Senate Support Grows for Older Americans Act Renewal

WASHINGTON, March 28 - Chairman Bernie Sanders was joined today by 14 other senators in calling for reauthorization of the Older Americans Act, the landmark law that supports Meals on Wheels and other programs for seniors. 

Sanders (I-Vt.) and other supportive senators addressed a Capitol Hill briefing hosted by the National Council on Aging and the American Society on Aging. The session was attended by some of the 3,000 advocates for seniors in Washington this week for an "Aging in America" conference.     

"We are at very critical point in our nation's history with 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 each and every day.  As a nation, we must give seniors the support they need to stay healthy in their homes and communities," said Sanders, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

Originally enacted in 1965, the Older American Act was the first initiative by the federal government to help seniors remain independent in their homes and communities. Older Americans Act programs provide basic necessities such as meals, home-care, help coordinating long-term care, job training, legal services and protection from abuse and neglect in nursing homes. 

The programs are needed now more than ever with the older adult population of the United States rapidly expanding and one in five older Americans living on an average income of $7,500 a year. The programs save taxpayer dollars, Sanders stressed, by reducing health care expenditures and keeping people out of nursing homes and other expensive long-term care settings. 

Sanders, who introduced a stand-alone bill earlier this year, is now working on a package that would include many of his colleagues' proposals to improve the lives of millions of seniors. 

Other senators supporting reauthorization of the Older Americans Act include:

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), who said, "Our state has seen a dramatic increase in our senior population over the last decade.  It is more important than ever to ensure we have in place the kind of nutrition, socialization and health care initiatives contained in the Older Americans Act."

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said, "We need to keep finding ways to help aging baby boomers coordinate care from medical and social service programs," he said.  "Coordination was and continues to be a focus of health reform and is key to tackling the complex and often expensive conditions seniors are up against every day.  I'll work with my colleagues to reauthorize the Older Americans Act and the essential services it delivers."

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said, "I believe that ‘Honor Thy Father and Mother' is a good commandment to live by and a good policy to govern by. That's why I'm fighting to improve the Older Americans Act to better serve our seniors. Through these improvements, we are working to honor the responsibilities we have to our elderly. We must commit ourselves to meeting the needs of our growing and changing senior population and their caregivers. This bill ensures that the services our seniors need are available to help them live more independent and active lives."

Sen. Herb Kohl, chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, said "Older Americans Act programs embody a commonsense, low-cost approach to helping millions of older Americans live independently in their communities, and avoid unnecessary hospitalizations and institutionalization. Through modest investments in home-delivered meals, transportation, support for family caregivers, assistance for those who are the victims of abuse, and other services, we're supporting our seniors and saving taxpayer dollars. I look forward to working with my colleagues to reauthorize and improve this landmark law that means so much to our nation's seniors," added Kohl (D-Wis.).

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said, "The Older Americans Act is important legislation that allows us to ensure care for the generation that fought in our wars, worked in our factories, taught our children and gave us life and love. Direct-care workers are key to providing care and vastly improving the quality of life for our older citizens.  Last year I introduced legislation to better train and utilize direct-care workers to lower the cost and improve the quality of health care provided to older Americans. These bills together will improve the Older Americans Act and help transform these programs to better meet the needs of our older citizens today." 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said "all Americans deserve safety, dignity, and support in their senior years. The Older Americans Act helps ensure that senior citizens have the support and services they need to maintain their independence, and I will continue to work to support our seniors."

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said, "Our nation's seniors deserve to spend their golden years free from fear of poverty, hunger, physical abuse, or financial exploitation. The Older Americans Act's services and protections are a critical lifeline for some of our most vulnerable seniors. I am proud to work with my colleagues in the Senate to strengthen and modernize this important law." 

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) said, "Today, we're faced with a great opportunity to modernize this act not only for the Americans it currently serves but also the baby boom generation, which is just starting to turn 65 this year.   I look forward to working with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to reauthorize the OAA during the 112th Congress."

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said, "Oregon's seniors, families and communities all benefit when seniors can choose to stay in their own homes, but we must put in place the tools that make it possible. Reauthorizing the Older Americans Act is a critical step toward that goal."

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) said, "The Older Americans Act empowers Colorado seniors to live safely and independently in their homes and familiar surroundings through services such as meal programs and assistance for elderly caregivers. The programs save tax dollars by preventing unnecessary hospitalizations and helping older Americans avoid costly long-term care options.  Congress should reauthorize the Older Americans Act to continue to provide seniors with access to these life saving and common sense programs."

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), a member of the Senate's Special Committee on Aging, said, "When seniors stay in their homes and maintain their independence, they live longer, healthier, happier lives, and taxpayers save millions. From opportunities to continue living independently, to access to better nutrition, empowering our seniors with better financial literacy and protecting them from abuse, these are the priorities I will be fighting for to ensure the Older Americans Act works for New York's seniors."

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said, "One thing became clear in my meetings with Minnesota seniors about reauthorizing the Older Americans Act: they want to remain independent and they want to stay in their homes as long as they can. My stand-alone bill, the Home Care Consumer Bill of Rights, will make sure that seniors who receive home care have the same rights and protections as those who receive care in a nursing home. And reauthorizing the Older Americans Act will make sure that we're prepared as a nation to provide our seniors with the support they need to stay independent in their golden years."

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said, "The reauthorization of the Older Americans Act is about keeping our promises to our greatest generation. Older Americans Act programs give seniors the support they need to stay healthy and independent as they age. It is a commonsense investment that I know every person in this room understands the value of and one that we have prioritized in West Virginia."

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said, "The Older Americans Act is critical to seniors because it supports nutrition, housing, and social services programs in Connecticut and across the country. Particularly important, this measure is a vital tool in the fight against elder abuse, which requires better screening and reporting so we can end this scourge. I fully support the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act, and I am committed to doing all I can to help our nation's seniors."