Last week President Obama signed into law the Older Americans Act. This act funds a wide array of programs that are crucial to addressing poverty among older adults. Low-income seniors with few other resources rely on the programs to age safely and with dignity. Many of the programs form the backbone that holds everyday life together for millions of low-income older adults and their families. Some of the programs include: (1) transportation of older adults to doctor appointments (2) transportation to senior centers; (3) meal delivery that reaches isolated seniors; (4) legal services from attorneys who provide free and low cost services to help seniors access entitled benefits; (5) help for seniors to stay in their homes; (6) help to fight fraud and abuse.
The need for funding by the Older Americans Act increases as the population ages and income inequality increases. Currently, one in five older adults or approximately 11 million people receive services from an Older Americans Act program. The purposes of the program remain relevant today as they were originally intended in the 1972 amendments to the original law. They are: to reduce hunger and food insecurity, to reduce isolation for older adults, and to promote the health and well-being of older adults by giving them access to nutrition and other disease prevention and health promotion services. The financial importance of the Older Americans Act, especially the nutrition program, is that it saves Medicaid and Medicare countless millions of dollars. The total federal expenditure for the nutrition program alone over the past 20 years is less than one year of total expenditures for Medicaid.
With the signing of the Act, the main goal of the Act is preserved: to allow older adults to remain independent, either in their community or in their homes. The Older Americans Act targets its services to those in the greatest economic or social need, with particular attention to low-income minorities, rural residents and those with limited English proficiency. It also provides part-time community service employment opportunities for low-income adults over age 55 through the Senior Community Service Employment Program. With programs in every state, the Act stresses local decision-making on what are the best and most needed services for older adults.
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