There are many services and supports for older adults available at no cost. Things like home delivered meals, transportation services, and benefits counseling all help older adults live in their own homes and communities and age in dignity. The Older Americans Act (OAA) is the law that provides these services and supports and creates the nation’s infrastructure for aging. It is an invaluable law that helps millions of people each year. Despite the law’s successes and importance, it faces deep budget cuts and is becoming outdated.
Although the OAA programs are a cost-effective way of promoting economic security and improving seniors’ health, they need more funding. Monday, October 1, 2012 marks the one-year anniversary since the law was last authorized. The programs created by the OAA continue, but as federal budget cuts loom, expired OAA programs could be the first ones on the chopping block. Additionally, the population of older adults eligible for OAA services is growing rapidly. However, the level of funding for OAA programs has not increased to adequately meet the increased demands of the aging population.
The OAA is also at risk of becoming outdated as it doesn’t take into account our increasingly diverse older adult population. When NHCOA hosts its regional meetings to take the pulse of the community, seniors repeatedly tell us they often do not feel comfortable receiving services from providers who lack cultural and linguistic competency, which keeps them from fully accessing all available services.
For these reasons, the Diverse Elders Coalition has been working to strengthen and modernize the OAA. NHCOA, alongside the DEC, advocates for increased funding for OAA programs to ensure they keep pace with the growth of the older adult population. Recent efforts on behalf of NHCOA include working with Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado to propose new amendments, which would improve the ability of states and communities to reach out and serve diverse older adults.
Specifically, the “Improving Services and Activities for Diverse Elders Act” would add the Office of Minority Health’s definition of cultural and linguistic competence to the OAA, support organizations that specialize in serving diverse communities, strengthen the OAA’s requirements on providing accessible services, and add the provision of services in a culturally and linguistically competent manner as an objective of the OAA.
Jason Coates is the Public Policy Associate for the National Hispanic Council on Aging. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.