The Utah House Health and Human Services Standing Committee voted unanimously to approve Senate Bill 104 on Thursday.
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The bill would direct the Utah Commission on Aging (UCOA) to develop a 10-year master plan on aging that identifies redundancies in state policies and makes recommendations on efficiency. It now heads to the House for consideration.
UCOA was commissioned in 2008 to provide annual reports to the governor and legislature on the broad range of issues affecting older adults, including financial security, community-based care and services, caregiver support, physical and mental health, public safety, workforce services, and more.
Sen. Karen Kwan (D – West Valley City), the bill’s sponsor, and UCOA Executive Director Rob Ence both appeared before the committee to present on its behalf. Ence said UCOA meets quarterly to discuss the issues and already has a master plan ready to go.
“It has become clear as we’ve gone through the pandemic, there were additional things that needed to be adjusted in the statute to address our need for better technology, data collection, and [addressing] the technology required for older adults to stay connected when we were shut down for so long,” Ence said. “So now as we’ve come into this post-pandemic period of time, I appreciate Senator Kwan taking the journey and recognizing that there are multiple areas [of need].
And so the purpose of this current request is to modify the statute … so that there is legislative buy-in and directed purpose for redefining outcomes—looking forward into the future rather than just reporting on activities of the past and our collaborative efforts.”
Ence said the legislation would also put the commission in a good position to join with the best think tanks in the country and ensure Utah is getting the best ideas and best practices incorporated into state policy.
Committee member and co-sponsor of the bill, Rep. Ray Ward (R – Bountiful), addressed a clarifying question related to the fiscal note.
“If you read it, it says $50,000 one-time and right down below it says the Department [of Health and Human Services] can take care of $45,000 of that and the fiscal note’s less than $10,000 or assumed to be covered,” Ward explained. “So this bill on its own can go either way and it will be taken care of internal to the budget.”
Meanwhile, Kwan spoke about the immediate needs facing older adults and their families.
“Now one goal out of the master plan is to make resources available and easier to navigate,” Kwan said. “But it’s not the only issue that this state plan should address. We have huge issues of staffing or lack of staffing. We have huge issues with payments and coordinating different agency payments for different long-term [facilities and] medical care. We have huge issues that are happening nationwide and Utah is not immune to this.”