What would you do if you were on a tight budget and discovered a minor leak in your roof? Would you reduce other household expenditures and spend a few hundred dollars for a handyman to fix it, or would you put a bucket under the leak and ignore it until the entire ceiling needed to be replaced at a cost of untold thousands of dollars? It seems like a no brainer when the cost of doing nothing far would outweigh the seemingly small sacrifice of deferring an evening out to dinner and the movies and the possible scorn you may endure from disappointed family members. Unfortunately, many decision makers at the Federal level fail to apply this kind of thinking, and defer investing in programs that prevent or delay much larger expenditures in the immediate future.
The SEAGO Area Agency on Aging administers an array of services for the elderly and disabled that help individuals live independently in their homes and communities and avoid costly hospitalization and nursing home care at the local taxpayers’ expense. The Older Americans Act (OAA), last reauthorized in 2006, provides much of the funding for these programs, and expired at the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 because Congress failed to pass reauthorization legislation. Congress has continued to fund OAA activities through the annual appropriation process, but years of stagnant funding, budget cuts, and sequestration imposed in FY 2011 have taken their toll on aging services in our region, and we are increasingly concerned about the ability of seniors to remain living independently, and more eligible seniors across the SEAGO region face waiting periods for many OAA services.
While there has been partial restoration of sequestration cuts over the past three fiscal years for some OAA programs, the threat of sequestration is not gone, and some critical OAA programs have seen no restoration from sequestration and are receiving less money now than they did in FY 2012. In addition, funding for these programs has not kept pace with inflation and the ever-increasing growth in the older population in our country and our state.
We were encouraged to see that a bipartisan agreement between House majority and minority leaders enabled passage of the House’s version of the Senate-passed S. 192 OAA reauthorization bill by voice vote on March 21st. The bill (as amended) that must now be reconsidered by the Senate reauthorizes these services through FY 2019 and strengthens the law by:
- Providing better protection for vulnerable elders through promotion of best practices for responding to elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation in long-term care facilities;
- Streamlining the law by eliminating outdated and unfunded programs and improving program administration;
- Promoting evidence-based disease prevention and health promotion services;
- Adjusting the formula for supportive services, congregate meals, home-delivered meals, and preventive services programs to account for geographic changes in the older population (a win for Arizona); and
- Aligning senior employment services with the workforce development system.
Although the bill includes a modernized funding formula that reflects more recent population trends and helps to ensure funding meets the needs of older adults across the nation, it provides no significant increase in overall spending. In addition, flat overall funding levels for FY 2016 and FY 2017 were established by the Bipartisan Budget Agreement that was signed into law last fall. As a result, lawmakers will be making difficult decisions about any increases for discretionary programs, including OAA and other aging programs, and need to hear from their constituents as they set spending priorities.
OAA programs and services protect vulnerable senior citizens and save taxpayers money in the long run. We encourage readers to contact their Members of Congress. Ask them not to be penny wise and pound foolish, and at a minimum, to restore all OAA programs to the pre-sequestration levels of FY 2010.