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The Cost of Dignity | A look into what 'personal needs allowance' is

People need help as they age. We took a closer look at the “personal needs allowance” and how it affects those living in Arkansas nursing homes.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — In an ideal world, our loved ones would age gracefully and peacefully— but the reality is that many of us may one day need the care of a nursing home.

Moving is among the top stressors in life and can be compounded when your new home comes with rules and regulations. However, we found a little-known rule in nursing homes called the “Personal Needs Allowance”. 

Its intention is to give nursing home residents a sense of dignity and some independence—  but critics argue, it’s not nearly enough.

State Representative Julie Mayberry serves District 27 in Arkansas. She has years of experience with senior citizen advocacy groups and explained what the Personal Needs Allowance encompasses. 

“A nursing home uses the resident’s assets to pay for their care first before programs like Medicaid or Medicare step in. The Personal Needs Allowance is a monthly amount the resident can keep for things like a bag of their favorite chips, a book or magazine, a gift for a grandchild, or having their hair styled. But remember, it’s their own money,” she explained.

The Personal Needs Allowance was enacted by the federal government in 1974 and revised in 1987. It requires states to allocate a monthly allowance for each nursing home resident between a minimum of $30 to a maximum of $200. 

According to the American Council on Aging, Arkansas ranked near the bottom tier of states, allowing residents to keep $40 each month. 

Only seven other states are at or below that amount and just one state, Alaska, gives its residents the maximum of $200.

We spoke with Little Rock attorney Darren O’Quinn, who handles many cases involving nursing home residents. He said that he’s aware of the Personal Needs Allowance and believes it should be higher. 

“They say you’re once a man, twice a child. Our population is greying now, and nursing homes are going to be an important facet of care for the next 20 years, for sure," O’Quinn added.

The Arkansas Department of Human Services is charged with regulating the PNA. A spokesman said that the process of raising the monthly amount is two-fold. 

First, the federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services would need to allow for a PNA increase. Then, the legislature in Arkansas and the Governor would have to approve it.

If you have comments or ideas on the PNA, you can reach out to state or local lawmakers.

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