NAELA Priorities Move Forward on Capitol Hill
By Michael Knaapen, Director of Public Policy and Alliance Development
Published November 2023
The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) has focused its public policy priorities for 2023-24 on guardianship, Medicaid — especially home and community-based services (HCBS) and ensuring individuals with disabilities have access to Medicaid — and retirement issues. Although Congress continues to be hampered by internal and partisan politics, several bills have been proposed which fall within these priorities. NAELA supports these bills and urges members and chapters to engage as their interest and capacity allows.
Home and Community-Based Services
Three HCBS bills have been proposed which focus on injections of funds to states to expand access and quality of the program in various ways: Better Care Better Jobs, HCBS Access, and HCBS Relief. In some ways, the three bills can be seen as successively “smaller” bills indicating that sponsors want to appeal to legislators opposed to the legislation because of the cost. Regrettably, none of these bills seem to yet have Republican support in either chamber, but all would inject vital funds into state Medicaid programs to support workforce, programs, administration, and access to Medicaid HCBS.
Two modest bills on Social Security benefits show more promise, as they focus on bringing programs last updated in the 1980s in line with the cost of inflation. The SSI Savings Penalty Elimination Act proposed in the Senate is bipartisan and seeks to update asset limits for individuals from $2,000 to $10,000 and for couples from $3,000 to $20,000 and to index them for inflation moving forward — the first such change in almost 40 years. The SSI PNA Modernization Act has not yet been introduced but is intended to “amend title XVI of the Social Security Act to index for inflation the minimum monthly personal needs allowance for institutionalized individuals and couples under the supplemental security income program, and for other purposes.”
A March hearing of the Senate Aging Committee in which NAELA submitted testimony produced two bills with modest support, the Guardianship Grant Flexibility Act which would empower Administration for Community Living (ACL) grants to be used for programs to recruit and train law students to help with the guardianship system, and the Guardianship Bill of Rights Act which forms a council to create recommendations around best practices and policies for preventing, terminating, identifying the least restrictive alternative to, and gathering data around guardianship. Although both bills have good intentions, what is vitally needed now is funding to state courts so they can develop practice resources, data collection and reporting tools, and administrative infrastructure for program management and accountability — resources envisioned by the Guardianship Court Improvement Program model legislation that emerged from the National Center for State Courts and other elder law experts within the National Guardianship Network (NGN), seeking to increase funding and technical assistance in guardianship to state courts through existing Elder Justice Innovation Grants.
At present, little action can be expected on any one of these pieces of legislation given the climate in Congress. Nevertheless, the national NAELA organization understands that many individual members and chapters are concerned about federal policy and we urge those interested in direct advocacy to act however they can on any or all of these issues. Simply educating one’s own representatives or senators can help advance legislation in the future.
NAELA members interested in public policy can engage regularly through the State Advocacy Committee, which convenes to give state-level advocates space for sharing best practices and information, or through the Federal Advocacy Committee, which develops NAELA policy and seeks members annually to join the committee for raising, discussing, and working on issues on behalf of members and their clients. If you have any questions, please contact [email protected].