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Congress Boosts Spending on Programs for Older Adults

Older Americans can find lots to like in Congress’s new $447 billion catchall 2010 spending bill, including more money to address the burgeoning number of Social Security retirement and disability claims.

While the process for approving the bill—combining six regular spending bills into one piece of mega-legislation—may seem mind-boggling, many of its pieces add up to good news.

The bill is on President Barack Obama’s desk for his expected signature. Opponents argued it included boondoggles among the benefits—such as 5,244 earmarks, or pet projects sought by members of Congress—that total just under $4 billion. The bill was approved mostly along party lines over the weekend by the Senate. It passed the House earlier.

“In the context of the current economic downturn, the Congress has provided real relief to many people who are less fortunate and in need of services,” said John Rother, AARP’s head of policy and strategy. “For seniors especially, many thousands more will be able to stay in their homes, live independently, and receive services they are entitled to.”

Among the legislation’s provisions important to Americans age 50-plus:

• $11.4 billion for the Social Security Administration’s administrative expenses, including money to process the growing number of retirement claims and address a backlog disability claims.

• $1.5 billion, $22 million above the Obama administration’s request, for nutrition, transportation and other supportive services like Meals on Wheels, which will be able to provide approximately 3 million more meals annually.

• $825 million to provide community-service employment opportunities and job training for about 125,000 low-income older workers. Sandra Nathan, a vice president with the National Council on Aging, called the appropriation “a lifeline and a way to work toward a more economically secure future” for older workers with disabilities.

• About $244 million to train nurses and address a nursing shortfall that is estimated to grow to more than 1 million nurses by 2020 as boomers age.

• Approximately $825 million ($60 million above the president’s request) to rehabilitate and build housing for older people with low incomes. Currently, there are 10 eligible seniors on the waiting list for every unit of housing available, AARP research found.

“We are very grateful to members of Congress for their special attention to the needs of seniors, the disabled and low-income households across the nation in this omnibus spending package,” said AARP’s David Sloane, director of government relations and advocacy. “Many of these programs, especially senior nutrition and housing programs, have been largely neglected for nearly a decade.”

Elaine S. Povich is a veteran congressional correspondent.

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