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Inside The Senior Alliance: 2024 State Legislative Preview (Ep 41)

Jason Maciejewski (00:00):
Welcome to Inside The Senior Alliance, a podcast exploring resources and issues in the field of aging. I’m Jason Maciejewski, CEO at The Senior Alliance, the Area Agency on Aging serving Western and Southern Wayne County. Joining me today is Dave LaLumia, Executive Director of the Area Agency on Aging Association in Michigan, also known as 4AM and Katie Wendel, Director of Planning and Advocacy at Ageways, and a member of the Silver Key Coalition and Nikki Hartley, Government Relations Specialist here at The Senior Alliance. So as we enter 2024, the second year of the current legislative session is going to begin, and I’d like to discuss what’s ahead, what to look out for regarding older adult issues, aging policies in the coming election year. Katie, what do you think we can expect from this year’s state legislative session?

Katie Wendel (00:46):
Yeah, I think we can expect a slow start in the House as two Democrats won local mayoral races at the end of 2023, leaving the House with a 54 54 split between Democrats and Republicans with the election to fill these seats in late April. I think we can expect the House to start the year moving things a little bit slower, but should be business as usual in the Senate. The governor’s state of the state address on January 24th will signal some of her priorities for the upcoming year, and everyone will be watching what the impact will be of the recent court ruling ordering several legislative districts to be redrawn. But then of course, as you mentioned, focus with shifting to the election, big focus for 2024.

Jason Maciejewski (01:27):
Yeah, those two state legislative districts, one in Warren, and one in Westland and The Senior Alliance service area have really put the House in a situation where there’s a tie. We understand that committee meetings are going to go forward, hopefully beginning later this month as we’ve got some legislation we’re interested in seeing moved, but it creates a very interesting situation in terms of how the House is going to do business. So speaking of committees, Nikki, what committees are important to us as aging advocates? People advocating for people living with disabilities in terms of legislation.

Nikki Hartley (01:59):
So in the House, the Families, Children and Seniors Committee, as well as the Judiciary and Health Committees are good ones to watch for aging policy. The House Appropriation Subcommittee for the Departments of Health and Human Services and Licensing and Regulatory Affairs are two of the subcommittees responsible for determining appropriations for the aging related funds for the Michigan Senate, the Civil Rights Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, the Health Policy Committee and the Housing and Human Services Committee all handle the bills that deal with older adult abuse and supports. Again in the Senate, the Appropriation Subcommittee for the Department of Health and Human Services and Licensing and Regulatory Affairs appropriate the funds given to AAAs and other aging supports across the state.

Jason Maciejewski (02:41):
So the bills that we are typically interested in, will move through those particular committees. Katie, what are the upcoming bills that we should be looking for in the coming years? Is there anything that’s immediately kind of poised for action right now?

Katie Wendel (02:56):
Yes. The House passed a series of guardianship bills late in 2023. So it’s House bills 4909 through 4912 and House bill 5047. And this bill package would create an office of the State guardian, require certifications of guardians and conservators of older adults, establish procedures for guardianship and conservator appointments, all with the goal of protecting vulnerable older adults who might be subject to these guardianships. So these bills come from the recommendation of the Attorney General’s Elder Abuse Task Force, and again, those passed the House, so we expect those to move through the Senate early this year. So we are watching those closely. And then of course, appropriations bills that are yet to be introduced. So I don’t have a bill number for you, but the budget process will start in likely early February with the release of the Governor’s budget. Then the House and Senate will each work to create their versions of the budget and our priorities in those appropriations bills include support for the Ombudsman program, the My Choice Medicaid Waiver, and many others focused in the MDHHS appropriations bill. Within the appropriations bill package.

Jason Maciejewski (04:06):
And Katie, Ageways and The Senior Alliance are both members of the Silver Key Coalition, along with many other organizations across the state who are interested in older adult issues, primarily focused on that appropriations process. Is the Silver Key Coalition going to be active on those nutritional line items and in-home service line items again for fiscal year 25?

