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Guest Opinion: Elder and disabled care a top priority

Minnesota faces significant challenges as its population ages. Aitkin and Crow Wing are among counties in our state at the front of the aging pack.

Reports indicate more residents in our state will reach retirement age this decade than the previous four decades combined. Census data shows that, as of 2013, Aitkin stood as one of four counties with a median age of 50 or higher - Big Stone, Cook and Lake of the Woods are the others. That translates into more individuals requiring care as they age, underscoring the need for reform-minded ideas to help us meet an increasing demand for services.

There are no simple solutions, the areas we need to address are far-reaching. Adequate support for nursing homes, in-home care, assisted-living facilities and care for the disabled absolutely necessary. Critical to that is making sure we maintain a full complement of well trained, dedicated professionals working in the elder care industry. We also need to provide citizens with more options when dealing with their own-long term needs.

One of the House majority's top priorities in the 2015 session is to address these issues. We have introduced several bills that will move us in the right direction. Two bills I am especially proud to have co-authored include House File 3 and 564. Key provisions in these bills include:

• Increasing the reimbursement rates for our nursing homes. assisted living and in home care providers, which will allow increasing the pay for our elder and disabled care workforce

• Expanding health professional education loan forgiveness program to certain health care professionals who work in a nursing home or care facility for those with disabilities.

• Expanding employee training scholarships to reimburse student loan expenses for recently hired and recently graduated nurses and licensed practical nurses.

• Directing the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) to better utilize existing programs to help train workers for and fill long-term care facility openings.

• Creating a long-term care savings plan to encourage people to save for future long-term care costs. (Makes up to $1,000 per person, per year exempt from income tax).

• Providing a credit for any penalty paid for early withdrawals from IRAs for long-term care costs.

This is just the starting point in search for improvements. I also have introduced a bill to help seniors by not taxing their Social Security benefits. I would like to phase out that tax as quickly as is feasible and this discussion also will continue.

Your feedback is always welcome. You can call my legislative office at (651) 296-2365.

Rep. Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin, represents Minnesota House District 10B