Older Americans Act Set to Expire TodaySeptember 30, 2019
By Zachary Tashman
The Older Americans Act (OAA), first passed in 1965, authorizes a range of services and programs that ensure senior citizens remain independent and able to meaningfully participate in their communities. In 2016, 11.3 million older adults were served by programs authorized under the OAA. These programs include providing seniors with 45.2 million home-delivered meals; 79.2 million congregate meals; 23.7 million rides to medical appointments, grocery stores, and other activities; 40.7 million hours of personal care, homemaker, and chore services; and 10.6 million hours of adult day care/adult day health services.
Congress typically reauthorizes funding for the OAA in five-year increments with the current reauthorization bill set to expire on September 30th, 2019. Congress is unlikely to pass a new reauthorization bill before the deadline, but can still fund the programs through discretionary spending. Many of these programs provide essential services and supports to older Americans, including nutrition services, disease prevention, employment, and elder abuse prevention.
Reauthorization in the 116th Congress
On September 16th, the Dignity in Aging Act of 2019 (H.R. 4334) was introduced as the vehicle for reauthorization of the Older Americans Act. The bill would extend all expiring programs and services in the OAA through FY2024. This would include an immediate 7 percent increase in funding for OAA provision for FY2020 and a 6 percent increase in funding for each subsequent year. The bill would also expand funding to Native American tribal organizations, in the form of grants to carry out in-home and community support services for senior, by $500,000 annually. Additionally, H.R. 4334 would reauthorize the RAISE Family Caregivers Act, which requires the development of a national strategy to approve and support family caregivers, as well as creating a new advisory council to study and evaluate solutions for social isolation among seniors.
On September 18th, the House Committee on Education and Labor marked up and passed the Dignity in Aging Act. House leadership has not yet set a date for H.R. 4334 to receive a floor vote. There has been no OAA reauthorization bill introduced in the Senate, and the HELP Committee has not yet set a date for markup. Though reauthorizing the Older Americans Act has general bipartisan support, it has not been a high priority for this Congress. If a reauthorization bill is to pass this year, it will almost certainly happen in December as part of a larger end of year spending package.
Other Legislation Impacting the Older Americans Act
The Direct CARE Opportunity Act (S.2521/H.R.4397) would create a grant program for the recruitment, retention, and advancement of direct care workers. The goal of this legislation is to address a shortage in long term care workers for older adults and people with disabilities. The grants would provide funding to fifteen entities, including non-profits, institutions of higher education, states, and tribal organizations to invest in strategies to recruit, retain, and provide career advancement to direct care workers. This can include an assessment of the wages and other compensation or benefits necessary to retain workers.
The TIME for Holocaust Survivors Act (S.2179/H.R.4077) would amend the Older Americans Act to provide social service agencies with the resources to provide essential services for Holocaust survivors. Currently, there are approximately 80,000 Holocaust survivors living in the United States, one-third of whom live at or below the Federal Poverty Line (FPL), and typically have greater social service needs than that of other older adults. The bill would create a formal definition for the term Holocaust Survivor in the Older Americans Act, provide trauma informed care training to agencies that serve older adults, ensure that meals distributes through the Older Americans Act are culturally appropriate, help meet transportation needs of Holocaust survivors, designate a new Administration for Community Living portfolio for Holocaust survivors.
The Jewish Federations of North America has taken the lead on advocacy for the TIME Act. The National Assembly has partnered with them to advocate for the passage of this legislation in both chambers of Congress.
For updates on the status of Older Americans Act legislation, contact Zachary Tashman at Ztashman@nassembly.org.