Seniors exercising in San Diego
Seniors exercising in San Diego. Photo courtesy Serving Seniors

The U.S. senior population continues to grow as Baby Boomers, the largest generation behind Millennials, reach older age. There are 40 million Americans over the age of 65, and according to a 2017 U.S. Census Bureau report, it’s estimated that by 2035 there will be 78 million people aged 65 and older.

Factors like health issues, lowered income and rising costs of living in the San Diego region can affect a senior’s ability to make ends meet. Serving Seniors believes that hot meals and healthy food should be accessible to all. In San Diego County, more than one million meals — served in senior centers and delivered to the homebound — are provided. Serving Seniors is responsible for 65% of that total, and a hot meal is the most common request from those asking for our assistance.

An important piece of legislation helps fund programs for seniors nationwide, and it is soon coming to a vote for re-authorization. The Older Americans Act provides older adults with vital programs and services as well as needed respite for their family caregivers. The aim of the act’s programs is to help seniors stay as independent as possible in their homes and communities, as well as prevent hospitalization or home care through well-being initiatives.

Paul Downey

As a response to Congressional concerns about the lack of community social services for senior citizens, President Lyndon Johnson signed the act into law on July 14, 1965. In 2016, Congress voted with unanimous, bipartisan support to reauthorize the act in its entirety, effective through fiscal year 2019. Funding is distributed to 56 state agencies, over 200 tribal organizations, two native Hawaiian organizations, more than 600 agencies on aging and 20,000 local-level service providers.

While the core service provided by the Older Americans Act is senior nutrition, this act also funds other critical programs for seniors like Adult Protective Services, National Eldercare Locator Service, job training and creation, health promotion and disease prevention activities, and programs that protect vulnerable seniors such as the Long-term Care Ombudsman Program.

Now it’s up for re-authorization again, along with three key new provisions:

  • Improve several core programs, including home-delivered meals, assistance for family caregivers, transportation for seniors and more, all with the intention of improving economic security for seniors.
  • Increase protection against elder abuse, primarily through programs to create economically accessible long-term care services and strengthen ombudsman services that monitor such programs.
  • Promote healthy living by offering programs on fall prevention, chronic disease management and more, ultimately improving the quality of life for seniors and lessening their medical costs.

The reauthorization of the Older Americans Act is supported by many national organizations committed to the well-being of seniors, such as the National Council on Aging, National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare, the National Association of Social Workers, and more.

San Diego residents can voice their support for the OAA to their representatives on the House Education & Workforce Committee, which oversees the re-authorization of the legislation. Through you can find contact information for your elected officials and encourage them to vote for re-authorization.

Serving Seniors is committed to providing impactful programs and services to older adults living in poverty, and the Older Americans Act aligns with our mission. We encourage you to voice your support on behalf of our elderly neighbors and citizens.

For more than two decades, Paul Downey has been a national advocate for low-income seniors. He is president and CEO of Serving Seniors, a nonprofit agency dedicated for nearly 50 years to increasing the quality of life for San Diego seniors living in poverty.