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NHU's Overview of the Older Americans Act

July 21, 1999

The nation has been slowly attempting to improve programs and services for all Americans. Recent legislation has been proposed that would improve Social Security programs, Medicaid and Medicare, and other programs for the elderly and disabled. However, a large amount of legislation has been proposed in the past Congress sessions as well as the current to amend the Older Americans Act (OAA) of 1965 and to authorize funding for future years. A large part of that proposed legislation includes the National Family Caregiver Program (see NHU's editorial on bill S. 10). Many people with disabilities and caregivers feel that the younger disabled should be included in the OAA, so that they are able to receive the same programs and services. The following is an overview and analysis of current and past legislation concerning the Older Americans Act and how amendments to the OAA affect younger persons with disabilities.

Unlike Older Americans, the younger disabled do not have a representative agency similar to the Administration on Aging or the Federal Council on Aging. Disabled Americans only have the National Council on Disability (NCD) that is an independent federal agency making recommendations to the President and Congress on issues affecting Americans with disabilities. However, it is not exclusively for the younger disabled. NCD is composed of 15 members appointed by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The NCD spent less money on services offered to disabled individuals than on personnel, rental, travel, and other administrative expenses. The OAA received $1.43 billion for FY1997, $1.45 billion for FY1998, $1.46 billion for FY1999 and $1.63 billion has been requested by the President for FY2000. The Administration on Aging received $14.80 million alone. Why are older individuals and older disabled receiving such a substantial amount for programs and services, while the younger disabled have only limited access to programs and services?

The following is a brief overview and history of the OAA to give individuals an understanding of the OAA and that younger disabled individuals have a right to the same services and programs as those provided to older individuals.

The Older Americans Act (OAA) of 1965 was created to aid older individuals in many aspects of their lives and was created due to concerns regarding the lack of programs and services for older individuals. The OAA has established many programs, such as recreation, nutrition, abuse support and service, housing, and more. This act includes all older individuals: physically disabled, abled, developmentally disabled, economically deprived, and economically stable. However, it is only for individuals over the age of 65. What about physically and developmentally disabled individuals under the age of 65? The majority of services and programs for the younger disabled are for older individuals as well. We believe that the younger disabled should be included in the OAA as the older individuals are included in most programs and services for the younger disabled.

Overview of the OAA

The Older Americans Act of 1965 according to public law was established "To provide assistance in the development of new or improved programs to help older persons through grants to the States for community planning and services and for training, through research, development, or training project grants, and to establish within the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and operating agency to be designated as the 'Administration on Aging'" (1965). Overall, the OAA was created in response to concerns about the lack of community service for older persons and the desire of policy makers to improve the status of seniors. The objectives of the OAA are as follows:

The OAA established through Title II the Administration on Aging (AoA) within the Department of Health and Human Services. The AoA currently supports 57 state agencies, 660 area agencies, 27,000 service providers and 6 separate service programs. It is the chief federal agency advocate for older persons. Also, the AoA authorizes the Federal Council on Aging. The purpose of the Federal Council on Aging is to advise the President and Congress on the needs of older persons. Since 1965, the Older Americans Act has been amended 13 times. The last time the act was amended was in 1993. There has been an ample amount of legislation proposed in the last several years with the intention of amending the OAA, but none has been passed.

Legislation has been considered by the 104th, 105th, and now the 106th Congress, but action never has been taken. Each of these sessions in congress were expected to re authorize the legislation, but none have done so. The last authorization of appropriations for the OAA expired at the end of the fiscal year (FY) 1995. The funding since the end of the FY1995 has been continued by appropriations law for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, and the Department of Agriculture that have continued the program. Besides the legislation not being re authorized, none of the sessions of congress have taken action upon new legislation that would have resulted in several modifications. This is, in part, due to the controversy around many issues of the proposed legislation that would amend the OAA.

