By Reps. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) and Rubén Hinojosa (D-Texas) - 03/05/14 07:32 PM EST
The Older Americans Act (OAA) was passed nearly 50 years ago to address the overwhelming number of seniors who fell into poverty as they aged. Like Social Security and Medicare, it made a solemn promise to our seniors that they will have access to the services and support they need as they live out their golden years. We are committed to continuing and improving the vital services that the OAA provides in our communities and in communities across this great nation.
Our policies must reflect the fact that more seniors are living longer, fuller lives. There are currently more than 41 million Americans ages 65 or older, about 13 percent of the U.S. population. As baby boomers continue to retire, the number will grow exponentially, according to the Health and Human Services Department.
We have introduced a new bill that builds on the bipartisan legislation passed by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee last year. In addition to extending funding for the OAA through 2018, the bill also strengthens protections against elder abuse, improves the nutrition program, modernizes the country’s senior centers, puts new focus on serving minority and LGBT seniors and improves support for family caregivers.
The bill we introduced provides greater protections and provisions to help seniors live independently while — importantly — using limited resources more efficiently.
The OAA funds many of the services seniors rely on but is best known for the Meals on Wheels program. The Center for Effective Government found that Meals on Wheels saves more than $57,000 per Medicaid patient because it allows recipients to continue to live on their own rather than in expensive nursing homes.
From Texas to Oregon and every state in between, Meals on Wheels isn’t just about food; it also provides social interaction and care offered by volunteers. One dedicated volunteer in Beaverton, Ore., recently shared her story of arriving at the home of a senior on her route, only to find her collapsed on the floor inside. The volunteer called 911 and likely saved the senior’s life.
The OAA’s Home and Community-Based Supportive Services also help to keep seniors in their homes. It is far less expensive to provide transportation, case management, adult daycare and chore assistance than it is to pay for a nursing home that costs tens of thousands of dollars every year. For those who require long-term care, the OAA supports efforts to combat elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.
The OAA provides many other opportunities for cost savings. The Senior Medicare Patrol, which provides training on spotting Medicare abuse, is a good example. This program has helped uncover countless instances of Medicare fraud, including one case involving nearly $3 million in overpayments.
There are also components of the OAA that help seniors facing financial distress. The Senior Community Service Employment Program, for example, provides job training and temporary work for unemployed Americans 55 or older. By supporting seniors in part-time community service positions at day care centers, libraries, schools, landscaping centers, hospitals and other locations, the program helps transition older Americans to long-term employment, reducing strain on programs for the unemployed and returning more than $1 billion in value to states and communities.
Seniors deserve to live with dignity and respect. They should not have to worry about whether they will have enough to eat or be able to care for themselves on a day-to-day basis. We need to reauthorize this landmark law and allow it to fulfill its intent: to provide America’s seniors with what they need to live a quality life without imposing insurmountable costs on their families.
Bonamici has represented Oregon’s 1st Congressional District since 2012. She sits on the Education and the Workforce; and the Science, Space and Technology committees. Hinojosa has represented Texas’s 15th Congressional District since 1997. He sits on the Education and the Workforce, and the Financial Services committees.