A Senate committee today advanced legislation by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to reauthorize the Older Americans Act, which supports Meals on Wheels and other services for the country's rapidly-growing population of seniors.
The 5-year reauthorization sent to the Senate floor by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee was cosponsored by Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the chairman, and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the ranking member. Sanders chairs the Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging.
First passed by Congress in 1965, the Older Americans Act provides essential services for seniors like nutrition programs, job training, caregiver support, transportation, preventive health services and protection from abuse and financial exploitation.
Sanders made the case that Older Americans Act programs are a good investment. "We can feed a senior for an entire year for the cost of one day in a hospital," he said. One study found that for every $1 in federal spending on Meals on Wheels, there is as much as a $50 return in Medicaid savings alone. Another program to prevent falls, the leading cause of injuries for people 65 and older, has been credited with reducing accidents and yielding savings on costly hospital and nursing home care.
As baby boomers age, the senior population in America has grown dramatically. Since 2006, the last year in which the Older Americans Act was reauthorized, there has been a 20 percent increase in the U.S. population of people 60 years old or older.
But inflation-adjusted spending on Older Americans Act programs has not kept pace. "All states are serving more seniors in need with less money," Sanders said. "I strongly believe we should devote considerably more funding to these programs."
Sanders said he is pleased that this bill has the strong support of more than 50 organizations representing the voices of tens of millions of Americans, including AARP, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, the National Council on Aging, the Alzheimer's Association, and the Meals on Wheels Association of America.
"In the year 2013, in the United States of America, seniors should not be worried about how they will get their next meal. They should not be forced to choose between paying their electric bills or buying their medications. They should have the supports available to them to remain in their homes and communities. American seniors deserve to live with dignity and with a sense of security, and the Older Americans Act helps to provide that," Sanders said.