En español | A House of Representatives committee on Wednesday approved a bill reauthorizing a landmark law that for more than 50 years has helped millions of older Americans stay in their homes by providing services such as Meals on Wheels, support for family caregivers and transportation.
The Dignity in Aging Act of 2019, introduced on Monday by three Democratic and three Republican representatives, would extend the Older Americans Act (OAA) for five years and increases funding for its programs by 7 percent in federal fiscal year 2020 and by 6 percent in each year from 2021 to 2024. The Education and Labor Committee, by a unanimous voice vote, agreed to send the measure to the full House. A similar bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate later this year.
The OAA, which was passed in 1965 — the same year Congress enacted Medicare, Medicaid and the Civil Rights Act — expires on Sept. 30. AARP founder Ethel Percy Andrus was at President Johnson’s side when he signed the OAA into law. The legislation provides money to each state based on its share of the country’s older Americans and helps about 11 million people over the age of 60 every year.
“Giving Americans the support they need to live at home with independence and dignity has always been a bedrock goal of OAA, and it has been remarkably successful,” Bill Sweeney, AARP senior vice president for government affairs, said in a letter to committee leaders. The bipartisan bill was introduced by Reps. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), Susie Lee (D-Nev.), James Comer (R-Ky.), Susan Wild (D-Pa.) and Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.).
Along with providing more funding for the OAA, Bonamici’s measure would increase the emphasis on services that help older Americans deal with social isolation. It would also extend the RAISE Family Caregivers Act, which requires the federal government to create a nationwide strategy to support family caregiving. Plus, it would strengthen the National Family Caregiver Support Program, which provides family caregivers with vital respite care for their loved ones, as well as education, training and other support.
“For many older Americans, the key to being able to stay in their own homes is the dedication and commitment of family caregivers,” Sweeney stated. “An estimated 40 million family caregivers provide a staggering $470 billion annually in unpaid care to their loved ones. By supporting family caregivers, we can help people stay at home, helping to delay or prevent more costly nursing home care and unnecessary hospitalizations.”
While Sept. 30 is the deadline for reauthorizing the Older Americans Act, if Congress fails to make a move that doesn’t mean that funding for programs like Meals on Wheels and caregiver supports will be cut off immediately. Historically, Congress has provided money for such programs even when the reauthorizations have lagged behind.