Area reps respond to seniors' concerns

Friday, October 12, 2012
Iowa Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, and Republican statehouse candidate Megan Hess answer questions during the Northwest Aging Association Legislative Forum Thursday morning at Hope Reformed Church in Spencer. (Photos by Gabe Licht)

"Senior issues are nonpartisan issues because we all grow old, we all deal with the same issues whether we're rich or poor," Mike Otto, of the Older Iowans Legislature, told those attending the Northwest Aging Association Legislative Forum Thursday morning.

Much of the conversation centered around House File 45, which initially created five aging networks, including a 49-county area in northwest Iowa.

"HF 45 caused us a lot of grief, though there were good things as well," Northwest Aging Association Executive Director Tresa Knoff said. "We became a part of a 29-county re-organization instead of 49 counties and received an extra year to accomplish that.

"Those goals would not have been achieved without these representatives," Knoff added, referring to Sen. David Johnson, Rep. Jeff Smith and Rep. Dwayne Alons, who made up the event's legislative panel, along with Republican statehouse candidate Megan Hess.

One attendee compared area agencies on aging to the legislature and said the new restructuring plan is the equivalent of eliminating representation in numerous counties.

"The legislature is established in the Constitution," Alons said. "Aging councils are in the law, so it can change from assembly to assembly."

On a similar note, Hess said that rural areas need to market their quality of life standards when recruiting professionals to help seniors.

"There will have to be financial incentives to do it," Johnson added.

Whether or not funding for such incentives will be available is in question.

Iowa Rep. Jeff Smith, R-Okoboji, recalls replacing funds that had been depleted from the Senior Trust Fund. He called funding the health and human services budget, including resources for senior services, a priority.

Smith said the state's budget was in "dire straits" when he took office in 2011.

"The Senior Trust Fund was depleted," Smith said. "We had a deficit in the general fund. We had to make cuts to balance the budget. We have somewhat of a surplus now. We've filled up the trust funds."

While Smith said spending must be controlled to avoid similar problems in the future, he added, "I think everyone has the understanding that health and human services is where our priorities are."

Medicaid is a large part of that budget, but seniors are having difficulties dealing with professionals in that field, Johnson said.

"They have a centralized call-in, but there is no face-to-face conversation," Johnson said, noting that seniors often talk to more than one person about their accounts. "There is no continuity there."

Northwest Aging Association board member Larry Pedley said, since 2008, senior funding is down 33 percent while the senior population has grown by 10 percent. At the same time, he noted, education dollars increased, though the number of students is decreasing.

"I want to find more efficiencies, whether that means more home health care or online education," Hess said.

As the forum concluded, Knoff informed the legislators that funding is not available during the restructuring.

Alons suggested contacting Gov. Terry Branstad's office. Johnson emphasized the importance of presenting the case to the health and human services committee and also said that private businesses may be willing and able to contribute to the cause.

Alons urged everyone in attendance to get involved with advocacy.

"We the people are the government," Alons said. "Everyone needs to be engaged."

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