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Election Year Politics, Renewing Older Americans Act Play Key Roles for Seniors in 2012

NCOA says entitlements are top priorities but sees no major changes this year

Jan. 25, 2012 – The National Council on Aging has identified the six top key issue priorities for 2012 and encourages older adults and their caregivers to advocate for key issues that could greatly affect their lives, and their livelihoods.

While Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are top priorities, and will likely receive the bulk of media attention, NCOA doesn't anticipate any significant movement on these issues in 2012.


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However, NCOA has developed a list of the top 6 issues that seniors should understand, track, and speak out on in 2012. Number one on that list (see list below) is the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act, which is seldom noticed and usually a very low priority for most senior citizens.

In an NCOA Issue Brief, the organization describes this law and its importance to senior citizens -

“The Older Americans Act (OAA) is the backbone of services to America’s aging population. First enacted in 1965, the OAA helps seniors to stay independent and healthy through a wide range of services and programs, including:

“Meals on Wheels, congregate meals, senior center services, transportation, support for family caregivers, home and community services, health promotion and disease prevention, civic engagement, and community service employment for low-income older workers. With strong support from the National Council on Aging (NCOA) and many other aging-related organizations, Congress reauthorized the OAA in the fall of 2006, strengthening it in numerous ways and adding important new initiatives.

Major OAA programs

Following are the major components of the OAA, receiving 93% of the annual appropriations:

Supportive Services and Senior Centers (Title III-B) – services that enable older persons to remain in their own homes and age in place, rather than enter institutions. The most frequently provided services are home health, personal care and transportation.

Nutrition Services (Title III-C) – congregate and home-delivered meals, increasing the health, functionality and quality-of-life for millions of seniors.

National Family Caregiver Support Program (Title III-E) – services to help ease the burdens of caregivers, including respite care, counseling and supplemental services. More than one-fifth of all households nationally are caring for someone 50 years old or more.

Senior Community Service Employment Program (Title V, SCSEP) – part-time employment and training for low-income workers, helping to lift them out of poverty and encourage a sense of self-worth, while strengthening communities through community service job placements.

New programs in OAA

In addition, these valuable new initiatives added to the OAA in 2006 deserve sufficient financial investments:

National Center on Benefits Outreach and Enrollment – marshaling person-centered, cost effective techniques to enroll low-income seniors in a broad range of federal, state and private benefits programs.

Chronic Disease Self Management Program – This Disease Prevention and Health Promotion initiative of the Health and Long-Term Care Programs (formerly Choices for Independence) provides national technical assistance to develop evidence-based educational and behavioral change programs in the aging network to reduce the risk of injury, disease, and disability. As demonstrated by the Stanford Chronic Disease Self- Management Program, there is ample evidence that such initiatives produce significant Medicare and Medicaid savings.”

Top 6 Policy Issues Affecting Seniors in 2012

1. Older Americans Act (OAA):

The OAA is up for reauthorization, which offers a prime opportunity to strengthen and modernize aging services to ensure that we meet the diverse needs of our growing older population—especially those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged. The OAA funds critical, cost-effective programs that allow seniors to stay healthy and independent in their communities. These include job training and placement (under the Senior Community Service Employment Program - SCSEP), health promotion and disease prevention, senior nutrition programs, senior centers, caregiver support, and more. Action in the Senate is expected soon.

2. Extensions of Medicare Low-Income Protections, "Doc Fix," and Unemployment Insurance:

At the end of last year, Congress passed a bill to extend until Feb. 29 several programs that provide key benefits to the most vulnerable older adults. Now lawmakers must pass a long-term extension to continue these programs. They include the Qualified Individual (QI) program, which helps disadvantaged seniors pay their Medicare Part B premiums; Medicare physician payments (the "doc fix"), to prevent serious cuts in payments to doctors under Medicare; and Unemployment Insurance benefits to continue support for individuals struggling to find work. Seniors should also be mindful that some want to cut Medicare or prevention benefits to pay for these and other extensions.

3. Senior Program Funding Cuts:

Budget cuts over the past year have significantly affected the most vulnerable older adults, with major reductions in housing, energy, and employment assistance for low-income seniors. The combination of these funding cuts, a rapidly growing senior population, and increased demand for economic assistance means millions of older adults will not get the services they need to make ends meet. Funding for senior programs will continue to be in jeopardy throughout the year.

4. Long-Term Care:

As part of the Affordable Care Act, Congress passed a new voluntary, long-term care insurance program called the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Program (CLASS). CLASS would allow individuals to plan for long-term services as they age and remain at home rather than being forced to spend-down their life savings or enter a nursing home. However, implementation of CLASS has been suspended. Some opponents in Congress believe the program should be repealed, but have offered nothing in its place to address the growing problem that millions of families and caregivers struggle with every day. NCOA and a broad range of organizations representing seniors and people with disabilities believe CLASS can be fixed and must not be repealed – at least until a consensus can be developed on a viable alternative.

5. Access to Preventive Benefits:

In addition to funding for senior health promotion and disease prevention under the OAA, some members of Congress have tried to repeal or significantly cut other preventive benefits. For example, the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which includes resources for proven chronic disease self-management programs for seniors, has been specifically targeted for repeal and major budget cuts. The Senate also proposed last year to include new investments for elder falls prevention under this fund. The proposed repeals of health care reform also would mean elimination of the new Medicare annual wellness visit and increased copayments for other preventive services that are now free under Medicare.

6. Hunger and Food Insecurity:

In addition to funding for Meals on Wheels, congregate meals programs, and food banks, renewal of agriculture legislation (the Farm Bill) provides an opportunity to increase access to nutrition assistance for seniors. Only one-third of low-income seniors who are eligible currently participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly Food Stamps). Changes that can increase access and benefits include altering eligibility rules, increasing the minimum benefit, streamlining and modernizing applications, and enhancing access to healthy food options. However, in the name of deficit reduction, some in Congress are likely to propose reducing access to these benefits.


"America's seniors have never been a group to stay silent," said Jim Firman, NCOA president and CEO. "Collectively, they can help raise the voices of millions of older adults and fight for much-needed services and supports for our most vulnerable population."

For tips on how to advocate, additional information on these issues, and directions for contacting your members of Congress, visit

NCOA Describes Itself:
“The National Council on Aging is a nonprofit service and advocacy organization headquartered in Washington, DC. NCOA is a national voice for millions of older adults—especially those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged—and the community organizations that serve them. It brings together nonprofit organizations, businesses, and government to develop creative solutions that improve the lives of all older adults. NCOA works with thousands of organizations across the country to help seniors find jobs and benefits, improve their health, live independently, and remain active in their communities. For more information, please visit: | |


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