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Statement on Reauthorization of the Older Americans Act by Jeanetter C. Takamura
Assistant Secretary for Aging
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education, Training and Life-long Learning
April 15, 1999

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this hearing on the Administration's proposal to reauthorize the Older Americans Act (the Act).

Mr. Chairman, we appreciate your leadership and commitment to working in a bipartisan manner toward the reauthorization of the Act. I am pleased to be joined today by my colleague, Deputy Assistant Secretary Uhalde from the Employment and Training Administration at the Department of Labor. The Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Labor worked together to develop the Administration's reauthorization bill for the Older Americans Act.

The opening days of the year 2000 are less than eight months away. As we stand on the threshold of an extraordinary time in our country's history, we know there will be more older persons, more caregivers and greater generational and ethnic diversity in America than ever before. These demographic realities present our nation and its leaders with a myriad of possibilities, opportunities and challenges.

Today, one in every six Americans, or 44 million people, is 60 years of age or older. Most older Americans are active, productive members of their families and communities. Some are at risk of losing their independence. These include four million Americans age 85 and older and persons who are frail and living alone.

Early in the next century, 76 million baby boomers-born between 1946 and 1964-will join the ranks of older Americans. Mr. Chairman, in your Subcommittee alone, approximately one half of your members are baby boomers. According to the Census Bureau, one of every nine baby boomers will live to at least 90 years of age. This alone will cause a number of societal challenges to become more prominent. Among the most noticeable challenges are the impact of eldercare responsibility on families, the increasing strain on programs and services for older adults -- as many of the Act's programs have not been modernized since their establishment in the 1960's -- and the need for individuals across the life span to appropriately prepare for their older years.

The need to reauthorize the Older Americans Act has never been more evident. A strong Older Americans Act will ensure that in the new century older persons and their families will have access to critical supportive services as they address their own longevity.

Our reauthorization proposal sets the stage for the more strategic, effective and efficient delivery of home and community-based services and programs for present and future older Americans and their caregivers. It preserves the Act's unique place in history as a strong advocate for frail and vulnerable older Americans. It also presents an essential new vision and agenda to prepare America for the growing longevity of its people.

Our reathorization proposal builds upon the proposal presented and supported by this Administration during the last two Congresses. It continues essential services and programs for older persons and their families, and the targeting of programs and services to those in greatest social and economic need, with particular attention to low-income minority elders. It allows states the option of instituting cost sharing for certain services, with the exception of critical access, protective and nutrition services. Recognizing the importance and distinct role of each title of the Act, our proposal maintains all seven current titles, but consolidates and integrates groups of programs into broader categories. It simplifies and streamlines title IV and renames it "State and Local Innovations and Programs of National Significance" to better reflect its important and historic role in expanding the nation's knowledge and understanding of the older population and the aging process through innovative ideas and best practices in programs and services around the nation. It maintains a separate title for the provision of critical services to Native American elders, who are among the most disadvantaged groups in our country. And it preserves title VII, Vulnerable Elder Rights Protections, but consolidates funding for its four components (elder abuse, long-term care ombudsman programs, legal services development and outreach, counseling and assistance) to give states funding flexibility and allow them to develop systems, provide information and assistance, and plan for the needs of individuals throughout their life course.

Mr. Chairman, we believe that the Act also must be strengthened if we are to adequately and successfully address the challenges of the new millennium. In order to improve and strengthen the flexibility of the Older Americans Act, we propose to streamline the operations of state programs, add flexibility by eliminating unnecessary federal requirements, and build a more dynamic customer orientation. We propose to strengthen the partnerships within the aging network and devolve more responsibility to states and local communities. The Older Americans Act proposal acknowledges the promise of evidence-based research and of technological advances in modernizing service delivery programs and in developing solutions to current and future challenges.

The three significant changes in our reauthorization proposal address issues faced by a diverse and rapidly changing society. Let me briefly describe them to you.

1. We propose to establish an unprecedented National Family Caregiver Support Program to provide vital services and support for families who care for vulnerable and at-risk older individuals. This program establishes a critical new focus on family caregivers of older Americans, paralleling the longstanding emphasis of the Act on services for older persons. The proposed National Family Caregiver Support Program, to be established through the amendment of title III-D of the Older Americans Act, is funded at $125 million in the President's FY 2000 Budget to assist approximately 250,000 families each year. A nationwide infrastructure for family caregiver support would be available through state offices on aging working in partnership with area agencies on aging, service providers and consumer organizations. Caregiver support would include information and assistance, counseling, caregiver education and support groups, respite and supplemental services.

