GAO Report, Congress, Urge Better Disaster Response to Seniors and Disabled

Published in the Woonsocket Call on June 23, 2019

Following a newly released 75-page report on the nation’s disaster response from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO), and after an outbreak of destructive tornadoes in the Midwest and the start of the 2019 hurricane season, U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), Ranking Member and Chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, throw a bill into the legislative hopper to assist seniors and disabled persons before, during and after natural disasters strike.

The Casey-Collins legislation, S. 1755, titled the “Real Emergency Access for Aging and Disability Inclusion (REAADI) for Disasters Act” would support the development of preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation plans that are inclusive of seniors and people with disabilities. The legislation would also ensure that these individuals would have a voice in creating emergency plans that directly affect them. Senators cosponsoring the bill include Doug Jones (D-AL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

Another bill, S.1754, titled the “Disaster Relief Medicaid Act” (DRMA), sponsored by Cassey, would ensure Medicaid services are consistently available for individuals forced to relocate to another state due to disaster or emergency. It would protect those residing in an area covered under a presidential disaster declaration as a “Relief-Eligible Survivor,” and grant them the support needed to easily access or apply for Medicaid services in their host state. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) are cosponsoring this bill.

Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) and Chris Smith (R-NJ) plan to introduce the House companion measure of REAADI Act. Congresswoman Donna Shalala (D-FL) will introduce DRMA in the House chamber.

Inadequate Disaster Planning Can Result in Death

“Inadequate planning for disasters can mean life or death, so it is critically important that every
community is prepared to meet the needs of all citizens—including older adults and people with disabilities—before, during and after a disaster strikes,” says Casey in a June 11 statement announcing the introduction of REAADI, calling for seniors and people with disabilities to be actively involved in developing emergency preparedness plans that will keep them safe.

In this statement, Collins adds, “As we have learned from natural disasters such as Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, some of our neighbors – especially seniors and individuals with disabilities – face many obstacles during a crisis. We must focus on the attention they may need. The bipartisan legislation improves training and coordination to help ensure that local, state, and federal officials are adequately equipped to care for the most vulnerable in their communities during a natural disaster.”

“As someone who lives with a disability, I take this issue to heart. The REAADI for Disasters Act will help eliminate barriers faced by people with disabilities and older adults during disasters by providing them a greater role in the policymaking process,” says Langevin, co-chair of the Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus, stressing the importance of passing the DRMA to continue Medicaid support services to America’s disabled and seniors.

GAO Report Gives Roadmap to Integrating Assistance During Natural Disasters

Released June 5, GAO’s Report, titled FEMA Action Needed to Better Support Individuals to Better Support Individuals Who Are Older or Have Disabilities, examines the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) disaster response to three sequential hurricanes – Harvey, Irma and Maria – that affected more than 28 million people in 2017. According to FEMA, seniors and persons with disabilities faced challenges in these natural disasters when evacuated to safe shelter, accessing medicine and obtaining recovery assistance. In June 2018, FEMA began implementing a new approach to assist individuals with disabilities.

GAO’s report addressed the challenges FEMA partners reported in providing assistance to seniors and the disabled and took a look at the challenges such individuals faced accessing assistance from the federal agency and the actions FEMA took to address these challenges. The federal study also examined the FAMA’s new strategy to assist persons with disability.

Here are GAO’s seven recommendations to FEMA:

The federal agency, charged with providing auditing, evaluation and investigated services to Congress, called on the FEMA Administrator to develop and publicize guidance for partners, during the data sharing process, who are requesting individual assistance data from seniors and persons with disabilities during natural disasters.

The GAO report also called on the FEMA Administrator to implement new registration-intake questions to improve FEMA’s ability to identify and address survivors’ disability-related needs, by directly soliciting survivors’ accommodation requests.

GAO also suggested that the FEMA Administrator improve communication of registrants’ disability-related information across FEMA programs, by developing an alert within survivor files that indicates an accommodation request.

As to the federal agency’s new strategy to specifically assist persons with disability, GAO urged the FEMA Administrator to establish and disseminate a set of objectives for the federal agency’s new disability integration approach.

