Older Americans Month: great time to bring back House Aging Committee

Published in RINewsToday on May 9, 2022

On April 29, President Joe Biden proclaimed the month of May, Older Americans Month for 2022 to honor the nation’s 54.1 million Americans aged 65 and over “who contribute their time and wisdom to make our communities stronger, more informed, and better connected.”

“Older adults have always been a vital source of strength and resilience in America,” stated Biden in the proclamation.  During the pandemic, many seniors came out of retirement to serve their communities in health care and education roles, filling job vacancies in critical shortage areas. Moving forward, we must ensure that older Americans have the appropriate resources to maintain their independence and stay connected to their communities,” he said.

The proclamation also noted that the nation is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Older Americans Act Nutrition Program — the first federal program to support the well-being of older Americans through meal deliveries, nutrition services, educational programs, and counseling. This year is also the 10th anniversary of the nation’s National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease and recommit to building upon this important work being done.

Biden recognizing this month in honor of seniors follows the footsteps of 11 presidents, beginning with President John F. Kennedy in 1963, when only 17 million Americans had reached their 65thbirthday. At that time,  about a third of America’s seniors lived in poverty and there were only a few federal programs to meet their needs. A meeting in April 1963 between Kennedy and the National Council of Senior Citizens led to designating May as “Senior Citizens Month,” later renamed “Older Americans Month.”

Over the years, OAM is a time the nation acknowledges the contributions of past and current older persons to our country, in particular those who defended our country. Communities across the nation pay tribute at ceremonies, events, and fairs, or in other ways to older persons in their communities.  

OAM – a great time to bring back the House Aging Committee

As the nation celebrates OAM, an eblast to over 90,000 seniors by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) urged these older voters to call their congressmen to request them to cosponsor Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline’s H. Res. 583, to reestablish the House Select Committee on Aging (HSCoA). “It couldn’t be a better time to highlight the urgent need to reinstate this investigative committee which would help restore Congressional focus on key policy issues [Social Security, Medicare, housing, prescription drugs, and long-term care] impacting the nation’s seniors says the Benefits Watch newsletter.   

“Today, with seniors representing a growing portion of the U.S. population and several federal programs that seniors rely on at an inflection point, there is an increasing need for a House committee that advocates for older Americans,” says NCPSM’s email, noting that’s why the Washington, DC-based advocacy group has signed onto the Leadership Council on Aging Organization’s (LCAO) letter calling on the House to pass H. Res. 583. 

“While there are other committees with jurisdiction over seniors’ programs, there is no single committee dedicated to keeping an eye on the big picture for seniors.  Fortunately, the Senate Special Committee on Aging has continued to operate in the absence of a House counterpart,” notes NCPSSM’s email, noting that “seniors would benefit from a reinstated and robust HSCoA, whose sole mission would be to look out for older American’s needs.

National Aging Groups, former Pepper staffer weighs in

“Older Americans month would be the perfect time to bring back the Aging Committee,” says Bob Weiner, former Chief of Staff under chairman Claude Pepper of the House Select Committee on Aging. “It’s sorely missing now. With Pepper’s legacy as the guide, pandemic deaths, nursing homes, home health care, Social Security, and Medicare would be improved by the sunlight of oversight. Seniors are now vulnerable and threatened by what could happen and having the Aging Committee back would reinstate the wall of protection that Pepper gave them,” he says. 

“The LCAO supports the establishment of HSCoA to provide an important forum for discussion, debate and exploration of issues impacting an aging society,” says Katie Smith Sloan, chair of the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations (LCAO), a coalition of 69 Washington, DC-based aging organizations. “Addressing the needs of older adults and families, which are increasingly prevalent with our population shifts, now, as we celebrate Older Americans Month, is appropriate – and urgent,” says Sloan. LCAO sent a letter to members of Congress on March 4, 2022, urging them to cosponsor H. Res. 583. 

“Passing H Res 583 in May to coincide with it being Older Americans month would make eminent policy and political sense.  It is an investment in having a stronger and dedicated advocacy voice for older adults in the House which has been missing for almost 20 years,” says Robert B. Blancato, National Coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition, who was the longest serving staff person on the original House Aging Committee, from 1977 to 1993.

“As our country’s older adult population continues to grow each day, so does the urgency with which we need to pursue effective solutions to myriad aging issues,” says Erika Kelly, Chief Membership and Advocacy Officer of Meals on Wheels America. “To see the House pass this resolution to reestablish the HSCoA during Older Americans Month would be a tremendous step forward,” she says.

