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Aging Department Opposed

March 26, 1996
By: Emily Goodin
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Opposition to the governor's plan to create a separate department of aging has emerged from a surprising source - one of the state's leading welfare advocacy organizations.

The Missouri Association for Social Welfare (MASW), a former proponent of the plan, withdrew its support Monday (March 25) charging the proposal was just an election-year effort to get votes from the elderly.

"It's good politics but bad social policy," said Peter DeSimone of MASW.

Previously, several Republican lawmakers have voiced similar objections to the proposed amendment to state's constitution.

"It's a political decision done during an election year," said Sen. Bill Kenney, R-Lee Summit, who also opposes the legislation.

One of the main proponents of the legislation is Lt. Gov. Roger Wilson, a Democrat. Kenney recently filed for lieutenant governor on the Republican ticket.

"To call this a political pull when it is an earnest public debate approach is hypocritical when you try to cure the problem with a resolution that is insulting to 1 million seniors," Wilson said.

The resolution, sponsored by Kenney, urges the governor to give the Division of Aging, currently under the Department of Social Services, a voice in the cabinet.

A position in the governor's cabinet would be automatic if Aging becomes a department.

"A voice in the cabinet is something the governor could do now instead of in 10 months when the bill is passed," Kenney said.

Another problem opponents have with the bill is a three-year employee cap on the new department.

"The issue of the cap on employees will render inefficient the creation of a new Department of Aging. It would make it harder to do the job," DeSimone said. "It defies logic. The logic being we need a new department because the number of elderly people is increasing."

"We're not capping forever," said Rep. Henry Rizzo, D-Kansas City, and sponsor of the House bill.

The department can go through the legislative process and show a need for more employees, Rizzo said.

The legislation to create the Department of Aging is currently being heard in House and Senate committees.