Past Legislation

In the S.390 OAA Amendments of 1997 the idea of including individuals, other than older individuals, was proposed. However, this bill never received any action and the idea has not been pursued further or reintroduced.

The proposed S.390 bill reads:
Sec. 211(b) SERVICES TO INDIVIDUALS WHO ARE NOT OLDER INDIVIDUALS-Section 301(42 U.S.C. 3021) is amended by adding at the end the following subsection: '(d)(1)Federal funds paid to States under this title, and cash and in-kind contributions required by section 304(d)(2) as the nonfederal share expenditures made under this title, shall be used only for activities and services to benefit older individuals and other individuals as specifically provided in this title.

The summary of the proposed S.390 bill provided by THOMAS reads:
Title II: Other Amendments to the Older Americans Act of 1965
Subtitle B: State and Community Programs on Aging - Re authorizes, revises, and extends OAA's basic State grant program's supportive services and senior centers program, as well as the congregate nutrition services and home-delivered nutrition services program. (Sec. 211) States that nothing in such Act prohibits State and area agencies on aging from engaging in activities or providing services to benefit individuals who are not older individuals, using nonfederal cash or in-kind contributions (other than those required to match the Federal program share).

Other legislation was introduced into the 104th Congress that would re authorize the Act, but neither chamber took action. The legislation included H.R. 2570, reported by the House on Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee on April 25, 1996, and S. 1643, reported by the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee on July 31, 1996.

In the 105th Congress, H.R. 4099 was introduced by Representative Riggs, then-Chairman and the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth and Families of the House of Education and the Workforce Committee. This bill contained certain aspects of controversial proposals as listed below. H.R. 4099 received no action and was not pursued further. However, the legislation would have consolidated and restructured certain programs of the OAA and given more power to the states in the operation of service programs. Currently, the OAA authorizes 20 programs, but some of these programs have never been funded. This proposed amendment would reduce the programs authorized to 8 programs. Also, this bill and the 104th Congress bills would have made changes in the distribution of funds by the federal government, including the formula of allocations to grantees and the requirements regarding use of funds by grantees for enrollee wages and fringe benefits, administration, and other enrollee costs. H.R. 4099 contained many additional changes that surrounded controversial proposals.

Controversial Proposals include the following:

Two separate bills were created in response to criticism about the lack of action on re authorization, S.2295 (McCain) on July 13, 1998 to the 105th Congress, and H.R. 4344 (DeFazio) on July 29, 1998. These provided a 3-year re authorization of the OAA, but would have not made any amendments to the current law. The bills received substantial congressional support, but no further action was taken on these bills.

S.10 was introduced on January 19, 1999, by Mr. Daschle in the 106th Congress. It is a bill to provide health protection and needed assistance for older Americans, including access to health insurance for 55 to 65 year olds, assistance for individuals with long-term care needs, and social services for older Americans. This bill would establish a new programs National Family Caregiver Support Program that would provide grants to states for services to assist family caregivers of functionally and/or cognitively impaired elderly. These services would include assistance to caregivers in gaining access to services, providing information to caregivers, individual counseling, organization of support groups, and caregiver training to assist families to make decisions and solve programs related to their caregiving roles. This legislation is a part of a four-part Administration FY2000 initiative on long-term care for persons of all ages. Other parts include a tax credit for functionally and cognitively impaired persons of all ages, authorization of an office to offer group long-term care insurance to federal employees, and launch a national education campaign to inform Medicare beneficiaries about the program's limited coverage of long-term care services and about other long-term care options. Legislative action, so far, included reading the bill twice and referring to the Committee on Finance.

Other legislation proposed to the 106th Congress

H.R. 782 was introduced by Mr. Barrett of Nebraska (for himself, Mr. Martinez, Mr. McKeon, Mr. Goodling, and Mr. Clay) on February 23, 1999, which was referred to the Committee on Education and Workforce and then to the Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education, Training and Life-Long Learning on April 15, 1999. Subcommittee hearings were held on May 19, 1999. This bill is similar to S.2295 (McCain) and H.R. 4344 (DeFazio). H.R. 782 would authorize appropriations for the OAA for the fiscal years 2000 through 2003, but would not amend the existing OAA.

