The Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging held a hearing today on how Older Americans Act programs like Meals on Wheels reduce hunger and poverty among seniors and save money on more expensive nursing home and hospital care. “These programs not only work to ease isolation, hunger and suffering, they also save taxpayers substantial sums of money,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, the subcommittee chairman. “The simple truth is that we can feed a senior for an entire year for the cost of one day in a hospital.”
Sanders is the chief sponsor of legislation to reauthorize and strengthen the 1965 landmark law that he called “one of the most effective programs ever devised” to address the needs of vulnerable seniors.
Ellie Hollander, the president of Meals On Wheels Association of America, testified that the federal support has fallen short of the growing need for nutrition programs. Budgets for senior nutrition programs have been slashed this year as a result of across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration.
“Nationally, there are 8.3 million seniors currently struggling with hunger. We are providing nutritious meals to only 2.5 million. The difference in those numbers is devastating. Nearly 6 million American seniors are still in need of reliable, nutritious meals,” Hollander said. “While the infrastructure exists to fill that gap, the resources fall substantially short,” she added.
Sanders’ bill calls for a significant increase in support for meals at senior centers and programs that deliver food to seniors’ homes.
The measure also would require the Bureau of Labor Statistics to create a more accurate way to measure seniors’ living expenses. A consumer price index for the elderly would account for spending on high-inflation goods and services like health care, prescription drugs and heating homes. The change would result in more accurate annual cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security recipients.
The bill’s other provisions to help seniors include expanded job training services for seniors, more support for caregivers and added protections against elder abuse.
To read a fact sheet on the bill, click here.
To read the bill, click here.