Katie Wendel (04:26):
Absolutely. In fiscal years 2024 budget, so the current year we’re working in the legislature appropriated $1 million of one-time funding as an increase for the home delivered meal program. It’s incredibly important that we make that funding permanent in the fiscal year 2025 budget. It’s difficult for agencies to increase enrollment in home delivered meals and pull that back. So making that funding consistent is really important throughout the state. And then of course, we have unmet needs for non-Medicaid, home and community-based services. These are services that help people stay in their homes and communities. We take a close look at the data early in the year and develop our exact funding request, but the Silver Key Coalition will continue to work to support those nutrition and in-home service needs.

Jason Maciejewski (05:11):
Great. Yeah, we look forward to working with you and and others across the state on those priority items. You know, 2024 is an election year, as we’ve noted, and we’ve got those districts that are going to be redrawn in southeast Michigan, whether they’re going to be redrawn by the court or by the reapportionment committee per the Constitution, that issue’s still got to be resolved, but these lines are going to have a really big impact on who’s going to control the legislature in the 2025, 2026 session. And Dave, when you look at what’s going on in Lansing, the political environment there, how might that affect some of the work that we’re doing or the ability to pass some of the bills that we’re interested in?

Dave LaLumia (05:51):
I think the court decision that you mentioned is going to have a huge impact on the political environment. The court is under the gun to give some direction to the, either to the redistricting commission or to the legislature as to how they should proceed with redrawing the districts. But, you know, this is going to have an impact not only on the dozen or so districts that have been identified, but on contiguous districts that may also have to either be withdrawn, redrawn, or that have elected officials in them that are going to, you know, have to move or run in another district. So a huge impact, and I’m sure we’re going to be hearing more from the court about that in the near future. And I agree with Katie that things are going to go slower in the House this year with the two Democratic members who were elected to local government offices.

Dave LaLumia (06:43):
I think that’s going to create a pretty much a 54 54 split among Democrats and Republicans in the House. And I think the pace of activity is going to slow down and we’ll probably see action only in those areas that have bipartisan support to move through the chamber. And then finally, you also mentioned that this is an election year and the presidential primaries are going to be getting underway in the next week or so in Iowa and New Hampshire. The Michigan Presidential primary has been moved up. So Michigan will be an early state as opposed to our position in the kind of in the middle of the pack in previous years. So all that is going to have a huge impact on our politics in our state and the ability of our legislature to move its priorities during the year.

Jason Maciejewski (07:38):
Dave, normally the budget process is concluded somewhere by July 1 in a year that kind of works, right? The way that legislature plans it. Do you think with the turmoil that’s going on this year, that they’re going to be able to stick to that kind of July 1 timeline?

Dave LaLumia (07:53):
I do think so. And the turmoil may create even more impetus to have the legislature get its business done so people can get back to their districts in some cases their new districts and campaign. So I would expect to see the legislature complete its action on the budget before the 4th of July recess and the summer break prior to the August primaries.

Jason Maciejewski (08:16):
It’s certainly going to be a busy first five or six months here for work going on in Lansing. I want to turn our attention to our advocacy platforms. You have The Senior Alliance approves an advocacy platform at the beginning of every year, as does our state association 4AM. So Nikki, could you talk about a couple of the top priorities for advocacy that The Senior Alliance is going to be pursuing this coming year?

Nikki Hartley (08:41):
Yeah Jason, our top priorities at TSA for the state of Michigan are all issues of appropriations. We’d like to see an increase in the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services budget line item for nutrition services. So we can eliminate wait list for Meals on Wheels around the state. We’d also like to eliminate the longstanding wait list our Area Agency and Aging and others around the state have had for in-Home Services by increasing the funding for the ACLS Bureau of Community Services. Another of our priorities is a permanent $3 million increase in the budget for long-term care ombudsman. Currently, the state is at a ratio of one ombudsman for every 5,700 long-term care beds in the state. This ratio varies by county, but is still well above the recommended ratio of one ombudsman for every 2000 beds in Michigan. Lastly, we’d like to see the My Choice Waiver Program get an increase that meets the current operational and service cost, including the significant inflationary and labor cost increases that we’ve experienced. We also support an increase of the participant asset limit in the MyChoice Medicaid waiver program. This asset limit is currently at $2,000, excluding one car and one home, and really fails to reflect the inflation that has occurred since the rate was set in 1998.