Mr. Chairman, this proposal would make a difference to families. Families provide 95 percent of the long-term care for frail older Americans. Almost three quarters of informal caregivers are women, many are older and vulnerable themselves, or are running Households and parenting children. Many caregivers have had to cut back on their hours of work to provide elder care for their loved ones. Research tells us that providing care to older persons exacts a heavy emotional, physical and financial toll. The Proposed National Family Caregiver Support Program, part of the Administration's multi-faceted long-term care plan announced in January by the President, would do much to alleviate the burden and stress experienced by families on a daily basis.

2. The Administration on Aging reauthorization proposal also calls for new authority for states to modernize service delivery in response to demographic, technological and environmental changes, as well as to meet the needs of diverse segments of the older population. In order to sustain and improve program quality and effectiveness, the Administration on Aging proposes to establish opportunities for updating of Older Americans Act services and programs, many of which were organized three decades ago. Each day, an equivalent of a small American town-6,000 people-turns 60 years of age. This pace will only increase with the aging of the baby boomers. Older Americans Act-funded programs and services are serving a larger and increasingly more diverse population of older Americans and their families. The number and types of older persons are growing rapidly. At the same time, technological and other advances are available for transfer and incorporation in programs and services.

At the Administration on Aging's recent national symposium on longevity in Baltimore, a variety of distinguished researchers presented the latest findings in "eldertech"or "gerontechnology."New designs, developments and uses of technology are being generated in the private sector and within academic institutions to assist persons who are frail and vulnerable to remain in their communities. Our network must access the technological advances that are transforming our society and economy. Our modernization proposal would give flexibility to state agencies on aging, working in collaboration with area agencies on aging, to use the greater of $300,000 or 4 percent from title III supportive and nutrition service funds to develop, test and implement innovative approaches to delivering services to older Americans and their families.

3. Our final new proposal to the Older Americans Act is one that affects each and every one of us, life course planning. This proposal is critical as we work together to prepare America for its longevity. Mr. Chairman, more people in this country spend more time planning for their vacations and for holidays than they do their own future. As longevity becomes increasingly commonplace, a systematic approach is needed to assist individuals and families to understand and be prepared to meet their everyday economic, health, social, housing and other needs at progressive stages of the advanced years of life. For women, and in particular low-income and women of color, many of whom are facing a precarious retirement future, this is even more important. Life course planning means taking the appropriate steps to prepare for one's longevity. These steps include gaining financial literacy and knowledge of pension and public benefits; opportunities for community participation and social engagement options, including access to employment, volunteer, educational and leisure activities; understanding housing options and health insurance benefits, including Medicare, Medicaid and Medicare supplemental insurance; and learning about consumer protection, including being alert to telemarketing scams and fraudulent investment offers.

Our proposal amends title VII of the Older Americans Act to expand the purpose of the current Outreach, Counseling and Assistance program to provide older and mid-life individuals with information, counseling and assistance related to life course planning. States electing this option would be required, in coordination with area agencies on aging, to: a) provide outreach counseling and assistance related to obtaining insurance benefits and public benefits; b) provide additional life course planning services to the extent permitted by available funds; c) establish a system of referrals to appropriate providers and agencies; and d) give priority to those in greatest social and economic need, with particular attention to low-income minorities. We believe that increased information and greater public awareness through dissemination of information and counseling assistance will aid individuals in making informed choices about meeting their needs and in avoiding risks that lead to vulnerability. Individuals who are better informed about the costs and requirements of daily living over a longer life span will be better able to exercise more personal responsibility and anticipate and prepare for their future needs.

We are very excited about the promise and potential of these new proposals and what they mean for the future of our aging population.

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, the Administration on Aging has adopted the theme of "Honor the Past, Imagine the Future: Towards a Society for All Ages" to be used in recognition of Older Americans Month in May and throughout the year. This theme also reflects our vision for what we hope will be the first reauthorized Older Americans Act of the 21st century.

1999, the International Year of Older Persons, presents us with an opportunity to engage our nation and its decision makers in what we can and must do in the next century to prepare for the gift of longevity. We look forward to working with you, the members of the Subcommittee and your staff to reauthorize the Older Americans Act. The future we can create for our elders depends upon it. I look forward to answering any questions you might have.

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