- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 25, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska lawmakers considered a bill Tuesday that calls for using state and federal money to improve programs designed to help elderly people keep living in their homes rather than move to care centers.

The bill introduced by Sen. Kate Bolz, of Lincoln, was debated by the Legislature, which didn’t take action on most of the measure but likely will consider the matter again Wednesday.

The bill calls for the state to spend $8.5 million in the next two fiscal years to qualify for a $36 million match in federal grant money. The funding would be used to improve existing home and community-based services, such as adult day care or respite services, that can enable elderly people to stay in their homes.

Bolz said the issue is especially important as Nebraska’s population ages.

“We know that our aging population is booming and we should plan for it,” Bolz said.

Bolz said she planned to meet with legislative staffers and other officials Friday to seek options for reducing the bill’s cost.

The bill would also create the Aging Nebraskans Task Force, which would address the needs of the state’s aging population.

Nearly 325,000 Nebraskans will be 65 or older in 2020, according to a report by the Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. By 2050, 471,000 Nebraskans are expected to be 65 or older.

In the 2013 fiscal year, $325 million was spent on nursing facilities, according to the state’s annual Medicaid report.

Home and community-based care are cheaper than care provided at nursing homes, Bolz said. Spending money to keep people in their homes would save the state money in the long-run, she said.

Sen. Bill Kintner, of Papillion, was among lawmakers who expressed concern about the cost of the bill. He introduced an amendment that would remove the grant application process from the bill.

“It doesn’t come free,” he said. “This is our money.”

Sen. Mark Christensen, of Imperial, questioned the premise that it’s better for elderly people to remain in their homes. Christensen noted his father, who has Alzheimer’s disease, improved after he was placed in a nursing home.

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The bill is LB690