Jason Maciejewski (09:52):
Yeah, the ombudsman piece that you mentioned is a big focus not only for our agency, other agencies as well, but also the Michigan Senior Advocates Council has adopted that issue as their focus for advocacy in 2024 as well. Really trying to get to a point where we can have a ratio between ombudsman and beds across the state that allows the work to be done in a way that’s much more effective than the limited way we do it right now. So we look forward to working with all the different area agencies on aging and stakeholders across Michigan on that issue. And Dave, the Area Agency on Aging Association of Michigan also has a list of advocacy priorities. Could you please maybe review the top two or three that have been selected for work this year?

Dave LaLumia (10:37):
Sure. And that the 4AM Board of Directors met this week and discussed at length our advocacy priorities for the year. And number one on our board’s list is support for expansion of the Ombudsman program. This program is of huge importance to residents of licensed residential facilities, both skilled nursing homes for the aged and adult foster care. And there hasn’t been an increase in funding for the Ombudsman program in many years in spite of the growth and the number of licensed beds. So this is an incredibly valuable service, which has been severely underfunded, and we’re supporting an increase of $3 million for the Ombudsman program, which would send around 30 new local ombudsmen into the field to support resident rights. The second issue, which has been identified as a priority, is the My Choice Waiver program. And this is an incredibly important program not only to participants, but to the state as a whole.

Dave LaLumia (11:41):
This program serves individuals who have been determined to require a nursing facility level of care, and it provides services and supports that enable people to remain in their own home. My Choice served over 15,000 people last year across the state and allowed them to remain where they wanted to be in their own homes and avoided placement in nursing facilities and the incredible expense that goes along with nursing facility care. The third area is support, continued support for the caregiver for the build out of caregiver resource centers across the state. We had a one-time, $5 million appropriation in the current year to expand local caregiver services. And we are asking to make that $5 million a permanent part of the AAA funding base. And all those issues will be presented and discussed with the legislature as the budget rolls out and as the House and Senate begins to have committee and subcommittee hearings, there’s a few other things that we’re going to support. We’re going to support direct care worker, but we’re going to be advocates for an increase in the direct care worker wage. And we’re going to, on the federal level, be involved in the reauthorization of the Federal Older Americans Act, which is going to take place in in Congress in the coming years. So that’s a kind of a high level overview of the priorities that our board has identified for 2024.

Jason Maciejewski (13:08):
Thanks for reviewing that list of priorities for the Aging Network in 24. There’s a lot of ground to cover there for us, and when we think about how to get engaged and how this advocacy work is going to be done, the general public is a big part of our effort and trying to communicate their support to legislators is really important. And Katie, how does somebody who might want to advocate on behalf of older adults get engaged on these particular issues and how can they get involved?

Katie Wendel (13:38):
Absolutely. It’s critically important that advocates speak up about what’s important to them. That’s how the legislature knows what matters to the community. So we encourage senior advocates to contact their legislators and let them know what of these priority issues are important to them and what will impact their life. Stay connected with your Area Agency on Aging’s Legislative newsletter, both Ageways and The Senior Alliance publish monthly newsletters that are targeted to keep senior advocates informed about what’s going on and respond to those action alerts. Those are great times to pick up the phone or send an email to your elected official. You can also plan to participate in Older Michiganians Day, which will be taking place on May 1st, 2024.

Jason Maciejewski (14:21):
And Katie, if somebody wants to sign up for the newsletter at Ageways, who do they contact?

