Iowa’s 89th General Assembly convened on January 11, 2021. This legislative session requires Iowa’s elected officials to genuinely recognize the value of older Iowans in policy deliberations. Iowans over the age of 65 make up the largest voting block in Iowa (78.5%) (1). Additionally, the number of Iowans over the age of 65 will increase from 17% to 20% in the coming years. In a time when 93% of Iowa COVID-19 pandemic deaths are of individuals over the age of 60 (2), as of this writing, older Iowan health and safety must be a priority. Iowa’s aging network of Area Agencies on Aging has rapidly responded to the pandemic through operational changes to services and programs as well as through advocacy. Today, the Iowa Association of Area Agencies on Aging (i4a) releases its COVID-19 Report and 2021 Policy Agenda to encourage Iowa’s elected officials to ensure that vulnerable older Iowans, individuals with disabilities, and family caregivers are protected, safe, and healthy in their communities.
Iowa’s Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) rapidly responded to the pandemic through operational changes that ensured the safety of those receiving services. The AAAs immediately closed congregate meal sites and quickly moved to innovative, safe approaches for delivering meals to the homes of older Iowans. Community collaborations with local restaurants, grocers, and food banks were enhanced to maximize responsiveness to the needs of those served by AAAs. Most of the day-to-day operations and services were delivered virtually. Iowa’s AAAs received requests for services in 97 of Iowa’s 99 counties representing a 35% increase in calls for help.
While it is imperative to minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for older Iowans, it is also known that social isolation increases the experience of loneliness and, therefore, increases the risk for elder abuse and negative mental and physical health outcomes. Between April and November 2020, Iowa’s AAAs responded to nearly 290 referrals to address elder abuse concerns. Referrals were primarily due to concerns of self-neglect, financial exploitation, and a need for financial assistance. The increased vulnerability of elder abuse of older Iowans during the pandemic must be addressed during this legislative session.
Iowa’s legislature had the opportunity to strengthen the protection of older Iowans from elder abuse during last year’s session through Senate File 2341 (SF2341; see i4a’s advocacy alert). This legislation did not pass out of committee. Senate File 2341 would have criminalized elder abuse and provided civil relief for older Iowans who have been victimized. Iowa’s aging network supports the reintroduction of this legislation and urges legislators to take seriously the need for older Iowans to be protected from exploitation and abuse. This must happen this year because the pandemic has provided space for increased scams that exploit older Iowans who are vulnerable due to social isolation. The aging network has advocated for stronger elder justice support during the past three years. Passing this legislation will show the value of older Iowans to elected officials. Valuing older Iowans also comes in the form of ensuring that baseline funding remains in place to reduce risks of elder abuse and access to services through the Area Agencies on Aging.
Funding Area Agencies on Aging
Iowa’s Area Agencies on Aging provided access to home and community-based services for older Iowans, individuals with disabilities, and family caregivers before the pandemic and will be here to serve older Iowans post-pandemic. The aging network advocated at the federal level in partnership with the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging to ensure that funding was provided to meet the needs of older adults during the pandemic. Advocacy efforts resulted in approximately $12 million in federal funding support that helped address pandemic-related safety issues for older Iowans. This funding is time-limited and post-pandemic demand for services will grow as Iowa’s population ages. We cannot neglect the aging network’s value in its ability to support rapid response to community-health needs of Iowans. An additional $1,000,000 in funding support to Elderly Services will aid in addressing increased elder abuse and prevention programs as well as other programs that help older Iowans, individuals with disabilities, and family caregivers with supports and services needed to maintain safety and independence in their homes and communities.
References (including policy agenda)
- State Data Center of Iowa & Iowa Department on Aging (2020). Older Iowans: 2020. https://www.iowadatacenter.org/Publications/older2020.pdf
- State of Iowa (2020). Iowa COVID-19 in Iowa. Retrieved January 11, 2021 https://coronavirus.iowa.gov/pages/outcome-analysis-deaths