The GAO report also recommended that the FEMA Administrator provide a written plan for implementing its new disability integration staffing approach to Regional Administrators and Regional Disability Integration Specialists. The plan would be consistent with the new objectives established for disability integration. It would also include an implementation timeline and details on staff responsibilities, which regions could use to evaluate staff performance.

Additionally, the GAO report recommends that the FEMA Administrator should develop a plan for delivering training to FEMA staff that promotes their competency in disability awareness. The plan should include milestones and performance measures, and outline how performance will be monitored.

Finally, the GAO report suggests that the FEMA Administrator develop a timeline for completing the development of new disability-related training that the federal agency can offer to its partners that incorporates the needs of individuals with disabilities into disaster preparedness, response and recovery operations.

For a copy of the GAO report, go to http://www.aging.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/GAO%2019-318%206-3-19.pdf.

The Best Of…Former Sen. Moss’ Advocacy Commitment Will Be Missed

           Published on February 3, 2003

            Last Wednesday evening, former U.S. Sen. Frank Moss of Utah died.

            After he received his law degree in 1937 from Washington, DC-based George Washington University, Moss briefly worked on the legal staff of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

           Throughout his legal career, he would sharpen his legal skills by working in a variety of settings.  Initially, clerking at the Utah Supreme Court, he would ultimately win an election putting him on the bench of the Salt Lake City Municipal Court in 1940.

         During the World War II, he would serve on the Judge Advocate General’s staff of the U.S. Armory Corps in England.  After the war, Moss would be elected in 1950, reelected in 1954, to serve as Salt Lake County attorney.

         Two years after his unsuccessful bid for Utah Governor, in 1956, Moss would run for Senate and win, by less than 40 percent of the vote.

         Obituaries in newspapers stated that the liberal three-term Senate Democrat was best known for his environmental work that included the establishment of national parks and recreational areas in Utah.  Moss was also recognized for drafting a series of bill protecting consumers, ranging from mandating labeling on cigarette packages about the health hazards of smoking, banning cigarette advertising on radio and television, to developing minimum safety requirements for automobiles.

           But for me and many of my colleagues in the field of aging, we will always remember Moss as being a true advocate for the nation’s elderly.

           Moss worked closely with President Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon Johnson, who would later become President, Hubert Humphrey and Claude Pepper getting Medicare and Medicaid enacted into law.

          Moreover, Moss will always be remembered for being the driving force behind the establishment of the Senate Special Committee on Aging in 1961.

          He also played a major role in establishing the House Committee on Aging with the late Rep. Claude Pepper.  The two special committees would later put the spotlight on aging policy issues, generating both the public and political will to bring about the needed policy changes.

          Throughout his Senate Career, in addition to authoring legislation that would require federal minimum standards for nursing homes and helping to create  the Medicare and Medicaid home health care benefits. Moss held the first hearing on hospice care and introduced legislation authorizing payment for hospice care.

           More than 40 years ago, the Special Committee on Aging, chaired by Moss, began to hold a series of hearing s on nursing homes.  It became extremely clear to his committee through its hearings, generating 1,300 pages of testimony, that both nursing home standards and enforcement by state regulatory agencies varied drastically.  Moss noted that these hearings helped to shape the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and that they also lead to series of reforms in 1967.

         Ultimately, a series of 30 hearings held between 1969 and 1976 eventually lead to the publication of a 12-volume report, entitled “Nursing Home Care in the United States: Failure in Public Policy.”

        In 1977, Moss, with coauthor Val Halmandaris (who at the time was responsible for research of the Subcommittee of Long-Term Care, but now serves as executive director of the National Association of Home Care) wrote “Too Old, Too Sick, Too Bad: Nursing Homes in America,” detailing the plight of America’s elderly.

       More than 10 years later, in a 1998 speech to the National Council on Aging, Moss expressed his concerns that American’s elderly were losing ground from all the gains they had achieved in the late 1960s and 1970s.  Congress has yet to enact a pharmaceutical drug program to put the brakes on spiraling drug costs.  Elder abuse is still running rampant throughout the nation.  Medicare expenditures are being slashed to nursing homes, home and hospice care.

        It is now time for Congress to get serious about tackling the multitude of problems thrust upon the nation by an aging society.  Moss’ advocacy comment to the nation’s elderly will be sorely missed, and his shoes will be hard to fill.

        Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who writes about aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.