STATEMENT: INTRODUCTION OF THE OLDER AMERICANS ACT AMENDMENTS OF 2006
Mr. President, I rise today with my colleagues on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee -- Chairman Enzi, Ranking Member Kennedy, and Senator Mikulski -- as we join in the introduction of the Older Americans Act Amendments of 2006. Senator Mikulski and I worked to draft and pass the Older Americans Act Amendments of 2000, and I am proud to have worked with her again to improve and update these important programs.
I also want to thank Senators Enzi and Kennedy for making this reauthorization a priority for the HELP Committee. Over the months we have negotiated this bipartisan bill, I have greatly appreciated their thoughtful and steady work to get the Older Americans Act to this point. They understand well, as I do, that the quick passage of this reauthorization is the number one recommendation that came out of the White House Conference on Aging. As I have mentioned in the hearings I've chaired of the Subcommittee on Retirement Security and Aging, the passage of the Older Americans Act reauthorization is the top priority for the subcommittee. Today's bill introduction is an important step forward in that process.
As you know, older Americans are a vital and rapidly growing segment of our population. Over 36 million people living in the United States are over the age of 65, accounting for about 12 percent of the population. The Census Bureau projects that 45 years from now, people 65 and older will number nearly 90 million in the United States and comprise 21 percent of the population.
The Older Americans Act is an important service provider for these Americans. I strongly believe that this reauthorization updates and strengthens the Act in many ways. Changes to this bill include plans and means to prepare for changes to the aging demographics. This bill creates a Federal interagency council responsible for ensuring appropriate planning for baby boomer-related needs and population shifts across agencies. Additionally, it will provide for grants and technical assistance for local aging service providers to plan for the baby boomer population.
Our bill will also increase the authorization levels of the National Family Caregiver Support Program by 25 percent over current appropriated levels over the next 5 years. This program is also expanded to allow for those caring for loved ones with Alzheimer's -- between the ages of 50 and 60 -- to become eligible for support services. Furthermore, it will clarify that this program will serve elderly caregivers who are caring for their adult children with developmental disabilities. Lastly, it clarifies that grandparents caring for adopted grandchildren are covered under this program, and it lowers the age threshold for grandparents to 55 years old. These are important changes to this program and will affect the quality of life for so many individuals who are struggling with the pressures of caring for loved ones.
This bill also encourages the voluntary contributions related to Title III services from those individuals with a self-declared income at or above 200 percent of the poverty level and based on actual cost of service. This will help programs such as Meals-on-Wheels to expand their services and enable them to more effectively take contributions from those older Americans willing to pay for services. As the number of seniors increase, we need to modify our programs to ensure their economic sustainability.
Our amendments will also allow the Department of Health and Human Services to award grants related to the improvement of assistive technology for older Americans. The goal of this provision is to enable older Americans to have the necessary technology to monitor their health and help them remain in their homes as they age. We know that most Americans want to remain independent and in their homes as they age, and these grants will help them do just that.
This bill also creates a new grant program which provides grants to create innovative models that allow individuals to remain in community-based settings. The need for this grant program was discussed at length in a hearing I held on models for aging in place -- specifically Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities. As I stated before, Americans want to stay in their communities as they age; and this bill will help them do just that.
Further, this bill creates a new grant program, based on recommendations in the President's FY07 budget, to provide grants to States to enable consumer driven choices with respect to long-term care. Grants can be used to encourage the planning for long-term care for older Americans. It will also facilitate access to long-term care choices and opportunities and advice on choices for care.
Our bill also updates the Title V, Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) to allow for a mandatory 4-year competitive grant cycle. It provides a Sense of the Senate supporting the community service aspect of the program. Additionally, it limits the time on the program for participants to 3 years, with a 20 percent exemption for certain hard to serve populations. This provision balances the need for limiting the time a person spends in this employment program with the recognition that certain populations have special needs.
Of great importance to me, this bill also amends the Act to focus attention on the mental health needs of older Americans. These changes will establish grants for mental health screening of older Americans and increased awareness of its affects on the elderly population. Too often the mental health needs of older Americans are overlooked; however, they can be as serious and life-threatening as any other illness. The mental health needs of our seniors must be taken more seriously and dealt with more aggressively. I believe that this provision significantly moves us forward in this struggle.
Finally, this bill includes the language of the Elder Justice bill reported unanimously from the HELP Committee in the 108th Congress to (1) create an office of elder abuse prevention in the Administration on Aging; (2) create grants to the states and tribes to prevent elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation; and (3) collects data from states and other entities on elder abuse. These are important provisions to improve the safety and protect the wellbeing of our parents, grandparents, and other elderly loved ones.
Again, I thank Senator Enzi, Senator Kennedy, and Senator Mikulski for their dedication to the needs of older Americans. I look forward to our continuing work together on this bill as we work to bring it to the Senate floor and the President's desk.
Mr. President, I request unanimous consent that remarks be printed next to the bill in the Congressional Record.