Joined by 30 senators this week, Sen. Bernie Sanders called for a funding increase for Older Americans Act programs, including Meals on Wheels and other vital services. Despite the fact that more Americans are reaching the age of 60, Older Americans Act (OAA) funding has dropped 7 percent since 2009.
In a letter addressed to Chairman Roy Blunt and Ranking Member Patty Murray of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, Sanders and his fellow senators urged the appropriations subcommittee to increase funding by at least 12 percent for programs authorized under the OAA. As the cost of living continues to rise for seniors, particularly for food, medication, and housing, more and more vulnerable seniors remain on waiting lists for services that they desperately need.
“As you know, OAA is the major federal vehicle for the delivery of social and nutrition services for more than 11 million older Americans,” Sanders and his fellow senators wrote. “These programs include congregate nutrition services, home-delivered nutrition services (i.e., ‘Meals on Wheels’), supportive services such as transportation services, employment and community service through the Senior Community Service Employment Program, vulnerable elder rights protection including through the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, and family caregiver support.”
More than 65 million Americans are currently over the age of 60, with approximately 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day. Projecting these trends to continue over the next few decades, the U.S. Census Bureau has estimated that the number of Americans age 60 and over will increase to 92 million by 2030. Although funding for non-defense programs has risen by 11 percent since 2009, OAA funding has dropped 7 percent over that same period.
“Regretfully, federal funding for OAA programs has failed to keep pace with inflation or the growing need, despite the cost-effectiveness of these critical programs,” the senators continued. “There are few better investments than the OAA programs that millions of older adults rely on for a healthy and dignified life. Investing in OAA services saves taxpayer dollars by reducing premature and costly Medicare and Medicaid expenditures resulting from unnecessary nursing home placement or hospitalizations due to poor nutrition and chronic health conditions.”
Despite the fact that a 12 percent increase to fund these programs is insufficient to address the significant growth of the senior population, it would be an important step in meeting existing demand. According to the 30 senators, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Chuck Schumer, Al Franken, Patrick Leahy, Ron Wyden, and Kirsten Gillibrand, a 12 percent increase would amount to $230 million over current spending levels.
To put that in perspective, the Defense Department spent more than $546.5 million on defense contracts on Friday alone. Instead of blindly handing our tax dollars to bloated private contractors, Sanders and his fellow senators are asking for a little compassion toward our elders while fighting to secure our own future.