BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
By Mr. SANDERS (for himself, Mr. Blumenthal, Mr. Kerry, Ms. Mikulski, Mr. Begich, Mr. Akaka, Mr. Durbin, Mrs. Gillibrand, Ms. Klobuchar, Mr. Leahy, Mr. Wyden, Mr. Franken, Mrs. Boxer, Mr. Johnson of South Dakota, Mr. Merkley, and Mr. Menendez):
S. 3562. A bill to reauthorize and improve the Other Americans Act of 1965, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
Mr. SANDERS. Mr. President, today I am very proud to introduce the Older Americans Act reauthorization of 2012 bill along with 14 of my colleagues, including Senators BLUMENTHAL, KERRY, MIKULSKI, BEGICH, AKAKA, DURBIN, GILLIBRAND, KLOBUCHAR, LEAHY, WYDEN, FRANKEN, JOHNSON, and MERKLEY. This bill is the result of an impressive team effort. We have reached out to a number of members on the committee and others who have brought forth ideas of their own, and I am very proud as chairman of the Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging to have introduced this bill. I wish to thank the director of the subcommittee, Ashley Carson Cottingham, for her work, as well as Sophie Kasimow and Erica Solway.
It is disappointing to me that this important piece of legislation has not been dealt with during this session, but on behalf of the millions of elderly people to whom it applies and for whom it will make life better, I am introducing it today because it will lay the groundwork for what we have to do next session.
Originally enacted in 1965, the Older Americans Act was the first edition by the Federal Government to help senior citizens remain independent in their homes and in their communities. The Older Americans Act has historically received bipartisan support.
This act provides Federal funding for some important programs with which many Americans are familiar. Among others is the Meals on Wheels Program. All over America we have seniors who are frail, who are unable to leave their homes, and every single day all over this country there are volunteers who are delivering hot, nutritious meals to seniors. I wish to thank all of those volunteers and to tell them we are going to do the best we can to increase funding to end some of those waiting lines that now exist throughout this country in terms of seniors being able to get the Meals on Wheels Program.
Another important nutrition program the Older Americans Act deals with is the Congregate Meal Program. Every day in Vermont and I know all over this country the elderly come to senior centers, where they socialize and have a good time and are able to break through their isolation and also receive nutritious meals. The meals they receive are significantly funded by the Congregate Meal Program. In my view, they are inadequately funded, and we want to increase funding for that program as well.
I would mention that in the State of Vermont alone--just one small State--almost 1 million Congregate and Meals on Wheels are served every single year. That is 1 million meals in a small State such as Vermont.
Mr. President, we are in the midst of a terrible recession. Unemployment is too high, wages are too low, and many people have lost their homes. But in the midst of this recession, we do not talk enough about the plight of many elderly people. They are living their lives, often in great financial distress, under the radar screen. I think we are not paying enough attention to their problems.
Today, incredibly enough, one in five seniors over the age of 65 is living on an average income of $7,500 per year, and the number of seniors going hungry is rising. Hunger among seniors in the United States today is a serious problem. In fact, there are over 5 million seniors who face the threat of hunger and others who are struggling every single day to make sure they have enough food in the refrigerator to take care of their most basic needs.
The very good news is that the Older Americans Act has developed programs to address these needs. Yet, because we have more seniors who are in need of these programs, it is absolutely imperative that we address the problems of hunger and make sure every senior in this country gets the nutrition he or she needs.
This bill we are submitting today with 14 cosponsors will request higher authorization for nutrition programs, for supportive services, and for jobs programs. One of the things the Older Americans Act does--and not a lot of people know this--is it provides employment opportunities for many seniors. This is important because not only does it allow hard-pressed seniors to earn additional revenue, but it also allows them to go out into the workforce and put meaning into their lives, which is extremely important. This legislation also provides for chronic disease self-management and the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program. The bill also strengthens efforts to identify and prevent elder abuse--a serious problem in our country--support for family caregivers and care coordination activities, workforce for seniors, and increases protections for seniors living in nursing homes and receiving home care services.
Mr. President, we need to see the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act early in the next Congress. With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 each day and middle-class families experiencing rising costs from education to health care as well as the need to provide care to their aging relatives, we are at a critical moment in terms of how we address the very serious problems facing senior citizens.
The interesting point about the Older Americans Act and about the Nutrition Program is that while, yes, it is an investment of Federal dollars, in the long run it actually saves us money. We had a very interesting hearing on this issue, and we heard from physicians who told us what common sense would suggest. If seniors do not get the nutrition they need, if they become malnourished, they are obviously more likely to become ill, end up in an emergency room or in the hospital. In addition, when we have senior citizens who are not getting the care and attention they need at home, the nutrition they need, they are more likely to suffer serious falls, break hips, and end up in a hospital, at great expense.
So the bottom line here is not really rocket science. It is that if we make sure seniors throughout the country--those who are vulnerable, who are frail, who do not have a lot of money--get the nutrition and the attention they deserve while at home, they will be healthier and less likely to end up in emergency rooms and in hospitals at great expense to our health care system. So investing in the Older Americans Act is not only the right thing to do, it is not only the humane thing to do in terms of taking care of the most vulnerable and fragile people in our society, it also makes good financial sense for our country.
Mr. President, I thank very much the 14 cosponsors we have. We are going to aggressively do our best to make sure this legislation is passed either in the lameduck session or when we return next year.
With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT