50 Years In, the Older Americans Act is at a Turning Point

Jul 7, 2015

By MA Healthy Aging Collaborative

Update: On July 16, 2015, the Senate passed the bill to reauthorize the Older Americans Act (OAA). This is an important milestone that will help ensure the continuation of vital programs and services for older Americans and their caregivers. Here is Assistant Secretary for Aging Kathy Greenlee’s statement on Senate passage of the OAA reauthorization.

In July 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Older Americans Act into law. For the past 50 years, the OAA has supported healthy aging by funding a national network of social and nutrition services such as home-delivered and congregate meals, preventive health services, caregiver support, transportation, job training, elder abuse prevention, and more.

PrintThe OAA has been up for reauthorization by Congress since 2011 with no resolution. The reauthorization process allows Congress to update and improve upon the essential programs and services covered by the legislation. Today, OAA services reach one in five adults age 60 and older. In a 5 year period, agencies in the aging network have provided over 60 million hours of homemaker services; 130 million rides to doctors’ offices, grocery stores, and other essential places; and more than 1 billion meals, among many other services. Supportive services provided under the OAA enable people to remain independent in their homes and communities for longer, reducing financial burden and improving quality of life for older adults and their families.

Current status of the reauthorization
On January 28, 2015, the Senate Committee on Health, Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) unanimously passed bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the OAA of 1965. The bill, S.192,:

  • Reauthorizes programs FY 2016 through FY 2018
  • Includes provisions to protect vulnerable elders by strengthening the Long-Term Care Ombudsman program and existing elder abuse screening and prevention efforts
  • Promotes the delivery of evidence-based programs, such as falls prevention and chronic disease self-management programs.
  • Streamlines federal level administration of programs
  • Promotes the efficient and effective use of transportation services
  • Improves coordination between programs at the federal, state, and local levels.

The bill has not been brought to the Senate floor for consideration yet, though it could be at any time. A comparable bill has not been introduced in the House of Representatives.

How you can take action
It’s time for Congress to reauthorize the OAA! There are several ways that you can advocate for reauthorization and raise awareness of the importance of the OAA to both elected officials and your community.

  1. Urge your elected officials to support the OAA.

Use this NCOA resource to e-mail your Senators and Representative asking them to reauthorize the OAA.

  1. “Get into the Act” to raise awareness of the OAA.

To celebrate 50 years of the OAA, the Administration for Community Living (ACL) is encouraging people to “Get into the Act” by sharing their personal stories of how OAA has touched their lives. You can read a few stories that have been shared so far here about people like:

  • Retiree Robert in Franklin County, Massachusetts, who volunteers as an ombudsman to advocate for long-term care facility residents. In the words of one resident, “I look for him, week after week. It’s delightful when I do see him – like an old friend… It’s very comforting to know that there’s someone like this.”
  • Caregiver Autumn in Washington DC, who is able to get day care for her mother who has a degenerative neurological disorder. Because of the day care center, which is funded in part through OAA, she and her mother “are happier and coping better than we otherwise would be… each day when I pick her up she has a beaming smile and says she had a ‘good day.’”
  • Five-year old Jack in Washington State, who has a newfound friendship with 83-year old Meals on Wheels member Lloyd. They meet every other Tuesday and play on the tire swing in Lloyd’s yard. Meals on Wheels center manager Wanda explains, “We deliver more than just a hot, nutritious meal. We provide a friendly visit, a little companionship, and in the case of Mr. Lloyd, a pal to play on the swings!”

In honor of the Older Americans Act anniversary, share your story about how OAA has made a difference in your life or in the lives of your family, friends, neighbors, or clients!