Tell Congress: It’s Time to Strengthen the Older Americans Act

Those of us in the field of aging know the stories of impact.

Hungry older adults fed with nutritious food and buoyed by social connections. Participants learning how to prevent falls and manage chronic conditions, so they can live independently for longer. Older workers discovering new skills to land a job and gain financial stability.

The Older Americans Act (OAA) makes all of this possible—and much more. Passed in 1965, the OAA is approaching its 60th birthday, and it’s on the Congressional docket for reauthorization this year.

The critical question remains: Do your members of Congress know these stories of OAA impact? As the voices for older adults across the country, it is our job to make sure they do.

The pandemic showed us in stark relief how essential OAA services are when it comes to ensuring every older adult has the resources they need to age with health, financial security and dignity in their communities. Even before COVID, OAA-funded services and supports were shown to reduce healthcare costs and delay nursing home placement. Given that more than 90% of older adults live in the community, the OAA provides a critical blueprint for aging well.

There has never been a better time to expand the act to meet the changing needs of older adults. That’s why NCOA is working with other national leaders—including the American Society on Aging—to make sure Congress hears loud and clear that the OAA matters, and reauthorization should be a significant priority this year.

Top Issues for Reauthorization

Like ASA, NCOA is listening to local partners, so we can speak with one voice about how to leverage this time-limited opportunity. Below are some of our key priorities:

Funding: Given the sheer number of individuals—nearly 11,500 Americans will turn age 65 each day this year and through 2029, with an increasing likelihood to live additional decades—coupled with the rising cost of administering programs, it is simply not possible to meet the need at prior funding levels. We must increase funding levels in the authorization to meet the real need—at a minimum doubling current funding levels.

‘Millions of older adults must work, withdraw from savings, or rely upon social safety net programs to make ends meet.’

Direct Care Workforce: Between 2021 and 2031, the direct care workforce is projected to add more than 1 million new jobs. Yet, low wages, lack of full-time employment and the pandemic have caused fewer workers to choose direct care as the need for their services is growing. Reauthorization must:

  • Strengthen authorities for sustained funding for the Direct Care Workforce Strategies Center beyond five years to increase dissemination of state technical assistance and training opportunities to ensure an adequate and well-trained direct care workforce.

Health Promotion: Given that 80% of older adults have two or more chronic conditions, the OAA should further the spread of programs that have been proven to save lives and decrease healthcare costs. Reauthorization must:

  • Double authorized funding levels for OAA Title III-D to support the licensing, training, technology and other costs required for implementation of evidence-based programs.
  • Expand the continuum of programs funded under the OAA to include those that are “evidence-informed,” expanding access to more culturally responsive interventions.

Economic Security: The average Social Security benefit only covers 68% of the costs for basic necessities for a single person living alone and 81% for couples living together. That means millions of older adults must work, withdraw from savings, or rely upon social safety net programs to make ends meet. Reauthorization must:

  • Modernize and increase flexibility in the determination of economic need with proven tools such as the Elder Index, to ensure the local cost of living is addressed as future generations are expected to age with limited financial resources.

Older Workers: As longevity continues to climb, work is essential to affording a longer life. This is especially true for older adults of color and others who face discrimination. The Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) is the only federal job training program focused on this population. Reauthorization must:

  • Update SCSEP eligibility to make it available to adults ages 50 and older.
  • Adjust income eligibly guidelines to allow for individuals with incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty level to improve access for older workers struggling with financial security and employment.

Senior Centers: Through OAA reauthorization, Congress has an opportunity to provide the focus and funding to ensure that a modern senior center is available in every ZIP Code. Reauthorization must:

  • Address lessons learned from the pandemic related to promoting equitable access to senior center services, addressing diverse needs, and pursuing innovation in nutrition programs.
  • Ensure strong congregate settings in the community by reinstating a separate title for senior centers and updated language that retains the “special consideration” of senior centers as designated focal points and by strengthening support for multipurpose senior center infrastructure and services, while allowing for the flexibility capacity for virtual connections.
  • Strengthen the authorization for modernizing senior centers.
  • Increase the authorization level of senior nutrition programs to allow greater parity for both home-delivered meals and congregate meals approaches to be equally funded at scale.

What You Can Do

Each of us in the aging field is essential to ensuring a successful OAA reauthorization. And now is the time to make your voice heard. As summer arrives, Congress is likely to shift its attention to this year’s election. To make an impact, contact your lawmakers today. Here’s how:

  • Send an email: Use NCOA’s online alert to easily personalize and send a message to your senators and representative.
  • Advocate locally: See how to write letters to the editor, attend town halls, and more.
  • Extend an invitation: Ask your members of Congress to see the OAA in action by inviting them to your location.
  • Tell stories: Learn what makes an impactful story that you can share with your lawmakers.

Together, we can make full use of this opportunity to strengthen the OAA for generations to come.

Ramsey Alwin is the President and CEO of NCOA. She is a thought leader and policy advocate who is leading a nationwide movement to ensure equitable aging for every American.