Senators Collins, Casey, Pushing for Reauthorization of Older Americans Act

Published in Woonsocket Call on May 19, 2019

With the Older Americans Act (OAA) scheduled to expire on September 30, 2019, the U.S. Special Senate Committee on Aging puts the spotlight on the importance of this critical law to older American’s, calling for its reauthorization.

Enacted in 1965, the OAA helps more than 11 million seniors age in their communities by funding programs that support grandparents raising grandchildren, reduce social isolation, provide congregate or home-delivered meals and offer respite care among other services.
OAA was last reauthorized in 2016 for a period of three years.

Bipartisan Push in Senate to Reauthorize OAA

While the Senate Aging Committee does not have legislative jurisdiction over OAA, the panel traditionally has put attention on the OAA by holding hearings or special events at the start of any reauthorization process. And the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Aging Committee – Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Robert Casey (D-Pa.)—have taken an especially keen interest in this year’s OAA reauthorization process. The Senators are leading a bipartisan coalition of Senators pushing for reauthorization, which includes Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wa) as well as Senators Mike Enlzi (R-Wyo.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

In Collin’s opening statement, she pledged to “get across the finish line, on time, a robust and bipartisan Older Americans Act that will strengthen support for its bread and butter programs, while providing more flexibility for states to meet local needs.”

At the Senate Aging hearing, Collins says she plans to focus on five priority areas in the reauthorization of OOA, specifically family caregivers, nutrition, social isolation, transportation and elder justice. “By enriching the lives of seniors, the Older Americans Act improves the lives of all Americans,” says the Maine Senator, kicking off the two hour and 26-minute hearing, aptly titled, “The Older Americans Act: Protecting and Supporting Seniors as they Age.”

“The Older Americans Act is a shining example of a federal policy that works. Every $1 invested into the Older Americans Act generates $3 to help seniors stay at home through low cost, community-based services,” says Collins.

“The Older Americans Act reminds us who we are as a country. It represents our commitment to the generations who made us who we are today. And, it lifts up the seniors who need our help the most, added Casey in his opening statement.

Before the May 18 hearing, Casey noted that he had reached out to 34 Area Agencies on Aging, representing 60 percent of the counties in his home state, for their feedback about OAA’s effectiveness in delivering services to older Pennsylvanians. He asked these two questions: “How is the OAA currently working?” and “How should this important law be strengthened?”

“In every city and every town, the aging network said that there is no match for the high-quality services that senior centers and Area Agencies on Aging provide to older Pennsylvanians. The OAA programs support Pennsylvanians and their caregivers by providing meals, respite and protection from fraud and abuse. And importantly, the OAA also helps seniors age in the location of their choice, which of course is most often their homes and communities.”

Senate Panel Witnesses Give Thumbs-up to OAA

Larry Gross, the chief executive officer of the Southern Maine Agency on Aging shared with the attending Senators his more than four decades of experience serving seniors in both urban and rural areas. He explained how OAA bolsters nutrition programs, supports family caregivers, reduces social isolation and addresses elder justice. He highlighted a partnership with Maine Medical Center showing that home-delivered meals reduce hospital readmissions, and discussed innovations that he has led to improve senior nutrition and build community.

Faith Lewis, a great-grandparent from Simpson, Pennsylvania, shared her personal experience raising her 5-year-old great-granddaughter and the importance of OAA program support that assist grand families like hers. She receives support through the National Family Caregiver Support Program and regularly attends a support group for grandparents raising grandchildren that is hosted by her local Area Agency on Aging.

Lance Robertson, the Administrator & Assistant Secretary for Aging at the administration for Community Living, gave an overview of OAA, including its history, sustainability, and variability across states and communities. He shared background and data on how OAA has helped millions of seniors to age in their local communities. He also discussed his agency’s mission to connect people to resources, protect rights and prevent abuse, expand employment opportunities, support family caregivers and strengthen aging networks.

Finally, Richard Prudom, the Secretary of Florida’s Department of Elder Affairs, Mr. Prudom talked about his work with his state’s 11 Area Agencies on Aging. He offered a state perspective on interfacing both with the administration for Community Living as well as with the Area Agencies on Aging to develop programs that meet the needs of communities. He focused on priorities in supporting family caregivers, advancing senior nutrition, combating elder abuse and addressing disaster preparedness.

