While North Carolina aims to create aging policy, other issues often take priority

Despite establishing a program to create policy for its aging population, such issues are often cast aside when debates begin in North Carolina and other states

As is the case in many states across the country, the increasing population of older people and the need to address issues related to them have often been pushed aside in the halls of state legislatures. A recent story profiling this in one state highlights a dynamic in many others.

While the state of North Carolina has outlined an ambitious policy plan to collaboratively address the needs of older adults and people with disabilities, other political priorities often end up taking precedence and push the needs of older people further down the road. This is according to a story published recently in N.C. Health News.

“North Carolinians 65 or older make up 17% of the state population, and by 2031 they will represent one in five,” the story explained. “However, recent state leaders facing multibillion-dollar issues such as tax cuts, teachers’ salaries and Medicaid expansion have not put top priority on older people’s state-funded needs, according to legislative budgets, state and local officials and older people in several counties.”

N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper (D) has described a need to create new policy designed to serve the growing population of older North Carolinians, but has faced resistance from the state assembly which contains a veto-proof Republican supermajority, the story said. Still, despite his stated support for policy that would serve older residents, certain advocates on the ground contend that Cooper could do more to serve them even if his legislative agenda encounters roadblocks.

“I really think that he tries, but the effectiveness hasn’t really been there,” said Norma Duncan, an 86-year-old retired N.C. state employee. “We aren’t getting enough funds; we’re seeing the needs not being met.”

North Carolina’s assembly includes the Senior Tar Heel Legislature, a body designed to keep the state’s senior citizens informed about the legislative process and matters being considered by the North Carolina General Assembly that could apply to them. But the body has not seen many of its policy priorities put into action, echoing the struggle other state legislatures are seeing when addressing policy aimed at aging populations.

This is most especially true of funding increases for certain programs including the state’s Adult Protective Services program; home and community block care grants designed to fund senior-specific services; and long-term care ombudsmen who advocate for the needs of seniors in long-term care settings.

In other states, policy aimed specifically at aging populations tends to run into resistance for lawmakers generally critical of government spending.

In Washington state, for instance, Gov. Jay Inslee and the Democratically-controlled legislature recently implemented a new tax designed to create a long-term care insurance program by taking a deduction of 0.58% of state workers’ paychecks, a worker first becomes eligible to access the fund for long-term care after contributing for 10 years.

But the state’s Republican lawmakers are currently in the process of crafting legislation designed to make the new program optional for state workers, which leaders admit could derail the fund entirely.

However, those leaders also say that the funding gathered by the tax will be “woefully inadequate” to meet the needs of the state’s future aging populations, according to coverage from Seattle-based National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate KUOW.

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