How The Older Americans Act Affects Us

By Becky Blum RN

Senior Nutrition Program Director

I wonder if a nation were judged by how well it cares for its weakest and most vulnerable people where the United States would stand. My guess is that we would not receive high marks. According to a study by the Economic Policy Institute poverty among senior citizens is increasing and nearly half of all seniors are now unable to afford their basic living expenses. Poverty and hunger are even worse for older women, minorities and those living in rural communities.

One of the ways that the government addressed this issue back in 1965 was by enacting the Older Americans Act, signed into law by Lyndon B. Johnson. It includes an extremely cost effective program for providing high-quality nutrition services to more than 1 million frail and isolated older adults by way of home delivered meals and subsidized meals at congregate sites. It is this funding which Office for the Aging uses to run most of the Senior Nutrition Program here in Chautauqua County.

The program not only addresses the hunger and isolation needs of our aging population but it also saves the taxpayers substantial sums of money. Statistics show that older people who are not well nourished are more likely to suffer from serious illnesses and have increased risk for falls and fractures. This, in turn, increases emergency room visits and hospitalizations. We can feed a senior for an entire year for the cost of one day in the hospital. Providing adequate nutrition to senior populations reduces the need for extremely costly nursing home placement as well.

In spite of the fact that the Older Americans Act has been successful in keeping seniors more independent and healthy, it has been inadequately funded for years.

Only a percentage of seniors who need programming provided by the act are able to receive services. There are waiting lists throughout the United States. Sequestration cuts made available funding even lower and more cuts had to be made to programs for the elderly. This was the first time in my 13 years at Office for the Aging that I had to cut nutrition services due to funding cuts from the government. Senior citizens living in the United States of America should not have to be worried about their next meal or have to choose between paying their electric bill, eating or getting their prescriptions filled.

We are seeing an ever expanding population of older Americans as the baby boomers age. It is estimated that every 8 seconds someone in the U.S. turns age 65.

We must continue to support and provide the valuable services within the act so that our aging population has access to the means to remain in the community. The other services funded through the “Older Americans Act” include but are not limited to: health education, disease prevention, caregiver support, elder rights and protection, home care services, and job training and placement.

The Congressional authorization for the Older Americans Act expired in 2011 and as of this date has not been re-authorized by the federal government. While it has been extended, it deserves to be fully re-authorized with increased funding. If you are reading this contact your Congressional and Senate representatives and voice your support for the re-authorization with increased funding of the Older Americans Act as well as ending the Sequestration cuts to senior service programs.

We cannot allow the continued level funding or any decreased funding for senior services when the need is escalating. We have been asked to do more with less for many years. Seniors have the numbers and can be a resounding voice to elected officials, let your voices be heard.

The Rainbow Inn in Dunkirk is no longer available to our Dining out Program participants due to its closing.

Please remember to contribute toward your OFA nutrition services if you can. These programs are not sustainable at current levels without the support of participant contributions. Be aware that Food Stamps can be used toward your contribution. I do not want to have to make any further cuts to nutrition services. Thank you for your support.

Chautauqua County Office for the Aging Senior Nutrition Program provides nutritious noon meals at several Congregate Dining Sites throughout the county along with a Restaurant Dining out Program. Our Dietitian, Cheryl Walhstrom, RD is available for nutrition counseling in your home at no cost to you. We also sponsor several exercise programs. Call the office for more details and information.

Call: 753-4471, 661-7471 or 363-4471.