FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 30, 2009
AUSTIN, TX--On Thursday, Oct. 29, state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. convened the first hearing of the Legislative Committee on Aging established to study pertinent issues affecting the state's aging population.
"Our goal is to examine essential services, such as housing, transportation and health care specific to Texas' aging population and determine how to better address those unmet needs," said Sen. Lucio, who was appointed chair of the committee by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. "We want to ensure the state is better prepared to accommodate a growing senior population."
At the inaugural meeting, State Demographer Karl Eschbach, Ph.D., demonstrated the committee's relevance when he reported Texans 60 years and over are projected to total 8.1 million by 2040, representing a 193 percent increase from 2000. He estimates seniors will comprise 23 percent of the total Texas population by then.
The committee, modeled after the U.S. Senate's Special Committee on Aging, was created through passage of House Bill 610 authored by Rep. Elliott Naishtat (Austin) and Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (San Antonio). In addition to Chairman Lucio, the committee's five members include Sen. Joan Huffman, (Houston), Rep. Susan King, (Abilene), Rep. Elliott Naishtat and two members of the public, Homer Lear and Betty Streckfuss. The committee is required to report its findings to the full Legislature every two years.
"One of my priorities as a member of this body is to streamline the process for people 60-plus who are often placed on long waiting lists for services," said Rep. Naishtat. "As a state, we must not only address their specific needs but ensure more efficient systems are in place."
Currently, services for the aging are provided through a number of agencies, so the committee's duties will involve identifying improved coordination. For example, seniors applying for home and community-based services through the state must meet income eligibility standards determined through the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, in addition to program participation eligibility that is determined through the Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS).
Because of their critical role providing services for the aging, DADS Interim Commissioner Jon Weizenbaum also provided testimony at the hearing. He noted, "As we face the challenges of a dramatically changing population, the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services is committed to working closely with the Legislative Committee on Aging to address the unique needs of aging Texans."
One issue that many of the committee members agreed must be improved is recognition and support for formal and informal caregivers. Family members and friends offering this care need more help obtaining respite (short-term breaks) and support services. Several committee members also pointed to a need for improved professional recognition and compensation for formal caregivers.
Additionally, members discussed the importance of creating more professional development opportunities within the field to attract and retain new providers, since many of those in the current labor pool are themselves aging.
The committee will work closely with the Texas Silver-Haired Legislature, which selected the establishment of the committee as their number one priority for the 81st session. One of its members, Ms. Chris Kyker said of the first hearing," Today, Texas takes a bold and creative step to plan for a 'new age' of boomers. We are grateful to the 81st Texas Legislature for creating the Legislative Committee on Aging to focus on this emerging population."
Note: Committee Clerk, Ms. Natalie Fontenot handles this issue for Sen. Lucio and can be reached at 512-463-0385.