If you feel at all confused about what Congress approved in the newly signed, trillion-dollar infrastructure law, you’re not alone.
Given all the wrangling, the giant dollar figures tossed back and forth, and even debates over the meaning of “infrastructure,” it was hard to keep track. But in the end, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act included important new investments that will help older adults thrive in their communities and stay connected to family and friends.
Throughout the process, AARP worked tirelessly to support these goals, and I want to share with you some of the notable wins that are contained in the 2,700 pages of this historic, bipartisan legislation. In particular, the new law will give more Americans access to high-speed internet and enhance transportation options in communities around the country.
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Here are some of the highlights:
- A major investment in broadband, which gives consumers high-speed internet access no matter where they live. The legislation commits $65 billion to expand networks, provide training for consumers, and lower the cost of service. It provides more than $14 billion to subsidize broadband use in low-income households, known as the Affordable Connectivity Benefit that will provide $30 per month to offset the cost of broadband access for eligible households.
- Greater digital equity and inclusion. Various provisions and enforcement rules will push internet service providers to do a better job of serving low-income and marginalized communities. The legislation includes almost $3 billion for training to make sure that everyone — regardless of language or ability — has the skills they need to fully engage in digital life.
- Mobility options that make it easier for older adults to stay independent. The package contains $284 billion in new transportation spending for an array of needs, including making long-overdue repairs to roadways and bridges, as well as supporting new and safer transportation options for consumers — critically important for the nearly 20 percent of people over 65 who do not drive.
- An historic investment in public transit. The $284 billion includes more than $39 billion to modernize and expand public transit services, including a set-aside to make legacy transit systems accessible. The bill also has money for paratransit services, which offer vital options to individuals with limited mobility.
- An enhanced commitment to safe streets. The legislation makes important new investments in the safety of roadways for all users, including pedestrians and cyclists. AARP has long lobbied for safe streets investments, and is pleased to see the new $5 billion “Safe Streets and Roads for All” program that will help improve safety for all.
In different ways, all of these provisions help combat isolation, which can be so harmful to health. They also directly respond to the needs of older adults. Nearly 15 percent of older adults have no access to high-speed internet at all, and rural residents have been excluded too often. Even more broadly, research tells us that the cost of high-speed internet is a problem for 6 in 10 adults over age 50. We also know that nearly 7 in 10 older Americans outlive their ability to drive.
People of all ages need ways to get around and stay connected. They prefer to live in places that are walkable, safe for pedestrians, and offer good transit options. That’s a message we keep hearing from AARP’s network of Age-Friendly States and Communities, which now comprises 575 towns, cities and counties across the United States. These places have put together hundreds of age-friendly plans that provide local data and community-driven insights into the needs and priorities of older adults. Public officials and other decision-makers can learn more by clicking on AARP’s age-friendly network page, our interactive livable communities map, and our livable communities page.
A vast amount of work remains to build an infrastructure that meets all the needs of an aging society. Greater support for caregivers, better access to home- and community-based services, improvements to Medicare, paid family leave and affordable housing options are all areas that AARP will continue to push for as lawmakers consider future legislation.
But the new commitments to improve internet access and modernize transportation choices are milestones in the ongoing effort. This will become more apparent in the coming months and years as communities put the money to work and improve services we all depend on. AARP is committed to work with state and local leaders to ensure that these historic investments are implemented in a way that supports the needs of older adults.
The policy goals advanced by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act are highly significant. They will empower Americans to stay connected to friends, families and the world around them. And there should be no confusion about that.
Nancy LeaMond is AARP's chief advocacy and engagement officer.
Editor’s note: This article was updated Nov. 15 to reflect that the bill was signed into law.