March 31, 2020

Older Americans Act Reauthorized Through 2024

BY Andrea Price-Carter

The OAA is the nation’s law focused on supporting the independence, dignity and well-being of older adults. Since 1965, the OAA has supported programs that improve the lives of seniors – particularly those who are low-income. Services supported by the OAA include congregate and home delivered meals, specialized transportation services, employment and volunteer programs, adult day care, senior centers and Long-Term Care ombudsman activities.

OAA programs had not been reauthorized since 2016. This new reauthorization allows for a new commitment to our nation’s older adults. Funding levels for these services include a 7 percent increase in 2020, and a 6 percent increase annually for the remainder of the authorization.  However, most of the OAA program funding will occur through the Congressional appropriation process.

LeadingAge members can continue to advance OAA programs that support the independence of older adults by collaborating with state partners to administer home and community-based services (HCBS), nutrition services, in-home supportive services, caregiver support and community service employment.

To ensure there is a committed workforce available to work in aging services, the new law includes a LeadingAge supported initiative allowing the Administration for Community Living (ACL) to include a “Direct Care Workforce Demonstration Project” on the list of authorized initiatives under Title IV of the OAA. This demonstration could be an opportunity for ACL to help meet the growing demand for direct care workers to keep up with the growth of America’s aging population.

The law also requires age-friendly communities, developed by the Interagency Coordinating Committee, to emphasize improving coordination to provide housing, health care and supportive services to older individuals. ACL will also be responsible for adding projects that address social isolation and loneliness among older adults and developing a long-term plans that addresses prevention and responds to negative health effects associated with social isolation.

The law also reauthorizes several critical OAA programs that:

  • Extend the RAISE Family Caregivers Act, for one additional year;
  • Upgrade data collection methods to understand unmet need in nutrition programs;
  • Improve the availability of transportation resources to seniors;
  • Improve elder abuse prevention activities through increased outreach and education activities; and
  • Codifies existing falls prevention and chronic disease self-management programs.

OAA COVID-19 Funds.

Supporting older Americans during the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to be a priority for Congress. In activities related to providing resources to the aging network addressing COVID-19, the ACL received $250 million for grants to ensure older adults will have access to nutrition services and other critical services. Congress awarded ACL the emergency funding through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, that was signed into law on March 18, 2020.  Congress also waived state match requirements.

Additionally, the third Coronavirus Congressional response, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law last Friday, provides $955 million to ACL programs. The funding allocates $750 million for Senior Nutrition, $200 million for HCBS services and $100 million for family caregivers, $20 million for Elder Care Justice and Long-Term Care Ombudsman as well as other initiatives.  It also includes more flexibility in the ways states can spend the money for the senior nutrition OAA nutrition programs.

The CARES Act also includes language that affirms State Long-Term Care Ombudsman are to have continuing direct access (or through the use of technology) to residents of long-term care facilities, during the COVID-19 public health emergency in FY 2020.