One last push – Getting the Older Americans Act (OAA) reauthorized in 2014

August in Washington, DC usually means Congressional recess, when all Congress members take a break from Washington and return to their districts. Depending on whom you ask, August in DC could either be a peaceful and quiet time or a time to schedule meetings and diligently prepare for Congress’ return post-Labor Day. For the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA), it has been the latter. As we enter the last quarter of the year, NHCOA is focusing efforts on scheduling Hill visits to educate Congressional staffers and reiterate how critical it is for Congress to reauthorize the Older Americans Act as they return to Washington from their states and districts this week.

The Older Americans Act (OAA) is one of the most important laws for older adults, and as it nears its 50th Anniversary, it is in need of greater recognition. The programs of the OAA are also extremely important in allowing older adults to age in place, with dignity, and in the best possible health, as it authorizes a wide variety of programs focused on health, nutrition, job training, and caregiver support. The OAA, which expired in 2011, has not been renewed— or reauthorized— since. Each year, the various programs are funded individually through appropriations bills, but this is neither an efficient nor a sustainable method. Reauthorization is urgently needed!

As we’ve written in previous blogs, NHCOA strongly supports a reauthorization of the Older Americans Act—but it must happen before the end of 2014. While a straight reauthorization would be better than none, it would be more effective to have a reauthorization that accounts for the growing size and diversification of the older adult population and one whose needs are ever fluid and changing.

Thus far, there are four bills on record, asking for reauthorization: H.R. 4122 (Rep. Bonamici- Oregon), H.R. 3850 (Rep. Gibson, New York), S. 1562 (Sen. Sanders- Vermont) and S. 1028 (Sen. Sanders). Of these, S. 1562 is the most advanced in the legislative process, having been sent to committee, where it is currently stuck. It is this impasse that has delayed the much-needed reauthorization of the OAA.

Given that it is an election year and a change in the political climate might make it even harder for a committee compromise to be reached, NHCOA and its fellow Diverse Elders Coalition co-founders urge Congress to take action now before all the hard work put forth in the past year is lost and millions of America’s older adults lose access to programs and services which currently allow them to age in place and remain engaged and active members of their communities.

We ask Congress to take into account the millions of baby boomers who cannot wait for another year of political in-fighting and who urgently need these services in their local communities. While we understand that the list of urging and pressing matters awaiting Congress is long, it is important to highlight that OAA is equally as important to those whom it affects most, and through compromise and strong Congressional leadership, this Act can be reauthorized within the few legislative days left.

In the meantime, NHCOA and the DEC will continue to fight for the OAA on behalf of the millions of diverse seniors who rely on the services, programs, and funding this law provides.

Dr. Yanira Cruz is the President and CEO of 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.

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