AARP Talks About Impact of OAA Programs

Wendy Fox-Grage, Senior Strategic Policy adviser at the Washington, DC-based AARP, in a Feb 19 blog posting, says that despite “woeful inadequacy of current funding, OAA enables 11 million older Americans to live independently. Recent evaluations confirm the positive impact on the Act’s nutrition and family caregiver program, she says.

As to evaluating the impact of OAA’s nutrition programs, Grage says that forty-two percent of congregate meal participants and 61 percent of home delivered meal participants would skip meals or eat less in the absence of these programs. Congregate meal participants are also less likely to be admitted to nursing homes, and congregate meal participants who live alone are less likely to be admitted to hospital than nonparticipant, she says.

As to caregiving, Grage noted that family caregivers received four hours or more of respite care per week reported a decline in burden over time and those who received at least one education/training, counseling, or support group session experienced an increase in self-reported confidence over time.

AARP joins Senators Collins and Casey’s call on Congress to reauthorize the Older Americans Act before the end of September. OAA’s 11 million beneficiaries, 700,000 caregivers, and providers in the nation’s aging network — consisting of the federal Administration on Aging, State Units on Aging, local Area Agencies on Aging, and local service providers – also wait for Congress to make its move and reauthorize the Act.

Government Shutdown Hurts Seniors, Too

Published in Pawtucket Times on January 21, 2019

At press time, the federal government has been partially shut down for over 29 days because of Democrats and Republicans being at odds over President Trump’s ask for $5.7 billion to be included in continuing spending resolutions for the Oct. 1 start of the new federal fiscal year. Trump calls for billions of dollars to build a border wall along the 234 miles of the nation’s southern border.

The partial shutdown began on Dec. 22 because Congress had not passed legislation, signed by the President, to fund nine federal departments, so these departments do not have funding to operate. The department’s include Agriculture (USDA), Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Interior, State, Transportation and Treasury.

During the partial government shutdown, Trump has so refused to retreat from his request for funding to build a wall. With strong Democratic opposition the political standoff has made this partial shutdown the longest one of its kind in the nation’s history. There have been 21 shutdowns since 1976.

Local media has widely reported that this shutdown has left 800,000 federal workers furloughed without pay, as well as those working in several federal agencies. But half of these employees are still working, being recalled but without being pay. But Trump has signed legislation this week to pay these employees retroactively once a funding bill is enacted.

What About Aging Programs and Services?

According to AARP’s Senior Writer Dena Bunis in a Jan. 18th web article, “Essential Services Stay in Place Despite Massive Federal Employee Furloughs,” the government shutdown does not impact major domestic programs, like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security but other programs and services for seniors are affected.
Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will continue operating and not be disrupted by the shutdown because these programs are funded by an advance appropriations and Social Security [ an earned benefit] is separately funded, says Bunis.

Bunis adds, even with the shutdown aging veterans will still have access to VA hospitals, medical centers and clinics because the Department of Veterans Affairs is funded.

Retirees will find many of the nation’s 400 national parks open but having limited services. Park rangers are furloughed and volunteers are stepping up to help where needed, says Bunis, noting that with employees not reporting for work, bathrooms and other facilities remain unattended with trash piling up and vandalism reports are increasing.

Although flights are not affected and air traffic controllers remain working, Transportation Security Administration’s airport security screeners are calling in sick in large numbers, increasing waiting times, notes Bunis. She says that Federal Aviation Administration has brought back thousands of safety inspectors and engineers to keep the planes in the air flying safely.

Seniors receiving SNAP (formerly called food stamps) from the USDA can expect getting their February benefits, says Bunis, but Meals on Wheels and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program food-box deliveries will be available through March.

Bunis notes that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has brought back nearly 150 furloughed employees without pay “to resume safety inspections on certain drugs, medical devices and high-risk foods, such as cheese, fruits and vegetables, and infant formula.”

