Congress Reauthorized the Older Americans Act in April 2016: What’s next?

The Older Americans Act (OAA) is the country’s leading vehicle for delivering services and supports to older people nationwide. The OAA makes many services and supports for older adults available at low or no cost. Necessary services like home delivered meals, transportation, and benefits counseling all help older adults live in their homes and communities and age with dignity. It is an invaluable law that helps millions of people each year. 

Older Americans Act timeline:

  • A bi-partisan OAA Senate bill passed out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee on January 6th, 2014.
  • On January 10th, 2014, three House members introduced a bi-partisan, “straight” reauthorization of the OAA, HR 3850, to demonstrate that Republicans and Democrats both believe in the OAA and can successfully work together to strengthen the law.
  • On February 28, 2014, Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX) introduced HR 4122, the Older Americans Act Reauthorization Act of 2014.
  • In January 2015 the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee approved bipartisan legislation introduced by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Patty Murray (D-WA), Richard Burr (R-NC) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT). This legislation, S. 192, the “Older Americans Act Amendments of 2015,” would reauthorize the OAA for three years and make improvements to benefit older Americans and their families.
  • The legislation passed the full Senate without opposition on July 16, 2015.
  • The legislation passed the full House of Representatives on April 14, 2016.

While we are glad that vital services for our elders will continue to be funded by the reauthorized Older Americans Act, the Diverse Elders Coalition is disappointed that many of the unique needs and demands of our communities — such as listing LGBT older adults as a group of greatest social need; data collection; and permanently establishing the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging — were not included in this reauthorization.

We continue to advocate for the explicit inclusion of our communities (see below) in the Older Americans Act and turn our attention to the next round of reauthorization.

What has the Diverse Elders Coalition done?

In April 2011, after months of dialogue between DEC members and members of the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations (LCAO), the DC-based LCAO issued eight policy recommendations in support of LGBT elders, elders of color and older adults with HIV as part of its “consensus” document on reauthorization of the Older Americans Act (OAA). This meant that the aging network affirmed our communities’ interest when reforming the OAA.

In 2012, the DEC worked to raise awareness around strengthening and modernizing the OAA. This included advocating for increased funding for OAA programs to ensure they keep pace with the growth of the older adult population.

Our efforts helped to inform Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) who went on to introduce two bills that would help diverse elders:

  • The Improving Services and Activities for Diverse Elders (ISADE) Act
  • The LGBT Elder Americans Act

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.

The “LGBT Elder Americans Act of 2012,” would amend the OAA to provide equal treatment of LGBT older adults. This includes listing  LGBT older adults as a vulnerable population with greatest economic and social need as a result of a lifetime of discrimination; permanently establish the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging; improving data collection and analysis on the effectiveness of the state units on aging and the AAAs in targeting services to LGBT older adults; and prioritize research and development grants for organizations working to improve LGBT health, long-term care needs, and access to culturally responsive services. The LGBT Elder Americans Act was reintroduced into the Senate on July 14, 2015.

Resources

In December 2015, the Diverse Elders Coalition released two new consumer resources to promote the Older Americans Act as one of the coalition’s main priorities. These resources are available on our Learn page or by clicking the links below:

OAAFactSheet

 

Diverse Elders and the Older Americans Act

 

 

OAAStatement

The Older Americans Act and Diverse Elders: Emerging Solutions for Critical Constituencies