Katie Wendel (14:25):
If you go to ageways.org at the top of our page, there’s an advocacy link, and that’ll take you right to sign up for our online newsletter. You can also email advocacy@ageways.org.

Jason Maciejewski (14:36):
And Nikki, how about The Senior Alliance? What’s the email address for signing up for our newsletter?

Nikki Hartley (14:40):
Yeah, so if you email advocacy@thesenioralliance.org that goes directly to me and I can sign you up for Colloquy, our monthly newsletter.

Jason Maciejewski (14:49):
Dave, when we talk about individuals making that contact with a legislator, what are some of the effective ways that people can engage?

Dave LaLumia (14:57):
You don’t have to come to Lansing to keep effective communication going with your State House and Senate members. Each of them have websites, and you can go to Michigan Legislature all one word.org and connect with your house and Senate members. They each have a webpage. There’s information, background information about them. There’s information on their local coffee hours and local district wide events that you can attend. And there’s also their email address and an easy way to send messages to them about the issues that are important. You know, if you do come to Lansing and visit their offices, I think it’s important to get to know their staff, their legislative directors, and the people that in their office that are important to how messages get carried directly to the senator or the representative. But this is going to be a challenging time for people to remain in touch with their legislators, especially in light of some of the redistricting and the redrawing of the district. So pay close attention and communicate and keep those avenues of communication open and let your people know what issues are important to you and how you can stay in touch with what they’re doing.

Jason Maciejewski (16:15):
I’m also going to put a plugin for the Michigan Senior Advocates Council. I know that there are some seats available on that council for some of the AAAs Area Agencies on Aging across the state of Michigan. So if you’re interested in engaging even beyond what David said in meeting in Lansing roughly once a month and talking to legislators and getting updated on older adult issues, contact your local area Agency on Aging to explore that and what The Senior Alliance, again, that advocacy@thesenioralliance.org email address is a good way to do it. Finally, we’ve already mentioned Colloquy, which is the monthly advocacy newsletter that The Senior Alliance puts out. But Nikki, what are some of the other ways that listeners can engage with us on advocacy? I know you’re preparing an advocacy alert on the guardianship bills right now.

Nikki Hartley (17:01):
Yeah, Jason. So we already talked about Colloquy email advocacy@thesenioralliance.org to sign up for that. Once you sign up for that, I also email advocacy action alerts to the subscribers of Colloquy. So if you are interested in helping us advocate for a specific bill or appropriation, that information will be sent out through there. We also do plan to put our advocacy priorities up on The Senior Alliance website. So if you go under advocacy on a webpage, you will be finding that there.

Jason Maciejewski (17:31):
Great. Thank you. Katie, is there anything else you want to add about Ageways and the advocacy work that you’re doing there?

Katie Wendel (17:36):
If you sign up for our Advocate newsletter, that’s the best way to get up-to-date information with us, and we are always happy to talk with advocates about how to get them connected with their elected officials.

Jason Maciejewski (17:48):
Well, thank you to Dave, Katie, and Nikki for joining me on this episode. Really appreciate you taking the time to talk about what’s coming up in 2024. Thank you, Jason. Thanks. Thanks for the opportunity, Jason.

Jason Maciejewski (17:59):
If you have any questions about services or programs The Senior Alliance offers, you can call us at (734) 722-2830 or email us at info@thesenioralliance.org. To learn more about volunteering, visit our website at whatdrivesyoutovolunteer.org. We really need some assistance with our Home Delivered Meals program right now. For information about our agency, the programs and services we offer, that can be found on our website at www.thesenioralliance.org. On Facebook, we can be located at facebook.com/aaa1c. Finally, our X, formerly known as Twitter handle is @AAA1C. I’m Jason Maciejewski. Thank you for listening to this episode of Inside The Senior Alliance.

Speaker 5 (18:45):
Inside The Senior Alliance is a production of The Senior Alliance and Blazing Kiss Media.

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