The current government shutdown has closed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Those workers age 40 and over who file age discrimination claims may experience difficulties in applying and getting these claims processed, says Bunis.

USDA loans for low- and moderate-income Americans who live in rural areas have stopped because of the shutdown, says Bunis. “The Federal Housing Administration is not issuing the needed paperwork for reverse mortgages to get approved. More than 1,000 contracts between HUD and landlords who provide rental assistance to low-income tenants have expired, and hundreds more will expire in February,” she notes.

Meanwhile, USDA has recalled 2,500 Farm Service Agency employees to temporarily assist agricultural producers with existing farm loan payments to ensure they get the tax documents necessary to file their returns, says Bunis.

It’s tax season…Bunis says that although the Internal Revenue Service is affected by the shutdown because it is part of the Treasury Department, over 46,000 furloughed employees have been called back to work to process income-tax returns and refunds. Filing season officially begins on Jan. 28.

Casey Calls on Trump to Reopen Government

Last week, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, urged Trump to end the partial shutdown charging that the federal government’s closing jeopardizes the transportation, housing, and nutrition needs of older Americans and people with disabilities.

“I am particularly concerned about the adverse impact of the shutdown on seniors, people with disabilities and their families,” stated in Jan 15 correspondence to the President. Food assistance programs administered through the UDSA, rental assistance payments from HUD, transportation services through the Department of Transportation (DOT), and frauds and scams investigations and enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are all negatively impacted during the shutdown, said Casey.

“Elected and appointed officials in Washington have a sacred responsibility of ensuring seniors can age with dignity and people with disabilities can live independently. I request you direct the USDA, HUD, DOT, FTC and FCC to provide additional information to Congress on the steps they will take to mitigate the harmful impact this shutdown will have on seniors and people with disabilities. And, I urge you to reopen the government so that the health and financial security of our aging loved ones are no longer put in jeopardy,” Casey adds.

For a copy of Casey’s correspondence, go to http://www.aging.senate.gov/press-releases/casey-to-trump-the-shutdown-hurts-seniors_.

Cicilline to Reintroduce Resolution to Reestablish House Aging Committee

Published in the Woonsocket Call on November 18, 2018

In October 1992, the House eliminated the House Permanent Select Committee on Aging charged with investigating and putting a spotlight on aging policy. The Committee was instrumental in conducting research and publishing a number of reports on elder abuse, leading to the passage of reform legislation intended to improve nursing home operations and reduce abuse against patients. The Committee’s work also led to increased home care benefits for the aging, establishing research and care centers for Alzheimer’s Disease, and many other accomplishments on a broad array of aging issues.

Over 26 years later, on March 1, 2016, Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI) introduced his House resolution 160 to reestablish the Committee. He would attract Rhode Island Congressman James R. Langevin (D-RI) and 23 other cosigners (no Republicans) out of 435 lawmakers, but would ultimately see no legislative action taken. “I discussed this proposal with Speaker Paul Ryan (R- WI) and followed up with a letter asking him to move forward with this idea, but he declined to do so.”

“I think many of my Democratic colleagues didn’t think this resolution would get much traction with a Republican controlled House, but we did get Seniors Task Force Co-Chairs, Reps. Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), which was important,” says the Rhode Island Congressman.

A New Opportunity with a House Democratic Majority

With a Republican-controlled Congress successfully blocking Cicilline’s simple resolution from reaching the floor for a vote, the Democratic lawmaker says he will reintroduce House resolution 160 in the new Congress with the Democrats controlling the chamber’s legislative agenda. “With Democrats in the majority, I think there will be more interest from other members in this resolution,” he says, noting, “We will try to make this a bipartisan effort and hope to find Republicans who would be supportive.

“I will first reintroduce the resolution [in the new Congress] and build support from members and then present the proposal to my House leadership. We will try to make this a bipartisan effort and hope to find Republicans who would be supportive,” says Cicilline, noting that he will reach out to aging groups for support, including the Leadership Council on Aging Organizations, whose leadership includes Alliance for Retired Americans, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, and AARP.

“Of course, I would be honored to lead the reestablished House Permanent Select Committee on Aging, but that decision will be made by the incoming Speaker,” says Cicilline.

