Why Not the Older Americans Act?

The American public's cynicism about Washington can diminish when bipartisanship prevails and bills become law. The most recent example of this was the signing into law of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act by President Obama yesterday, July 22. There are earlier examples including the reauthorizations of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and the Farm Bill. As is the case with most legislation, none of these bills were perfect, but they contained sufficient bipartisan support to make it across the finish line.

So why is the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act not in this group? The law's name may not be recognizable for some, but many of the services the law provides and funds are widely recognized, such as Meals on Wheels, senior centers, elder abuse prevention and low-income community service employment.

This month the Older Americans Act (OAA) celebrates its 49th anniversary of becoming law. That makes it a longer-standing program than either the Workforce Act or VAWA. Over its history, the OAA has been one of the most effective programs ever enacted. It is a program which operates in every Congressional district. It saves Medicaid and Medicare considerable amounts of money through its services which allow older adults to remain in the community or at home, choices which are also preferred by older adults. It is a job creator and job retainer program in communities.

The law is now almost four years late in being renewed. There is no logical reason for this. The Senate has moved the process to the point where an excellent bill, S. 1562, has been voted out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee and awaits full Senate action. The House has two pending bills but no sign of any action.

The upcoming August recess is a special opportunity for grassroots advocates to communicate directly with their representatives in Congress. The message can be simple: renew the Older Americans Act because it is important to seniors in our community; the Act has more than proven its value and will continue to as our population ages.