aside wages through an easily accessible savings program.
- Lower the Cost of Prescription Drugs
The cost of prescription drugs is rising faster than inflation making it difficult for older Minnesotans to afford them. While federal efforts to reduce the cost of drugs for Medicare enrollees are still pending, more must be done to address the high cost of prescription drugs for all Minnesotans. AARP supports creating a Prescription Drug Affordability Board (PDAB) which would evaluate drug prices and set limits on how much certain payers, including insurers, state and local governments and consumers, pay for high-cost prescription medications.
- Social Security Tax Relief
AARP continues to support social security tax relief for middle income retirees. AARP strongly supported past legislative action that provided targeted relief through a tax subtraction up to the new adjusted income thresholds for taxing social security, since they had not been adjusted for over thirty years. However, AARP urges lawmakers to keep increasing the subtraction or eliminating taxes altogether up to these new income thresholds to offset the tax burden on the middle class. This is a balanced approach that ensures adequate funding for other programs seniors rely on and the intent of Congress when they began taxing social security benefits in 1983.
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