According to Cicilline, the House can readily create an ad hoc (temporary) select committee by approving a simple resolution that contains language establishing the committee—giving a purpose, defining membership, and detailing other aspects. Funding would be up to the Appropriations Committee. Salaries and expenses of standing committees, special and select, are authorized through the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill.

Cicilline says that a newly established House Permanent Select Committee on Aging would be charged to conduct comprehensive studies on aging policy issues, funding priorities and trends. As its predecessor, its efforts would not be limited by narrow jurisdictional boundaries of the standing committee but broadly at targeted aging policy issues.

“Our nation’s seniors deserve dedicated attention by lawmakers to consider the legislative priorities that affect them, including strengthening Social Security and Medicare, reducing the costs of prescription drugs, and the particular challenges of poverty, housing, long-term care, and other important issues,” adds Cicilline.

Aging Advocates Call for Reestablishing the House Select Committee on Aging

When Max Richtman, CEO and President of the Washington, D.C-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), and former Staff Director of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, heard of Cicilline’s efforts to bring back the House Select Committee on Aging almost three years ago, he remarked, “It’s long overdue.” The Select Committee will once again provide serious oversight and lay the ground work for House legislative proposals impacting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, he said.

Richtman says that NCPSSM has just joined a working group to push for the reestablishment of the House Permanent Select Committee on Aging spearheaded by Howard Bedlin of the National Council on Aging. This group will devise strategies to resurrect the Committee, adds Richtman.

Richard Fiesta, Executive Director at the Alliance for Retired Americans, whose organization chairs the LCAO, representing over 70 aging groups, says that its membership voted this month to support and push for the reestablishment of the House Select Committee on Aging. “Members during the discussion expressed views that the Committee can be a focal point on aging issues such as such as Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, long term care, and prescription drug prices,” says Fiesta, noting that it could provide important oversight on the U.S. Administration of Aging programs and be a forum for emerging issues such as home care needs.

“With 10,000 American turning age 65 each day, a Select Committee on Aging would be an important step in addressing the needs of older Americans,” says Fiesta.

Bill Benson, a former staff director of the Subcommittee on Housing and Consumer Interests, one of the four subcommittees of the House Select Committee on Aging, concurs with Richtman that the establishing the Committee is “long overdue.”

“During the 26 years we’ve been without the House counterpart to the Senate Special Committee on Aging,” which Benson also served on, “the House has not had an equivalent powerful voice for advancing critical issues for an aging society as we’ve had in the Senate. To successfully improve national policy requires both chambers of the Congress to be fully engaged. Restoring the House Select Committee on Aging would be important to do that.”

Howard Bedlin, National Council on Aging Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy, adds: “A House Select Committee on Aging will raise visibility of the challenges older Americans are facing every day and support the work of authorizing committees to craft bipartisan policy solutions. Aging is an issue for all Americans. Discussion about the systemic strains that come with longevity and a growing aging population, or highlighting the many intergenerational needs of families across the country can only lead to better understanding and ultimately better support for all Americans as we age.”

Taking an Important Step to Protecting Seniors

As Cicilline gears up to put together the bipartisan support to pass his reintroduced to reestablish the House Permanent Select Committee on Aging, he says, “Overall, this resolution represents an important step towards protecting our seniors and the benefits they have earned, like Social Security and Medicare.”

“The reestablishment of this Select Committee on Aging would emphasize Congress’ commitment to our current and future seniors and would allow us to focus our energy to ensure that they are able to live with dignity and enjoy a high quality of life,” he adds.

A Washington insider tells me that some Democratic House lawmakers and aging groups are now pushing to reestablish the House Select Committee on Aging through new rules enacted by the incoming House Democratic leadership. The Washington, DC-based LCAO can now play a pivotal role in reestablishing the House Select Committee by advocating for and supporting Cicilline’s resolution that will be introduced in the next Congress or backing the attempt to change House rules. As the House takes up in the new Congress its debates on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the Older Americans Act, and other issues of importance to older adults, it will be important to have a House Select Committee that once again puts the spotlight and attention on America’s aging issues.