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Panel Considers Reauthorization of the Older Americans Act

On May 24, the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Select Education heard testimony concerning the Older Americans Act (OAA). The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Retirement Security and Aging held a hearing on the law’s reauthorization on May 17 (see The Source, 5/20/05).

The OAA provides the federal framework for a variety of services for elderly citizens, including employment assistance, health screening and treatment, exercise and recreation, and nutrition programs such as Meals on Wheels. The law was last reauthorized for five years in 2000 (see The Source, 10/27/00).

In his opening remarks, Chair Patrick Tiberi (R-OH) stressed the importance of providing supportive services to seniors, stating, “It is estimated that more than 36 million people in the United States are over the age of 65, making it the fastest growing age group in our country. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by the year 2050, persons over 65 will reach nearly 90 million and comprise almost a quarter of the total U.S. population. These astounding statistics make the upcoming reauthorization of the Older Americans Act all the more important.”

Ranking Member Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX) said that the OAA represents a national commitment to older Americans: “This law provides for supportive services, such as transportation, housekeeping, and personal care. It provides nutrition services, both in the home and in community settings. It provides preventative health services and supports family caregivers. Finally, it protects the rights of vulnerable older Americans by combating consumer fraud and protecting seniors from abuse.”

Michael O’Donnell, executive director of the East Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging, highlighted the National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP), which was created under the OAA reauthorization in 2000: “The NFCSP has enabled local communities to connect families with information on caregiver resources and local services, provide counseling, training and peer support for caregivers, and provide services needed by older adults and their families, such as respite care, in-home services and adult day care. Through this program, the Aging Network has also responded to the needs of millions of grandparents in this nation who are caregivers of grandchildren and other older individuals who are kinship caregivers of children under the age of eighteen.” In examining the OAA reauthorization, Mr. O’Donnell urged Congress to increase resources for home and community-based services, assist county and city governments to prepare their communities for the aging Baby Boom generation, permanently authorize the Aging and Disability Resource Center as a single point-of-entry for the Aging Network, and enhance the Aging Network’s ability to carry out health promotion and disease prevention efforts.

The subcommittee also heard testimony from Jesse Leos, national director of the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) for SER-Jobs for Progress National, Inc. Citing new trends in the demographics of the U.S. population, he stated, “Employers and seniors alike are now compelled to view ‘retirement’ in a new way; many seniors will work well into their seventies and eighties for both economic and social reasons. These changing demographics make it clear that we can no longer afford to leave any individual behind as we develop the workforce’s skills. All citizens will need to meet the increasing demand of employers for strong knowledge-based foundation skills in such areas as applied math, reading, critical thinking, communications, teamwork and problem solving. They will also need technical computer skills that must be updated regularly.” Mr. Leos said that the SCSEP “plays an important role in helping older workers obtain the necessary skills and access to opportunities that will enable them to continue working” and pointed to the programs at SER: “One typical success story took place in Vancouver, Washington where Mabel Westerfield discovered an entirely new career at age 80. Ms. Westerfield was a real estate agent but found the demands of the job too physically demanding to continue working. But after being unemployed for six months, she realized that she needed additional income to supplement social security. She visited the local one-stop career center hoping to update her computer skills, and they referred her to SCSEP. After meeting with a counselor from SCSEP, she enrolled in computer classes and is now enjoying unsubsidized employment as the administrative assistant for the Clark County SCSEP program. But she is doing more than office work; she actually created a database that was adopted by the county and she is happy to be back in the mainstream of life.”