The Older Americans Act

Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday introduced a bill to reauthorize the Older Americans Act, which supports Meals on Wheels and other essential programs for seniors. Originally enacted in 1965, the landmark law was the first initiative by the federal government to provide comprehensive assistance to seniors enabling them to remain independent in their homes and communities. Sanders, the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, stressed that programs for seniors actually save taxpayer dollars by reducing health care expenses. That point was echoed by Max Richtman, president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. "These programs also save federal and state government resources from being spent on sometimes unnecessary and often much more expensive care in hospitals and nursing homes," he said.

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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.

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 to more accurately reflect out-of-pocket expenses for health care and prescription drugs. A cost-of-living measure tailored to the real-world expenses of seniors could be used to make more accurate annual adjustments in Social Security benefits, for example. The Alliance for Retired Americans said that the provision in Sanders' bill is "vital to the health and economic security of millions of older Americans and their families."

The bill 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 programs, 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.

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