By Aaron Tax, Director of Federal Government Relations at Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE).
May is of course Older Americans Month. And given that it is Older Americans Month, what is one of the most important things we can do to honor older Americans? Reauthorize the Older Americans Act (OAA)! What is that, you ask? It’s probably the most important piece of aging legislation that most people in our country don’t know anything about.
- Did you know?
- The OAA originally passed in 1965 as part of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society?
- The OAA is one of three big pieces of legislation that form the safety net for older adults in the United States, with Social Security providing income supports, Medicare providing healthcare supports, and the OAA providing the “everything else” that allows older adults to stay at home and age in place in their communities.
- In fact, the OAA is the primary vehicle for the organization and delivery of social services and supports and nutrition programs for older adults and their caregivers in our country.
- Senator Bennet, from Colorado, has been an enormous champion of elders from our diverse communities. In fact, in 2012, he introduced two bills that would help our populations:
- Given that the OAA was due to be reauthorized in 2011, where are we now?
- Suffice it to say, the act is still being funded, although funding has taken a huge hit because of the sequester.
- In the meantime, advocates, including the coalition of advocates who form the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations (LCAO), have been pushing for Congress to move the reauthorization forward.
- A bi-partisan Senate bill, which ultimately passed out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee on January 6th, 2014, awaits further action by the Senate, pending an on-going negotiation over funding formulas (how OAA money is divvied up to the states). While Senators Sanders and Bennet put in a good fight for inclusion of our diverse elders amendments in the final bill, the bill that passed out of committee unfortunately does not include any of our diverse elder priorities.
- On January 10th, three House members introduced a bi-partisan, “straight” reauthorization of the OAA, HR 3850, to demonstrate that Republicans and Democrats both believe in the OAA and can successfully work together to strengthen the law.
- And on February 28, 2014, Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX) introduced HR 4122, the Older Americans Act Reauthorization Act of 2014. It builds upon the bi-partisan bill that ultimately passed out of the Senate HELP committee on January 6th, 2014. Significantly, the House bill includes a number of the diverse elders priorities, including all three of our LGBT priorities for the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act: listing LGBT older adults as a group of greatest social need; data collection; and permanently establishing the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging.
- We are eagerly awaiting further action in the House and we will keep up the fight in both chambers to advance the interests of our diverse elders.
Aaron Tax is the Director of Federal Government Relations for Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) where he advocates for LGBT-inclusive federal aging policies that account for the unique needs of LGBT older adults. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.
In recognition of Older Americans Month, the Diverse Elders Coalition is featuring stories relevant to older Americans of color and LGBT elders during May. A new story will be shared every Tuesday throughout the month. Be sure to visit diverseelders.org regularly during the month of May.