“Older Americans Act programs, like Meals on Wheels, will undoubtedly face the lingering impact of the pandemic and other challenges for years to come. Having this HSCoA come [back] to life again, especially during this celebratory month, would provide critical leadership and attention when it’s needed most and make a difference in the lives of tens of millions of older adults,” says Kelly.

Finally, Cicilline, H. Res. 583’s sponsor and the NCPSSM tells us why it is important for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Democratic leadership colleagues to support and bring H. Res. 583 to the House Rules Committee for a vote during Older Americans Month.

“With Older Americans Month upon us, this is an important moment to underscore how the pandemic has disproportionately impacted seniors. Now, with growing concerns about inflation, seniors on fixed incomes will bear the burden of the rising cost of prescription drugs, food, housing, and other essentials. A House Permanent Select Committee on Aging would help Congress focus on, study, and address the issues that affect seniors to make sure they can live the rest of their lives with dignity and security,” says Cicilline.

“When there was a HSCoA before it was abolished in 1995, the investigative House committee held hearings on aspects of the Older Americans Act leading up to the 1992 reauthorization of the law,” noted NCPSSM’s Dan Adcock, Director of Government Relations and Policy. “The findings of these hearings were helpful to the House Committee on Education and Labor which had legislative jurisdiction over the Older Americans Act.  The Subcommittee on Human Resources [now called the Civil Rights and Human Services Subcommittee] under the full Education and Labor Committee held several of its own hearings on the OAA, too – including field hearings held across the country — leading to the enactment of the 1992 reauthorization., he said. 

According to Adcock, during that period of time, there was significant communication between the House Aging Committee staff and the Ed and Labor Committee and Human Resources Subcommittee staff.  But the legislative language was written and marked up by the latter. “A reestablished HSCoA could play a similar role in the future, but the panel’s ability to have an impact on legislation drafted by the authorizing committees would depend on the cooperation between the respective committee chairs and staff and the degree of relevancy of the hearings held by a reconstituted House Aging Committee,” he says. 

Over 400 senior groups support H. Res. 583

While LCAO is a pretty diverse group of national aging organizations – each with their own policy priorities, the coalition of 69 members, representing over 100 million over 50, and 50 million over 65 came together to endorse and affirm their support of Cicilline’s resolution.  

Ms. Nancy Altman, President of Social Security Works and Chair of the Strengthen Social Security Coalition, strongly supports the passage of H. Res. 583 and that her coalition of 350 national and state organizations representing 50 million Americans endorses Rep. Cicilline’s resolution.  

As we celebrate OAM, it is key to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) to join Cicilline along with Congresswomen Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Doris Matsui (D-CA), cochairs of the Task Force on Aging and Family and 43 cosponsors of H. Res 583, giving the green light to the House Rules committee to vote, and if approved send it quickly to the floor.

H. Res. 583 does not require Senate consideration and only requires a House Rules and floor vote for passage.  Passing the reestablishment of an investigative committee in the House would send a powerful message to older Americans that Congress following in Pepper’s footsteps will again get serious in addressing aging issues. 

As mentioned in previous commentaries, bringing back the HSCoA is a winning federal policy to positive impact America’s seniors and this group.  It’s the  right thing to do especially at a time when seniors have been a disproportionately impacted by the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.    

Over 450 national and state aging organizations representing conservatively over 150 million seniors, support the enactment of H. Res. 583. That’s a great reason for the lower chamber to strongly support.

To see the LCAO’s letter sent to Congress on March 4, 2022, endorsing H. Res. 583, go to https://www.lcao.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/House-Aging-Committee-LCAO-Letter-3-4-22.pdf.

For a historical background of the HSCoA and details about H. Res. 583, go to https://rinewstoday.com/congressman-cicilline-poised-for-legacy-as-next-fiery-advocatsie-on-aging/.

For details about Congressman Claude Pepper (D-FL) Congressman, during his six-year serving as chair of the HSCoA, go to https://rinewstoday.com/congressman-cicilline-poised-for-legacy-as-next-fiery-advocate-on-aging/.

“Gray voting block” watching Congress

Published in Rhode Island News Today on September 14, 2021

With recess ending, budget reconciliation begins in the House and Senate as lawmakers come back to Capitol Hill to begin crafting a budget. Last month a $ 3.5 trillion budget resolution bill was passed which gave instructions in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 budget resolution to allow up to $1.75 trillion of the package to come from new borrowing. It also gave instructions to both the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means to reduce deficits by at least $1 billion each. With lawmakers promising that the package be fully paid for, both Committees must come up with offsets for the full $1.74 trillion of borrowing in addition to any new spending and tax breaks proposed. 