H.R. 1341 was introduced March 25, 1999, by Mr. Martinez (for himself and Mr. Waxman), which was referred to the Committee on Education and the Workforce. H.R. 1341 is equivalent to S. 10 (Daschle) that would establish a national family caregiver support program.

H.R.1637, introduced on April 29, 1999 by Mr. Martinez, is a bill to amend the Older Americans Act of 1965 to extend authorizations of appropriations for programs under the Act through fiscal year 2004, to establish a National Family Caregiver Support Program, to modernize aging programs and services, to address the need to engage in life course planning, and for other purposes.

S.960 was introduced on May 5, 1999, by Mr. Grassley. It is a bill to amend the Older Americans Act of 1965 to establish pension counseling programs, and for other purposes. The bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on HELP.

S.707 was introduced by Mr. Grassley on March 24, 1999. This bill is to amend the Older Americans Act of 1965 to establish a national family caregiver support program, and for other purposes. Senate actions include reading the bill twice and referring to the Committee on HELP.

H.R.773 was introduced on February 23, 1999 by Mr. DeFazio and is a bill to amend the Older Americans Act of 1965 to extend the authorizations of appropriations for that Act, and to make technical corrections. House Actions include the bill being referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and on March 19, 1999, the bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education, Training and Life-Long Learning.

As indicated previously, there as been a substantial lack of action taken by the legislators in amending the Older Americans Act due, in part, to the many controversial issues. While proposed bills remain stagnant in the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Senate, it gives younger (18 - 65) disabled individuals, caregivers, family, friends and other supporters a chance to encourage legislators to include the younger disabled in the Older Americans Act.

The programs and services provided by the OAA should be applicable to other individuals that are not older individuals, such as the younger disabled as indicated in the proposed S.390 bill. The disabled should be able to benefit from and should be included in the OAA. The editorial "Include Disabled Individuals in the Older Americans Act" provided by our website offers information on program and service differences as well as cost between older individuals and disabled individuals in Milwaukee County. Please view this editorial for detailed information on the inequalities of programs and services.

The disabled receive almost no money, programs or services directly from the federal government except from some services provided by the National Council on Disability. Most funds received by the disabled are through grants from the Federal Government to individual organizations or through programs that not only sponsor the disabled, but older individuals as well. Almost all programs and services utilized by the disabled are established for the disabled and older individuals. Specifically, the programs from the Department of Health and Family Services (DHFS) that are for the disabled are also for the elderly. While the older individuals have a Department on Aging through the DHFS, the disabled do not have a Department on Disabled through DHFS, but are expected to utilize the Department on Aging established for older individuals. This is similar in many other government agencies and offices, such as U.S. Department on Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Department on Labor, U.S. Social Security Administration and others. Being that the disabled receive benefits through government departments and agencies for older individuals and the older individuals receive all the benefits that disabled individuals receive, the OAA should be amended to include younger disabled individuals for the sake of equality.

Contact your Representative or Senator to express your concerns on this issue by clicking on U.S. House of Representatives or U.S. Senate. Each website provides contact information such as e-mail addresses, mailing addresses, telephone numbers and websites of each Representative or Senator.

Data and information for this editorial was obtained, in part, from the Congressional Research Service Reports for Congress (95-917 EPW, September 19, 1997; 95-917 EPW, February 12, 1999; RL30055, Older Americans Act: 106th Congress legislation), the legislation itself retrieved from public law and THOMAS, an electronic database of legislative records provided by the Library of Congress, U.S. Census Bureau and Budget Overview for FY 93 & 97 provided by IBERT.

For more on the topic of Legislation:

Legislation and the Law

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