WASHINGTON, D.C. | February 11, 2014 -
Enacted in 1965, the Older Americans Act was established to help older individuals continue living independently in their homes and remain active in their communities. The Act combines federal, state, and local resources to support programs and services that address the needs of the senior population – now estimated at more than 41 million Americans.
At the federal level, the Older Americans Act established the Administration on Aging, now known as the Administration for Community Living, to oversee most of the law’s programs. However, the Act largely relies on a national network of 56 state agencies on aging, 629 area agencies on aging, and nearly 20,000 service providers to plan, coordinate, and deliver services to local seniors.
Using formula based grants authorized under Title III of the law and other funding sources, State and Area Agencies on Aging develop programs tailored to meet the needs of local seniors. These programs provide supportive services such as transportation to and from doctor’s offices and pharmacies; financial support for senior centers and family caregivers; and disease prevention and health promotion activities.
But the Older Americans Act is perhaps best known for supporting key nutrition services, such as group and home-delivery meal programs, the latter being more commonly known as Meals on Wheels. States match 15 percent of their federal grant to ensure local agencies can provide nutritious meals to the elder population most in need. In Fiscal Year 2011, the most recent data available, more than 223 million meals were served to approximately 2.5 million people.
The Older Americans Act plays a vital role in helping seniors access services that promote health, independence, and longevity. In Fiscal Year 2010 alone, the law’s programs served nearly 11 million older Americans and their caregivers.
As we work toward reauthorizing the Older Americans Act, we must acknowledge the law faces challenges. The population of senior citizens has changed dramatically since the law was first drafted in the 1960s. U.S. Census projections estimate the number of Americans age 65 and over will increase from 40 million in 2010 to 72 million in 2030. This means that, for the next 19 years, roughly 10,000 Baby Boomers will turn 65 every day. As a result, many are concerned that the Older Americans Act cannot effectively meet the needs of the rapidly growing senior population – especially amid current fiscal constraints.
As we explore ways to strengthen the law, it is critical we seek to enhance program coordination and efficacy so that we may better serve those with the greatest social and economic needs. Equally important is preserving the law’s federalist structure, which balances a national framework of programs and funding with significant local flexibility in order to effectively meet the needs of local seniors.
Last year the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions approved the Older Americans Act Reauthorization Act of 2013. Today we have the opportunity to begin the committee’s process of exploring the best ways to improve the law’s flexible policies and targeted programs that are essential to providing care for America’s seniors.
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