The 11 Senate authorizing committees and 12 House authorizing committees are currently in the process of writing text for their respective portions of the reconciliation bill with a nonbinding completion deadline of Sept. 15. The reconciliation process allows for each chamber’s Budget Committee to combine each part into one reconciliation bill, to be given a floor vote in each chamber.   

The House also has on its legislative agenda a scheduled vote on a Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill (H.R. 3684) on Sept. 27. With the 2021 fiscal year up at the end of September, Congressional leaders must vote on a short-term continuing resolution to keep the government running. 

Don’t Forget Support Service for Seniors

As Congress crafts and finalizes its budget, don’t forget to provide adequate support and services to America’s seniors, warns the LeadingAge, representing 5,000 nonprofit providers across the nation. The Washington, DC-based aging advocacy group announced the results of poll in June that shows an overwhelming majority of Democratic and Republican voters call on Congress to support programs and services to seniors – and they believe that this should happen now.

The findings from an online survey finding, gleaned from the responses of 800 U.S. adults ages 18 and over from June 15 to June 20, 2021, also revealed that Americans are very concerned about how seniors are treated and believe that elected officials have failed them.

“American families are in crisis. Millions of us are growing older without access to the affordable care and support we need, and demand is surging for critical services,” said Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge in a statement announcing the release of the polling results. “Americans agree that for too long our country has ignored and underfunded our aging services systems,” she says.

Sloan adds, “Americans will no longer accept that millions of older adults living at home can’t get the care and services they need, from help getting in and out of bed to bathing and eating meals,” Sloan added. 

According to Sloan, a large number of seniors can’t access the needed services to age in place in their homes. They are “stuck on affordable housing waiting lists for years, are living in places they cannot afford, are skipping meals and medicine to pay rent or are experiencing homelessness,” she says.

 “Millions of family members and friends are struggling to balance the demands of caring for loved ones—and are increasingly stressed, stretched and in unsustainable situations. It’s time for our elected officials to listen to Americans from both parties and act now to support older adults,” said Sloan.

Here’s a Sampling of Key Findings

LeadingAge’s poll findings revealed that 85 % of the respondents agree that now is the right time to think about building a better aging services system for seniors. This belief is bipartisan, with 91% of Democrats, 83% of Independents and 80% of Republicans, agreeing that now is the time to begin improving programs and services for seniors. This view is also consistent regardless of where people live, with 85% of urban Americans, 87% of suburban Americans and 82% of rural Americans agreeing.

The poll’s findings also call on Congress to make a greater investment in services for seniors, this view is overwhelmingly bipartisan. Eighty six percent say the government must make a bigger investment in services and care for seniors. This includes 92% of Democrats, 80% of Republicans and 84% Independents.

The poll’s respondent’s overwhelmingly support proposed investments for older adults that are currently being considered by Congress. Eighty-nine percent support public investment in affordable home care services to help older adults with essential needs like bathing and dressing, medication management, transportation, and basic daily chores. Eighty-six percent support public investment in housing and support for low-income older adults to address the shortage and waiting lists that lead to homelessness, instability and skipping meals and medicine to pay rent. Finally, 83% support public investment in broadband internet to ensure equitable access for older adults who need this basic utility for telehealth and other care services, and to fight social isolation.

According to the poll’s findings, Government plays a critical role to ensuring that appropriate care and services are available to seniors. Eighty five percent of respondents agree that every person has a right to receive a basic level of housing,  and essential support regardless of age. Regardless of political party affiliation support is robust: 92% of Democrats, 85% of Independents, and 75% of Republicans agree.

More than half of all respondents say that seniors are not treated well in the United States. Eighty-three percent says that elected officials have failed older adults and the people who care for them by ignoring and underfunding America’s aging services for decades. This belief is consisted across communities, with 85% of Americans in rural settings, 83% in urban settings and 83% in suburban areas agreeing.

It’s just 421 days before the midterm elections. LeadingAge’s poll findings should be a stark warning to lawmakers who underfund and ignore the needs of their older constituents. If things stay the same, the gray voting block may well just send a message of their discontent at the polls.

For poll survey details, go to https://bit.ly/393hBRs