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March 07, 2019

King, Collins Lead Effort Empowering Seniors, Individuals with Disabilities to Continue Living Safely At Home

Bipartisan, bicameral bill would streamline federal programs for those looking to modify their homes to support independent living

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) today introduced the Senior and Disability Home Modification Assistance Initiative Act with Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), Chairman of the Senate Aging Committee, and a group of their colleagues. The legislation would make it easier for older Americans and individuals with disabilities to access federal home modification programs and remain in their homes. By helping these populations navigate and utilize these federal programs to modify their homes, the legislation achieves the dual goals of helping more Americans live independently and creatively expanding the supply of accessible housing.

“If you ask a group of seniors or individuals with disabilities where they’d like to live, the vast majority will deliver a simple and clear answer: ‘at home.’ So let’s help them do that,” said Senator King. “There are a number of well-intentioned federal government programs that are supposed to make it easier for seniors and individuals with disabilities to stay in their homes – so many programs, in fact, that it can be hard for these individuals to understand and access this assistance. That’s not how this is supposed to work. Let’s come together, cut through the bureaucracy, and make sure our friends and neighbors have the tools they need to prevent serious injuries and remain in their homes.”

“Understandably, many seniors prefer to stay in the comfort, security, and privacy of their own homes as they age,” said Senator Collins.  “Home modifications that increase accessibility not only allow seniors to remain near friends, family, and loved ones, but they are also highly cost effective.  Our commonsense bill would cut through the unnecessary complexity that surrounds existing federal programs, helping more seniors and those with disabilities to live independently and safely right where they want to be—at home.”

“BPC Action commends the bicameral, bipartisan introduction of Senior and Disability Home Modification Assistance Initiative Act of 2019 by Sens. King (I-ME) and Collins (R-ME) and Reps. Morelle (D-NY) and Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and others,” said Michele Stockwell, Executive Director of Bipartisan Policy Center Action. “This legislation creates a cross-cutting initiative by the HHS assistant secretary for aging to coordinate, review, and promote the numerous federal home modification programs and resources that are available to older adults and people with disabilities. Up to 80 percent of home modifications are paid for out of pocket, an increasing burden on America’s growing older adult population. This legislation will lead to a better understanding of the effectiveness of federal programs at enabling older and disabled individuals to live safely and independently at home."

“Everyone does better when they are in their own home,” said Cullen Ryan, Executive Director of Community Housing of Maine. “This legislation is a very sensible approach to ensure people with limited means have the tools they need to stay settled in their own homes.  People should be able to remain in surroundings most familiar to them whenever that makes sense.”  

“Staying in our homes – not having to enter institutions or facilities, or live with strangers – is of tantamount priority to people with disabilities,” said Kim Moody, Executive Director of Disability Rights Maine. “This legislation can help us achieve this important outcome.”

The Senior and Disability Home Modification Assistance Initiative Act is also cosponsored by Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.); companion legislation is being introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representatives Joseph Morelle (D-N.Y.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.). 

In order to remain in their homes, America’s seniors and individuals with disabilities often have to pursue home modifications to ensure accessibility. But the price of even relatively simple home modifications, such as the cost of putting grab bars in the shower, can drain limited budgets – and more significant changes, like widening doors to allow for wheelchair access, may be completely unfeasible without assistance. However, not making those modifications also runs the risk of being costlier in the long run. For example, a serious fall, which is the leading cause of injury for older adults, can result in large costs, both for the senior and for Medicare and Medicaid.

To help, the Senior and Disability Home Modification Assistance Initiative Act would:

·       Establish a cross-cutting initiative, to be carried out by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Assistant Secretary for Aging, to coordinate federal efforts and programs that provide home modification resources and assistance for older Americans and individuals with disabilities. By coordinating existing programs and reporting annually on key data points, as the legislation would require, this initiative would be able to provide a better understanding of how federal programs are helping seniors and individuals with disabilities live independently and safely, and would help identify opportunities to improve the programs.

·       Require the Assistant Secretary to publish an educational, consumer-friendly brochure to provide easily accessible information that could help Americans better understand and take advantage of federal programs.

These proposed changes are particularly important because they come at a time when a growing number of Americans have expressed a preference for aging in their own homes. A 2014 AARP survey of Maine residents older than 50 found that nearly 80 percent of respondents indicated that it was extremely or very important to remain in their home as they age, with 73 percent saying that support for funding services that enable seniors to remain in their homes should be a top or high priority.

A fact sheet on the legislation can be read HERE, and the full bill text can be read HERE

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