CHN: The Older Americans Act is Reauthorized
After months of negotiations and compromise involving the House, Senate and Administration, the Older Americans Act has been reauthorized for five years. The House passed H.R. 6197, The Older American Act Amendments of 2006, by voice vote on September 28. The Senate agreed to the bill by voice vote on September 30.
The bill, annually appropriated at approximately $1.8 billion, provides for services including Meals on Wheels, health screenings, counseling and support for people who care for elderly relatives, and it also authorizes the Department of Labor’s Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP). Two contentious areas where compromise was necessary involved the formula for distributing grants to states and the focus of the SCSEP.
Over half of the funding in the Older Americans Act is distributed through formula grants to states for programs such as Meals on Wheels and health services. The formula has not been changed to reflect the recent shifts in the growth or decline in elderly populations among the states. H.R. 6197 calls for a formula in which no state will receive funding at less than 2006 levels unless appropriations are cut below that level. The formula will likely be renegotiated when the bill comes up for reauthorization in five years.
The second area of contention concerned whether, as the Administration sought, greater emphasis in SCSEP would be on training that readies seniors for professional work in the private sector, or whether it would remain on training for community service jobs, given the barriers to work that many elderly face. In the end, the bill requires 25 percent of those trained through SCSEP to be in private-sector jobs by 2011.
Advocates for the elderly, who generally support the bill, are pleased with improvements in the bill. One in particular places a new emphasis on outreach to low-income seniors to enroll them in government programs that are utilized by relatively few seniors despite their eligibility for assistance. The Food Stamp program, Medicaid, and assistance with Medicare premiums are among the programs with low uptake rates among seniors.