Chairman Sanders to Introduce Older Americans Act Reauthorization

BURLINGTON, Vt., Jan. 6 - U. S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) met today with his Seniors Advisory Council and afterward announced that he will introduce a bill to reauthorize the Older Americans Act, which supports Meals on Wheels and other programs for seniors.

Joining Sanders at the press conference were Jim Coutts, executive director of the Franklin County Senior Center; Ken Gordon, director of the Northeastern Vermont Area Agency on Aging; and Pat Elmer, president and CEO of Vermont Associates for Training and Development.

Sanders is the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging. His panel has jurisdiction over the Older Americans Act.

Originally enacted in 1965, the landmark law was the first initiative by the federal government to provide comprehensive assistance to seniors allowing them to remain independent in their homes and communities.

Programs provided through the law are needed now more than ever before as 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 every day in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. One in five older Americans today survives on an average income of only $7,500 a year, so the need is greater than ever for Older Americans Act services such as meals, home-care, help coordinating long-term care, job training, and legal services.

"With huge numbers of seniors in need, we must redouble our commitment to help seniors live safely and comfortably in their own homes and communities," said Sanders. "This is an investment in our seniors which will pay for itself many times over by reducing health care costs."

Under one of the major initiatives in the reauthorization measure, the Bureau of Labor Statistics would be instructed to improve how it calculates inflation for the elderly by more accurately reflecting out-of-pocket expenses for health care and prescription drugs. A cost-of-living measure tailored to the real-world lives of seniors could be used to make more accurate annual adjustments in Social Security benefits, for example. The Alliance for Retired Americans said that provision in Sanders' bill is "vital to the health and economic security of millions of older Americans and their families."

The bill, which will be formally introduced after Congress reconvenes later this month, also would clarify the legal definition of "economic security" to encompass the income necessary to pay for housing, health care, transportation, food, long-term care, and other basic needs.

The measure also would streamline and strengthen the meals program, authorizing a 50 percent boost in funding. The bill would help modernize senior centers by creating a pilot program and community planning grant program. The legislation also devotes more help for seniors looking for jobs.

Another significant improvement would be to the long-term care ombudsman program, which protects the rights of people living in nursing homes. Jackie Majoros of Vermont Legal Aid praised the ombudsman proposal, stating it would let the seniors' advocates work "effectively and without interference for changes to our long-term care system that improve the quality of care and quality of life for all residents."