By Paul Downey
Last summer we applauded the Senate’s unanimous re-authorization of the Older Americans Act and expected the House to concur. Signed into law more than 50 years ago by President Lyndon B. Johnson, this significant piece of legislation has contributed to the economic well-being and quality of life for millions of our most vulnerable seniors.
The OAA provides funding to community-based organizations that help nearly 12 million people annually with services such as home-delivered and congregate meals, caregiver support, preventive health, transportation, job training and elder abuse prevention. It is a lifeline for our most honored citizens providing them with the dignity that they have earned.
However, instead of celebrating Congressional re-authorization on the OAA’s 50th Anniversary, there has been no movement since being received by the House Education and the Workforce Committee six months ago. Two members of San Diego’s Congressional delegation — Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Republican, and Rep. Susan Davis, a Democrat – sit on this committee.
The last time Congress reauthorized the OAA was in 2006. The legislation expired in 2011 and although funding has been carried out through continuing resolutions, it has not been adjusted for inflation or the growing number of poor elderly Americans. Since 2006, the number of Americans over the age of 60 has grown by 20 percent. Congress has not kept pace with funding these critical senior programs — meaning less is being spent per capita on seniors today than in 2006.
This is an extremely shortsighted approach. Supporting the health, wellness and independence of our nation’s seniors should not be a political issue.
Studies have shown malnourished seniors take more medication, have higher rates of chronic medical conditions, and are more likely to fall and break bones. In addition, Medicare and Medicaid are the primary funding sources for malnourished patients, who have hospital stays nearly twice as long as those of well-nourished patients. Simply put, investing in programs like senior nutrition keeps people healthy and ultimately reduces public healthcare costs.
Please call, write or visit Hunter and Davis asking them to seek immediate action on OAA re-authorization in their House committee. While you are at it, reach out to the rest of the delegation and encourage them to step up and do right by our seniors. It is time to end partisan gridlock and fulfill America’s promise from 1965 to take care of elderly adults with the greatest social and economic needs.
For two decades, Paul Downey has been the president and CEO of Serving Seniors, a nonprofit agency dedicated to increasing the quality of life for San Diego seniors living in poverty for the last 45 years.
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