WATERTOWN — Congresswoman Elise M. Stefanik, who represents New York’s 21st District, is the lead Republican ushering through a new five-year reauthorization of the Older American Act (OAA) — the Dignity in Aging Act. The bill improves the delivery of services so aging Americans can remain in their communities and includes new enhancements.
The OAA of 1965 established the Federal Administration on Aging, the State Units on Aging, and the Area Agencies on Aging. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved a three-year reauthorization of the OAA during its first markup of the 114th Congress. The legislation passed the Senate without opposition on July 16, 2015.
The Senate then unanimously approved the House amendments on April 7, 2016, and the bill was signed into law by President Barack Obama on April 19, 2016.
“Since 1965, this statute has provided a wide range of social and nutrition services for Americans age 60 or older,” said Ms. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, while addressing the Education and Labor Committee Wednesday. “These services help older Americans lead healthy and independent lives by offering meals, job training, health promotion, caregiver support, transportation and more.”
Provisions from three pieces of Ms. Stefanik’s legislation are included in the reauthorization:
· The Supporting Family Caregivers Act encourages the use of individual assessments to identify the needs of family caregivers. Being the congresswoman of a rural district, Ms. Stefanik knows there are lots of caregivers in the area and said she wanted to allow services to be targeted more effectively to those in caregiving situations, as well as aging individuals.
· The Younger Onset Alzheimer’s Act ensures those diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s receive equal recognition and protection under the law. Having worked closely on all the amendments to the bill, Congresswoman Stefanik was able to work with those impacted by Alzheimer’s and said it was a huge priority to make sure that younger individuals affected by an early diagnosis can still benefit from the services provided with the Older Americans Act.
· The TIME (Trauma-Informed Modernization of Eldercare) for Holocaust Survivors Act gives Holocaust survivors living in the United States access to specialized care and services for their needs. Knowing survivors of this event face unique challenges stemming from horrific trauma, Ms. Stefanik said having access to services specifically related to their needs is imperative.
“The north country is home to one of the largest constituencies of older Americans, who deserve dignity and independence in their elder years.” Ms. Stefanik said in her address. “I was proud to lead the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act, which will directly and tangibly benefit the seniors in my district.”
This amendment directs the Assistant Secretary for Aging to include in the Tri-Annual Report information about the availability, accessibility, and relevance of consumer-friendly resources for older individuals attempting to live independently and safely in the comfort of their own homes, Congressman Joseph D. Morelle, D-Rochester, said during the address to the Education and Labor Committee.
According to Timothy Ruetten, former director of the Jefferson County Office for the Aging, there needs to be an increase in federal funding to go along with the reauthorization of this act.
“It has increased slowly in small increments and it doesn’t match up with the amount of our population turning 60 and over,” he said Wednesday. “Funding impacts pretty much all programs across the board, so the funding would really need to double over the next five years to keep up with the aging population.”
Along with the need for more funding overall, Mr. Ruetten said another thing that is very important in rural communities is a flexibility in programming so facilities can match what is needed for their clients rather than federal funding specifically earmarked for things before it even reaches the community.
“Every service that’s provided is specifically designed to help our older population remain in the home in a healthy way and with dignity,” Mr. Ruetten said. “Without the Older Americans Act, the services would be cut dramatically, and if there isn’t added funding it will eventually impact these services at the local level.”
Echoing the needs of the communities serving large populations of older Americans, Congresswoman Stefanik said the five-year reauthorization will come with a funding increase of about 7% to meet the needs of seniors.
Through Meals on Wheels, family caregiver programs, transportation services and more, Congresswoman Stefanik told the Times Wednesday she believes this act will have a direct impact on improving the lives of seniors in her district.
“One of the most important parts of my job is making sure seniors have access to what they need,” the congresswoman said. “I’m really proud to be the leader in Washington on behalf of north country seniors.”