Senior Living & Resources
Older Americans Act
faces uncertain future
WASHINGTON — The Older Americans Act, under which millions of Americans have enjoyed services in nutrition, health and employment, turned 50 on July 14 with little fanfare.
The programs funded under the act — such as Meals on Wheels, senior centers, health screenings, adult day care, respite services, transportation services, elder abuse prevention and a long-term care ombudsman program — have become a part of the everyday lives of millions of seniors.
About 11 million seniors, one-fifth of the country's senior population, receive services through an Older Americans Act-funded program.
From 2008 to 2012, the act provided more than 130 million rides to doctors' offices and other places; more than 1 billion meals; more than 60 million hours of homemaker services; nearly 20 million hours of case management; more than 30 million hours of respite care, nearly 248 million hours of community service, and more than 1.5 million individual consultations to long-term care residents and their families, statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Community Living show.
Such programs allow older Americans — those 60 and older — to remain independent later into life, saving billions of dollars in institutionalization and hospitalization costs.
Despite the success of the programs that are largely funded through area agencies on aging, reauthorization of the act and the $2 billion it provides for senior services is not assured.
The Senate passed the Older Americans Act Reauthorization Act by voice vote July 16 after months of delay. It was referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce where it remained as of Nov. 3.
The Older Americans Act was part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society initiatives. The law was enacted in response to policymakers' concerns about the lack of community social services for older people.
The law established the Administration on Aging, now under the Administration for Community Living. Senior services are administered through 56 state agencies on aging, 629 area agencies on aging, nearly 20,000 service providers, 244 tribal organizations and two native Hawaiian organizations.
Until 2011, the law had been reauthorized every few years. Since it expired four years ago it has plodded along without a full reauthorization. That is what has concerned providers of senior services providers; some privately wonder if the Senate vote occurred only because the anniversary came and went.
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