En español | Connecting to the internet would become easier and more affordable for millions of older Americans and streets and transit system accessibility would increase as part of the sweeping $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill the U.S. Senate passed on Aug. 10.
The bipartisan measure passed by a 69-30 vote. Supported by the Biden administration, the legislation will have to pass the House of Representatives before becoming law. The House is scheduled to be in recess until September.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act touches virtually every aspect of the nation's infrastructure — including roads, bridges, transit systems, broadband, electric grids and water systems.
"Millions more Americans will have access to high-speed internet, including those with limited means, who have faced barriers due to language or ability, or who live in unserved and underserved areas,” said Nancy LeaMond, AARP executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer. “Internet accessibility is essential for older adults to connect with their families, communities, commerce and services. And provisions to strengthen electric grids and provide clean drinking water will benefit all Americans."
According to AARP's annual technology survey, 15 percent of adults age 50 and older do not have access to any internet service and 60 percent say the cost of high-speed internet is a problem. The legislation provides for:
- $42 billion for grants to build and expand the infrastructure needed to deliver and maintain internet service.
- $14.2 billion to help people afford the internet, including extending the Emergency Broadband Benefit program that provides subsidies for internet service for targeted households.
- $2.75 billion for digital equity, which ensures that people of all ages and abilities will have access to the training they need to make full use of high-speed internet connectivity.
"Programs like Complete Streets and Safe Streets for All promote increased accessibility and transit options for seniors in their local communities,” LeaMond said. These expanded transportation alternatives are key to promoting choice and mobility for people age 50-plus and those with disabilities.
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Older adults live between 7 and 10 years longer than their ability to drive, according to a study in the American Journal of Public Health. The study also found that 18 percent of older adults 65 and older don't drive, and 35 percent of women over age 75 do not drive. A recent report from the National Highway Traffic Safety administration found that older adults are disproportionately represented among pedestrian fatalities in 35 states.
"When the day comes when people stop driving and need to turn to other transportation alternatives, it's critical that the communities have in place robust, accessible, affordable public transit, as well as safe pedestrian environment so that people can walk to get the services that they need,” said Danielle Arigoni, director of Livable Communities at AARP.
Access to transportation is especially important for the ability of older adults to get needed medical care. In 2017, almost 6 million people delayed medical care because of lack of transportation, leading to higher medical costs, according to data from the National Health Interview Survey.
The legislation includes:
- $39 billion to expand and modernize public transit, including enhancing the Transportation Alternative program, which funds investments in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. It also includes funding for the Safe Streets for All program, which will provide support for local Vision Zero programs that aim to eliminate pedestrian fatalities.
- $2 billion for the 5310 program, which covers transportation for seniors and people with disabilities, as well as additional investments in programs to improve coordination among human service transportation agencies, like paratransit.
- $1.75 billion to improve the accessibility of older transit systems. The measure also calls on states to put Complete Streets standards in place to ensure that roads are safe and accessible for all
Dena Bunis covers Medicare, health care, health policy and Congress. She also writes the “Medicare Made Easy” column for the AARP Bulletin. An award-winning journalist, Bunis spent decades working for metropolitan daily newspapers, including as Washington bureau chief for the Orange County Register and as a health policy and workplace writer for Newsday.