Sanders Op-ed: Fighting for seniors by strengthening the Older Americans Act

By:  Senator Bernie Sanders

It is no secret that many seniors in Vermont and throughout the United States are having trouble making ends meet. In the United States, 7.2 million seniors live in poverty and nearly 9 million face the threat of hunger. Every day, seniors struggle with the high cost of prescription drugs, food, heating or housing. Others deal with loneliness and isolation, a real problem in Vermont’s more rural communities.

It should go without saying, but no senior citizen in the richest country in history should ever have to decide between buying groceries or the medications they need to stay healthy. No senior should worry about keeping a roof over their head. Unfortunately, this is the reality today for far too many older Americans – and it is both unacceptable and immoral.

Which is why it is particularly unconscionable that President Donald Trump and his allies in Congress have proposed huge tax breaks for billionaires while trying to make deep cuts to – or completely do away with – the programs that help seniors stay healthy and secure. This includes the essential programs funded under the Older Americans Act, the major federal vehicle for the delivery of social and nutrition services for more than 11 million older Americans.

I cannot overstate the importance of the Older Americans Act, especially for our state Vermont which has the second oldest population in the nation. The OAA funds congregate meal sites, home-delivered meals like Meals on Wheels, exercise and wellness activities, transportation services, employment and community service programs, vulnerable elder rights protection, the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, family caregiver support and more.

In Vermont, these programs keep thousands of seniors healthy and in their homes. For example, Meals on Wheels prepared and home-delivered nearly 800,000 freshly cooked nutritious meals to more than 5,700 Vermont seniors last year. This not only helps ensure seniors have access to adequate nutrition, but the volunteer drivers also make sure that seniors they visit are safe, secure and warm. And the drivers also provide invaluable social interaction and companionship, which helps prevent the isolation that put seniors at higher risk of depression, dementia, falls and hospitalization. It is a wonderful, necessary and extremely cost-effective service for older Vermonters.

At a time when seniors’ cost of living continues to rise and as our population continues to age, the demand for these programs will only grow. Today, there are more than 70 million Americans aged 60 years and older, and the U.S. Census estimates that number will increase to 100 million by 2040. Here in our state, more than one in every four Vermonters will be over the age of 65 by 2030.

That is why I pushed so hard to increase funding for senior nutrition programs by more than $60 million over that past two years. While this modest increase was a much-needed step in the right direction, we clearly must do more to make sure no senior ever goes hungry. And the last thing we should do is cut these programs.

Congress is now discussing the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act. As the ranking member of the Senate subcommittee on retirement security and the co-chair of the Expand Social Security Caucus, I am committed to expanding and strengthening the programs funded under this critically important law. In the meantime, I will continue my efforts now endorsed by 39 of my Senate colleagues to significantly increase funding for existing OAA programs.

I have often said that a great nation is judged not by the tax breaks it gives to the very wealthy, but by how it cares for its families, children, seniors, veterans, the poor and the sick. With the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act, we can take a significant step to protect and support seniors in Vermont and every corner of the country. Let’s get it done.