Express Yourself: All about the Older Americans Act

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By Wally Pearce, Winters Elder Day Council
Special to the Express

On July 14, 1965 — 57 years ago — when the Older Americans Act (OAA) became law, it also established the Administration on Aging (AoA) within the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, calling for the creation of State Units on Aging. In response to a concern for a lack of social-service-systems for older persons, Congress acted to improve the status of older adults by founding the OAA. Additionally, on July 30, 1965, Congress also enacted Medicare.

Today, OAA funds critical support for senior citizen’s safety, health, and independent. Community-based services like Meals on Wheels, healthcare promotion and counseling, caregiver support, legal services, transportation, elder abuse prevention, Ombudsman program, in-home supportive services and much more.

AoA is also part of the Administration for Community Living (ACL) within the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). ACL created the fundamental principle that older adults and people with disabilities should be able to live where they choose, and to participate fully in their communities with dignity.

OAA funding is distributed to 56 state agencies, over 200 tribal organizations, two native Hawaiian organizations, more than 600 area agencies on aging and 20,000 local service providers. While the programs are open to individuals 60 and older, it focuses on aiding persons with social or economic need, such as low-income or minority persons, the disabled, older individuals with limited English proficiency, and older persons residing in rural areas. OAA authorizes a wide range of services and support systems that help older Americans remain as independent as possible in their own homes and in the community of their choice.

OAA consists of seven titles. Titles I and II declare the Act’s objectives and establish the AoA, the federal coordinating agency for OAA services. Title III — Grants for State and Community Programs on Aging — covers supportive services such as case management, senior center services, in-home services, transportation, and information and referral.

Title IV of the OAA provides support for training, research, and demonstration projects while Title V authorizes the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP). This program, which is managed by the Department of Labor, provides support for part-time employment for individuals 55 and over who are low-income, unemployed and have poor employment potential. Title VI covers Grants for Services for Native Americans and provides funding to tribal organizations, Native Alaskan organizations and nonprofits representing Native Hawaiians.

Finally, Title VII provides support for programs to ensure protection of the rights of older adults, including the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program and elder abuse prevention services which investigates and resolves complaints made by or on behalf of nursing facility residents or other institutionalized populations. Title VII funds are allocated based on the state’s proportion of residents aged 60 and older.

OAA has lost ground due to a rapidly-increasing frail, older population, including federal funding that has not kept pace with either inflation or growth in the older population. Unfortunately, eligible seniors now face wait periods for OAA services.

Annual OAA discretionary funding declined over the 10-year period from Fiscal Year 2009 to Fiscal Year 2019, and funding levels each year remained below the Fiscal Year 2010 level.

However, for Fiscal Year 2020, total OAA funding, including supplemental subsidies to respond to the needs of seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic, reached its highest level in the act’s 55-year history. This trend continued into Fiscal Year 2021 with an increase. On March 25, 2020, the Supporting Older Americans Act of 2020 (P.L. 116-131), authorized appropriations for OAA programs through September 30, 2024.

When the Consolidated Appropriations Act became law, it sanctioned $12 billion in COVID-19 relief funding for community development financial institutions that predominantly serve minority communities in additional mandatory funding for OAA nutrition services to states and tribal organizations. Nationally, over 20 percent of the senior citizen population receive program services through OAA. Unfortunately, in fiscal year 2021, OAA program funding was less than the fiscal levels needed to ensure ongoing assistance for the targeted older adult programs and services.

While funding for the OAA increased significantly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is concern that Congress may return to the historic practice of underfunding these vital programs despite the growing needs of our rising senior citizen population.

As of Jan. 1, in Yolo County those receiving OAA supportive services and programs are approximately 13,000 individuals (roughly 15 percent of Yolo County’s community).

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