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Gov. Lee Signs Tennessee Disability and Aging Act into Law

The legislation merges Tennessee’s Commission on Aging and Disability (TCAD) and Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD), effectively creating a new Department of Disability and Aging (DDA)

Adults 65 years and older are the fastest-growing demographic in Tennessee. With a rapidly increasing aging population, the state must ensure it has the infrastructure in place to serve the needs of older adults.

State officials took a step closer to that goal on April 11, 2024, when Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed the Tennessee Disability and Aging Act. The legislation merges Tennessee’s Commission on Aging and Disability (TCAD) and Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD), effectively creating a new Department of Disability and Aging (DDA).

“When I became governor, I made a commitment to shrink the size of government, ensuring we efficiently and effectively serve all Tennesseans,” said Gov. Lee in a prepared release. “This is one example of our work to deliver on that promise, enabling better coordination and stronger advocacy.”

If you work with older adults or you are looking after elderly loved ones, you may have heard of TCAD, Tennessee’s federally designated “state unit on aging.” The agency is currently overseeing Older Americans Act programs and providing leadership relative to aging issues throughout state government. Tennessee is one of two states that did not previously house its “state unit on aging” within a cabinet-level agency. Elevating TCAD to a department will enhance its ability to lead strategic planning and coordination across state government relative to aging issues.

Additionally, there are many similarities in the supports and services TCAD and DIDD provide to enhance the quality of life and independence of the populations they serve. Unifying these two agencies will provide for better coordination on areas of shared priorities.

Here’s what a few elected officials had to say about the move:

“The consolidation of these government agencies will enhance coordination and advocacy for all Tennesseans to live and age with as much independence and dignity as possible. I appreciate Governor Lee for his commitment to ensuring our government operates efficiently while also providing better services to our citizens.” -Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, R-Franklin

“Tennessee is a model for the nation when it comes to making government work more cooperatively and efficiently for our citizens. Unifying these agencies will enable better coordination and stronger advocacy helping all Tennesseans live and age with as much independence as possible.” -House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland

“I have always been a big supporter of TCAD and DIDD, and merging both agencies will allow for stronger advocacy for older adults and people with disabilities. I look forward to the excellent service the new Department of Disability and Aging will provide to Tennesseans across our state.” -Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville

“People with disabilities and older adults should have the opportunity to age in place while having independence, health, and a high quality of life. I’m excited to work with our partners in both communities to ensure the Department of Disability and Aging is doing all it can to support people to live the lives they envision for themselves.” Commissioner Brad Turner, Department of Disability and Aging

What changes will the new legislation mean for the firm’s clients? We asked a few Johnson McGinnis Elder Care & Estate Planning staff members to weigh in.

“I have been following this closely since I still have close friends at TCAD,” said Public Benefits Specialist Joshua Hunter. “While I understand the motivations, and I am hopeful that everything will run smoothly, I am also a little concerned. TCAD is substantially smaller than DIDD, and I hope this consolidation does not sweep TCAD programs under the rug. I hope that TCAD staff and programs are given the proper weight and authority to serve older adults.”

“We are glad that the governor elevated this to a department,” said Debra King, one of the firm's Elder Care Coordinators. “We have been pleased with the work the Commission on Aging and Disability was doing for elder rights and hope to see more work in this area.”

“I spoke to Senator Massey about this not long ago,” said Elder Care Coordinator Katlyn Green. “Senator Massey is especially knowledgeable about DIDD, whereas I’m more informed about TCAD. She and I both agree that this is a ‘smarter, not harder’ decision. Combining these two agencies will help to streamline communication, focus each mission, and allow easier access to those who need it. Each time I’ve been in a meeting or a room with the Gov. Lee, he has asked about professional perspectives about what works and what doesn’t in aging. He has readily listened to everything I’ve had to say and is very gracious.”

Anytime anything is done to help elevate aging services it’s a good thing,” said Elder Care Coordinator Pati Bedwell. “Hopefully, this will help put a spotlight on aging issues and concerns making it easier for advocates, caregivers, families, and elders to find support and services that enhance the lives of our aging population.”





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