Enhancing the ability of our nation’s seniors to “age in place” in their own homes and communities has the potential to improve health outcomes and quality of life.  It can also reduce preventable healthcare costs and delay the decision by seniors to receive more expensive care in a nursing home or other institutionalized setting.  That is why the Senate’s unanimous passage of the Older Americans Act Reauthorization Act of 2015 (S. 192), a key component of any successful national aging-in-place strategy, is such a welcome achievement.  The bill is now in the hands of the House of Representatives where swift bipartisan consideration is critical. We encourage Congress to reauthorize this important legislation this year as it marks its 50th anniversary.   

Since 1965, the Older Americans Act has provided essential services to our most vulnerable seniors 60 years of age and older. It has created a national aging network that serves an average of 11 million people per year.  This network consists of 56 state units on aging, more than 600 area agencies on aging, and over 260 tribal organizations and is supported by tens of thousands of service providers and volunteers. Over a recent 5-year period, the network provided one billion nutritious meals, 130 million rides to essential places such as doctors’ offices, grocery stores, pharmacies, senior centers, and meal sites, and 60 million hours of home care services for older adults. More than 85 percent of recipients of Older Americans Act funded services say this assistance helped them to remain in their homes and communities.

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The Older Americans Act authorization expired in 2011.  While funding for the law has continued essentially on auto-pilot through continuing resolutions, it has not been adjusted for inflation or to reflect the rising number of poor elderly Americans. In fiscal year 2015, the Older Americans Act appropriation stood at $1.88 billion.  This amount represents less than $175 per person annually, a relatively small per capita expenditure for benefits essential to senior health and well-being.  

The product of several years of bipartisan negotiation in the Senate, S. 192 has a number of additional important features such as directing the Assistant Secretary of Aging at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop a consumer-friendly tool that assists older individuals and their families in choosing home and community-based services.  It also directs the Administration on Aging to make grants to states for evidence-based chronic disease self-management and falls prevention programs so that seniors can remain healthy and live independently in their homes. 

In recognizing the important goal of enabling Americans to age successfully in their homes and communities, the Bipartisan Policy Center has formed a Health and Housing Task Force that seeks to promote a stronger integration of the housing and health sectors.  The task force is led by us, another former HUD secretary, Mel Martinez, and another former representative, Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.). 

The task force is focused on identifying cost-effective ways to modify homes and communities to make independent living safe for seniors, increasing the supply of affordable senior housing with supportive services, and identifying ways to integrate acute care and home- and community-based services in federal health insurance programs so that seniors can remain at home or in their community for longer periods of time. 

Over the next several months, the task force will continue to meet with private and public sector health and housing stakeholders and plans to issue its policy recommendations in the Spring of 2016. 

The task force recognizes that the national aging services network provides a foundation that enables many of our most vulnerable seniors to age in place.  Support of the Older Americans Act strengthens the ability of this network to meet seniors where they are and provide person-centered services.  In this 50th year anniversary of the Older Americans Act, we look forward to continued bipartisan movement on reauthorization.  Supporting the health, dignity, and independence of our nation’s seniors should be a goal that unites members of both sides of the aisle.

Cisneros was the 10th secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, serving under President Clinton from 1993 to 1997. He is a member of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Health and Housing Task Force. Weber served in the House from 1981 to 1993. He is a member of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Health and Housing Task Force.