Older Americans Act Reauthorization signed into law

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News, the Connecticut Health I-Team and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

Photo: Kate Gardiner via Flickr

With practically everyone working overtime to cover COVID-19, you may have missed an important milestone last week. President Trump signed the Older Americans Act (OAA) Reauthorization into law on March 25 after the U.S. Senate earlier in the month unanimously passed the bipartisan legislation co-authored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.) the chair and ranking member, respectively, of the Aging Committee. (It passed in the House on March 11.)

The reauthorization extends the OAA for another five years and increases funding by 35%.

“For more than half a century, the Older Americans Act has served as a lifeline for millions of seniors by enriching their lives and improving their overall health,” said Collins in a statement. “This bipartisan legislation will help ensure that the OAA continues to match the goals we set to permit seniors to age with dignity, respect, and community.”

More than 11 million older adults and their caregivers rely on OAA programs administered by the nationwide aging services network, including senior centers, healthy aging programs, nutrition, in-home services, transportation, caregiver support, and elder abuse protections, according to the National Council on Aging (NCOA). The law also addresses key elder advocate priorities, such as social determinants of health, social isolation, caregiver support, elder justice and legal services, multigenerational collaboration, and services for Native Americans and other underserved populations. It also contains new provisions to help ensure that LGBT elders receive the services and support they need to remain independent, according to the advocacy group SAGE.

“This legislation will direct resources to support grandparents and older relative caregivers as well as multigenerational engagement and will ensure that our Area Agencies on Aging are prepared to meet seniors where they are – in their homes and communities,” Casey said.

Among the provisions, it:

The legislation, according to the American Geriatrics Society, will power important social and protective services for older Americans through 2024, adding critical and much-needed momentum for geriatrics this week in response to the COVID-19 crisis. There’s support for workforce training programs for this demographic in the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package.

The OAA provides a majority of social and nutrition services to older adults and their caregivers. It authorizes a wide array of service programs through a national network of 56 state agencies on aging, 629 area agencies on aging, nearly 20,000 service providers, 244 tribal organizations, and two native Hawaiian organizations representing 400 tribes, according to the Administration for Community Living. The act also offers community service employment for low-income older Americans, training, research, and demonstration activities in the field of aging; and vulnerable elder rights protection activities. Congress passed the Older Americans Act in 1965 to provide community social services for older adults. It gave states authority for community planning and social service, research and development projects, along with personnel training in the field of aging. The legislation was last reauthorized in 2016.

Here are some potential story ideas:

  • How will provisions in the OAA help address the needs of older adults during this COVID-19 crisis?
  • How are home and community-based organizations addressing physical and mental health issues stemming from COVID-19 sheltering in place and resulting social isolation?
  • Which services for older adults have been impacted in your community?
  • How are grandparents who are raising grandchildren affected by COVID-19 and what support programs are available for them?

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