Long before my time as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, I have worked to ensure older Americans – and all Americans – have access to safe, nutritious food.
As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for more than two decades, I worked tirelessly to support funding for programs that prevent hunger and food insecurity in our communities.
And as Attorney General of the State of California, I fought to protect the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), protecting access to food for those who need it most.
This work is critical to advancing health equity. The evidence is clear: Good nutrition helps cut down on chronic disease, which disproportionately hurts our most vulnerable communities. That’s why we’ve partnered with agencies like the Food and Drug Administration to reduce the level of sodium in foods across the country and mitigate chronic disease that is often tied to salty food.
I’m proud to continue this work as HHS Secretary. And today, I’m delighted to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Older Americans Act (OAA) Nutrition Program.
The Older Americans Act Nutrition Program was signed into law on March 22, 1972, creating the first federal program to support the health and well-being of older adults through nutrition services. Decades later, the OAA Senior Nutrition Program – administered by the Administration for Community Living (ACL) – continues to fund local agencies and organizations that help older adults access healthy meals and other resources so that they can remain independent, well, and connected in their homes and communities.
Each day, about 5,000 nutrition program providers serve an estimated 1 million meals to older Americans across the country. The programs focus on underserved communities and others in greatest need -- people with low income, those in rural areas, and members of minority communities, including those with limited-English proficiency. These meals make a difference – over half of participants tell us that the meal they receive through the program supplies 50% or more of their total food for the day, and more than 70% report that they eat healthier foods because of the program.
But the OAA Senior Nutrition Program is about more than access to healthy meals – it also provides nutrition screening, education, and counseling, as well as a vital link to health resources, social connections, and an array of home and community-based services that support older adults’ overall well-being. The home-delivered meal program also provides older adults with an opportunity for social interaction with a friendly face that they may not otherwise see. And congregate meals – where older adults can gather to eat with others in their community – provide invaluable opportunities for meaningful connections that maintain the health of participants.
Despite the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past two years, the OAA Senior Nutrition Program has continued to provide these vital services. Local programs pivoted to use flexible, creative approaches to continue serving their communities, from curbside meal events and partnerships with restaurants to safe-distanced doorstep food drops and virtual nutrition education.
As we commemorate this milestone anniversary of the OAA Senior Nutrition Program, I want to commend the organizations and individuals who run local senior nutrition programs across the country every day – and the perseverance of the older Americans they serve. Now as Secretary of HHS, I will keep working as I have done throughout my career to ensure all Americans have access to safe, nutritious food and the services needed to support overall well-being. Together, we will build on 50 years of progress and close the equity gaps that plague our health care system. And we will continue innovating to ensure that, as the older American population grows, we can provide the support they need to age independently in their communities, with dignity, and in good health.