n4a Responds to Senate Draft OAA Reauthorization Bill
Earlier this month, the bipartisan working group consisting of members from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) and Aging Committees released a draft bill that would reauthorize the Older Americans Act, Modernization of the Older Americans Act Amendments. As noted in n4a’s June 6 Legislative Update, the working group requested rapid response from advocates to provide feedback and technical assistance on the draft bill. Because the reauthorization process has been moving quickly in the Senate, advocates had an abbreviated timeframe to respond to the bipartisan draft.
n4a was one of many national, state and local stakeholders to submit comments on the draft bill. However, we expect that working group members will thoughtfully consider and incorporate n4a’s member-informed feedback because of the integral role that Area Agencies on Aging and Title VI Native American aging programs serve in deploying OAA services across the country.
While the Senate OAA working group limited the proposals in the draft reauthorization bill to modest changes that could garner bipartisan support, n4a provided comments and technical assistance on nearly all proposals included in the draft with the goal of strengthening the final bill. The Senate has yet to tackle more difficult, and potentially contentious, issues such as specific funding authorization levels and the geographically challenging, population-based federal funding formula for OAA programs (note: n4a does not take positions on funding formula details), so there are still many components of the reauthorization that lawmakers must work through.
n4a’s Response to the Senate’s Draft Bill
n4a supports the working group’s bipartisan, inclusive process and appreciates that left out of the draft were several proposals that we felt strongly would undermine the ability of AAAs and service providers to efficiently and effectively deliver OAA services, including a proposal from the Trump Administration that would eliminate the “right of first refusal” for local governments to serve as AAAs. Simply keeping those harmful proposals out of the bill is a significant advocacy win!
n4a also supports several of the proposals in the working group’s draft as written, including:
- a simple update to the definition of Aging and Disability Resource Centers;
- an extension of the authorization for the RAISE Family Caregivers Act, passed in 2018 to develop a national strategy to support family caregivers; and
- the modernization of technical assistance efforts to improve transportation access for older adults.
While n4a had feedback on many issues outlined in the draft bill, we prioritized our comments to include proposals that were relevant to our OAA reauthorization priorities, as well as those that may have some unintended consequences for the Aging Network. n4a provided feedback on proposals that would:
- Clarify the ability of AAAs to contract with health care providers and other private payers. n4a is not opposed to the language in the draft, but it does not address the issues that n4a raised in our reauthorization priorities.
- Mandate that AAAs coordinate with state assistive technology programs, which we believe is beyond the scope of the coordinating and planning roles of AAAs.
- Add a specific reference in the Act to senior legal hotlines as an authorized component of legal services. n4a is concerned that including this specific reference could be misinterpreted as congressional prioritization of statewide senior legal hotlines.
- Encourage states to work with AAAs to streamline the transfer process between Title III C home-delivered and congregate nutrition programs. n4a supports the intent of this provision but we believe it isn’t specific enough to be effective.
- Study and expand the use of caregiver assessments and eliminate the Title III E cap for kinship care. n4a supports the proposal to allow AAAs to use additional III E funding for adults age 55 and older who are raising relative children.
- Modernize the research, demonstration and evaluation efforts authorized under Title IV of the OAA. We appreciate that the working group prioritized this effort, but are concerned that without additional investments, these activities would be burdensome to AoA.
- Study both the negative effects of social isolation and the unmet need in Title III C Nutrition Services. n4a supports the intents both studies have, but suggested changes to better reflect the activities of the Aging Network or capture the broader unmet need for all OAA services.
Overall the Senate working group’s draft OAA reauthorization bill requires several studies and reports on various components of service delivery, including the status of caregiver assessment activity, home modification programs for older adults, and cost-sharing activities within the Act.
Next Steps for Aging Advocates
Key staff and Senators will review stakeholder feedback on the draft bill and work with advocates to address issues. Senators will also have to work through potentially controversial issues such as authorization levels and the funding formula over the next few weeks. n4a will update our members as these discussions progress.
On the House side, n4a is having frequent conversations with committee leaders, answering questions and providing initial feedback on preliminary policy ideas, while also educating committee staff on the Act. We expect the House activity to pick up in the next month.
In the meantime, advocates should continue to educate their Members of Congress in both the House and the Senate about the importance of OAA programs and the need to reauthorize. Aging advocates should continue using the advocacy tools and resources available online in n4a’s OAA Reauthorization Toolkit at www.n4a.org/OAA.
This Legislative Update is an n4a membership benefit. For more information about these and other federal aging policy issues, please contact n4a’s policy team: Amy Gotwals (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Autumn Campbell (email@example.com), 202.872.0888.