The Older American’s Act (OAA) current authorization expired in fiscal year 2011 because lawmakers were unable to reach an agreement on its reauthorization.
On a bipartisan basis, Congress has finally passed the long-stalled legislation reauthorizing the OAA when the Senate passed the House-amended bill on April 7. Three weeks earlier the House had passed an amended version of S. 192, the Older Americans Act Reauthorization Act of 2016, by a unanimous voice vote. This legislative proposal amended the bill passed by the Senate on July 16, 2015. Now the passed legislation goes to President Obama and once signed it becomes law.
The very bi-partisan Senate reauthorization bill was sponsored by Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.), of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and had 27 co-sponsors from each party.
OAA Authorization Has Lots of Positives
OAA’s latest reauthorization offers new support for modernizing multipurpose senior center, highlights the importance of addressing senior’s economic needs, permanently requires health promotion and disease prevention initiatives to be evidence-based, and promotes chronic disease self-management and fall prevention.
The law also includes: stronger elder justice and legal services provisions; needed clarity for caregiver support and Aging and Disability Resource Centers; new opportunities for intergenerational shared sites, and promotes efficient and effective use of transportation services.
Legislative inertia and a general undercurrent of opposition to any government programs by some members of Congress slowed consideration of the bill, says Dan Adcock, Director of Government Relations and Policy for the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM).
“You need champions to break through the ‘legislative inertia’ and OAA just did not have enough,” he says.
Senators Alexander, Murray and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), along with Reps. John Kline (R-Minn.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) worked hard to finally get the Senate and House to pass this year’s OAA reauthorization, Adcock noted, stressing that there was no opposition to the bill when it passed the House and Senate on voice votes
While the passed OAA reauthorization bill has many positives, its chief weakness is that it does not raise the funding authorization level enough, says Adcock.
“Unfortunately, the Older Americans Act has suffered under flat funding and sequestration cuts for several years and will need significant increases in appropriations to meet the critical demands of a senior population that will nearly double by 2030, warns Adcock, noting that that an increase of 12 percent a years is needed for the next several years to raising funding to an acceptable level. .
“AARP urges President Obama to quickly sign this bill,” said AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins. “We are appreciative of the bipartisan work to get this bill passed. Reauthorizing the OAA will help the millions of vulnerable older Americans who depend on the programs and services that the OAA helps to fund.
“Reauthorizing the OAA is as important as ever to modernizing and improving the aging services network in our country. It’s passage reflects the heroic efforts of many advocates working together to educate Congress about how programs funded by the OAA support older Americans,” observed Steven R. Counsell, MD, AGSF, American Geriatrics Society President.
Adds Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who serves on the Senate Select Committee on Aging, “I am glad we were able to reauthorize and improve the Older Americans Act. This legislation authorizes more funding for meals and social services seniors depend on. It includes new protections against elder abuse, which I’ve been fighting to pass. And it gives residents of long-term care facilities-who often can’t communicate their wishes-a stronger advocate to speak on their behalf.”
Ratchet Up OAA Funding
For more than 50 years the Administration on Aging with its National Aging Network (State Units on Aging and Area Agencies on Aging) has provided federal funding, based on the percentage of the locality’s population 60 and older, for nutrition and supportive home and community-based services, disease prevention/health promotion services, elder rights programs, the National Family Caregiver Support Program and Native American Program.
Aging advocates will tell you that Congressional funding has not kept with the rising inflation or the increased demands of an aging society. Deep Congressional budget cuts, pushed by the GOP, have significantly reduced OAA’s ability to provide services to those on increased waiting lists. Being “penny-wise and pound foolish” should not be the way Congress looks at future OAA reauthorizations.
Adcock notes that aging advocates will tell you that programming geared to helping seniors to age in place, at home, in their communities, can save billions by reducing costly nursing facility and hospital stays.
The President is expected to sign it in a week or two …hopefully he signs it quickly.