Statement by Sen. Bernie Sanders - Older Americans Act Reauthorization

Right now, older adults are the fastest growing segment of the population in our nation's history. We have reached the point when every day, 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 years old. Shockingly, one in five of those over 65 are living on an average income of $7,500 per year and the numbers of seniors going hungry is rising. In terms of senior hunger, there are over 5 million seniors who face the threat of hunger, almost 3 million seniors who are at risk of going hungry, and almost 1 million seniors who do go hungry because they cannot afford to buy food.

Unfortunately, federal funding to support older Americans and their caregivers has not kept pace with inflation. The good news is we have programs designed to address these needs, provided through the Older Americans Act. In Vermont, almost 1 million congregate and home delivered meals are served each year. The bad news is, however, that a very significant number of people who need these programs are not getting them. Investing in programs like meals for seniors and in well-designed seniors centers ends up saving federal money. Proper nutrition keeps people out of nursing homes and out of emergency rooms and lets them stay at home where they want to be.

Families are struggling to care for their elderly parents and grandparents. The cost of nursing home care has reached close to $80,000/year, which is largely unaffordable for many Americans. Seniors are forced to rely on Medicaid to pay for critical nursing home care, yet states continue to cut their Medicaid budgets. As a result, I've heard horror stories where nursing homes have to drop residents off at a homeless shelter because they can no longer keep them.

For all of these reasons we can't afford not to strengthen the Older Americans Act. It is the moral thing to do for an aging population, but it also makes financial sense for the country.

OLDER AMERICANS ACT:

The Older Americans Act provides critical funding for nutrition, jobs, and safety for seniors. For the past 8 months, as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, I have been looking at these critical programs along with the other members of the HELP Committee.

I am excited to announce that we will be introducing the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act when Congress reconvenes later this month. This legislation will provide increased funding for meals, jobs, supportive services and protection of nursing home residents. Additionally, this bill creates a pilot program for modernizing senior centers and a grant to help communities plan for an aging population. This bill will streamline many of the current programs, while providing more flexibility to people living in rural areas and will encourage more collaboration with Community Health Centers.

Lastly, at a time when seniors have gone 2 years without a COLA, I am requesting that the Bureau of Labor Statistics improve the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly, or CPI-E, by including more of the items that seniors spend money on, like prescription drugs and other health care costs. We must have a more accurate measure for COLAs for seniors, and I believe this is the path to a fair COLA.

We are at a critical moment, when the decisions we make now for an aging population will impact future generations -- and I need your support. Thank you all for being here and for all you do to provide Vermont's seniors with the supports, meals, and jobs they need to stay healthy in their homes and communities.