Nashville/ Politics & Govt
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Published on April 12, 2024
Governor Bill Lee Signs Landmark Tennessee Disability and Aging Act, Uniting Services in Statewide OverhaulSource: Wikipedia/Spc. Kalina Hyche, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In a sweeping move aimed at improving services for an aging population and individuals with disabilities, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has signed the Tennessee Disability and Aging Act into law. This new legislation, which saw a rare unanimous support across party lines, will merge the existing Commission on Aging and Disability (TCAD) with the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) to form the new Department of Disability and Aging (DDA).

The overhaul, described by Gov. Lee as a step towards a more "efficiently and effectively" run government, is aimed at enhancing the lives of Tennesseans who are 65 and older, a group that's expanding at a brisk pace. Hoped to streamline administration and strengthen advocacy, TCAD's elevation to department status is expected to buttress its strategic planning capabilities, according to a statement obtained by the official Governor's Office release.

Leadership from both parties praised the move. “The merging of the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities with the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability is an advantageous step in ensuring all Tennesseans can live and age with independence.  I was pleased to sponsor this legislation so both individuals with disabilities and our seniors can be represented by a Commissioner and Department that totally focuses on issues and services important to them. I am confident the newly formed Department of Disability and Aging will offer exceptional service and provide a voice for these valued citizens.” Senator Becky Massey told the Governor's Office. Her colleagues echoed the sentiment, citing the unity of the agencies as key to fostering better coordination and stronger advocacy for communities that the bill is designed to serve.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson hailed the act as an enhancement of coordination and advocacy for all Tennesseans to live and age with as much independence and dignity as possible. As one of two states previously without a cabinet-level agency focused on aging, the transition designates an institutional elevation that stakeholders contend will better position Tennessee to address the needs and dignities of its older residents. In the same vein, Representative Curtis Johnson looked towards the future, anticipating that the Department of Disability and Aging is primed to provide excellent service to state residents, according to his praise found in the Governor's Office announcement.

Community advocates also celebrated the move. Janice Wade-Whitehead, President & CEO of Alzheimer’s Tennessee, acknowledged the action as a significant milestone for the aging community and acknowledged the potential impact on the over 360,000 family caregivers in the state. Advocates are riding high on expectations that the newly created department will deliver comprehensive, attentive service to a combined demographic that requires nuanced and informed support.

The new Department of Disability and Aging, under the watch of Commissioner Brad Turner, vows to focus on the necessary assistance to help people maintain independence, health, and a high quality of life into their later years. The formation of the DDA is lauded as a forward-thinking approach to government restructuring, aimed at upholding the rights and dignities of those often at the margins, a notion that has bipartisan, as well as community, support in Tennessee.