The reauthorization of the Older Americans Act (OAA) was quietly signed into law by President Trump last week. Officially known as H.R. 4334 – The Supporting Older Americans Act of 2020, it moved fairly quickly through Congress before reaching the President’s desk. It was introduced in the House of Representatives in September 2019, and passed the following month. The Senate took a bit longer and made some revisions before sending it back to the House in early March, when it was approved and sent to President Trump within 8 days.
The Older Americans Act was initially signed into law in 1965, and was designed to address the needs of our older population through the creation of the federal Administration on Aging and State Units on Aging. Since that time, the OAA has been a mainstay in the U.S. for the support of nutritional and social programs for older adults and their caregivers. This act was previously reauthorized in 2016 under President Obama. The current authorization is effective through 2024.
The OAA is composed of 7 parts, called Titles. The first two Titles state the objectives of the act and outline the establishment of the Administration on Aging (which was combined with the Office on Disability and Administration on Developmental Disabilities to form the Administration for Community Living in 2012 https://acl.gov/). Title III provides grants for states to fund programs such as senior centers, Meals on Wheels, health promotion activities, transportation, and in-home services. Title IV provides support for training, research, and demonstration projects related to older adult issues. Title V addresses employment opportunities for people age 55+ who have low incomes and are unemployed or have poor employment potential. Title VI provides grants for Native Americans, including tribal organizations, Native Alaskans, and Native Hawaiians. Lastly, Title VII regulates policies and strategies designed to protect older adults from abuse and protect the rights of older adults who reside in care facilities (Long-Term Care Ombudsman program).
The current reauthorization of the OAA includes the following provisions:
- Extends the RAISE Family Caregivers Act for an additional year (development of strategies to assist in the identification and support of family caregivers)
- Extends the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Council for one year and gives states increased flexibility for supporting grandparents who are raising their grandchildren
- Defines characteristics of Age-Friendly Communities
- Requires a report to Congress by January, 2021 about the negative effects of social isolation on older adults and possible solutions to address this issue
- Outlines plans for services related to women and retirement
- Prioritizes fall prevention proposals
- Sets financial appropriations for the various types of supportive services regulated by the act for the next 5 years (including a 7% initial increase and an annual 6% increase in funding through 2024)
- Ensures that individuals with early onset Alzheimer’s disease will be eligible for essential services
- Encourages coordination with the Secretary of Labor to address recruitment and retention issues for direct care workers (i.e. pay, benefits, and advancement opportunities)
- Institutes a grant program to promote multigenerational activities
The health and wellness of our older adult population is dependent upon both individual and societal factors. Individual elements include genetics and lifestyle choices. Social determinants of health and wellness include geographic, cultural, and economic influences as well as the availability and accessibility of supportive services.
While the OAA may be viewed primarily as a source of funding for social programs, it is also designed to identify and prioritize needs, promote the development of practical and evidence-based solutions for those needs, and monitor the ongoing challenges of our growing aging population.
Karen Kaslow. RN, BSN