Congress Approves Boost In Food Aid For Seniors But Funding Falls Short Of Growing Need

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Advocates for senior residents hailed the bipartisan passage of a federal invoice that calls for reinforcing cash for vitamin packages in order that fewer older adults go hungry. But the proposed funding nonetheless wouldn’t sustain with America’s fast-growing senior inhabitants.

The laws reauthorizes the Older Americans Act, which gives for home-delivered and group meals for anybody 60 and older whereas supporting an array of different companies, similar to transportation and in-home care. The invoice cleared the House on Wednesday after a Senate vote in early March — greater than 5 months after the earlier authorization expired Sept. 30.

“So many seniors are dependent on this piece of legislation,” stated Ellie Hollander, president and CEO of Meals on Wheels America, the umbrella group for greater than 5,000 community-based home-delivered meal packages. “Everyone wins. Taxpayers win. Seniors win. Communities win.”

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The invoice recommends a 7% rise in funding for vitamin packages and different core companies within the first yr, adopted by 6% will increase in every of the following 4 years. That works out to a complete improve of 35%.— considerably greater than the entire 6.Eight% improve over the earlier three-year reauthorization.

The suggestions don’t robotically take impact, although. Congressional appropriations committees will make ultimate selections on funding ranges, making an allowance for the authorization suggestions.

A Kaiser Health News evaluation discovered that though the entire for vitamin companies within the authorization would attain $1.2 billion in 2024, the best in almost 20 years in inflation-adjusted dollars, it nonetheless quantities to much less per-eligible particular person than within the early 2000s.

Kaiser Health News reported in September that funding for the Older Americans Act has lengthy lagged behind senior inhabitants development and inflation. Nearly Eight% of Americans 60 and older quietly went hungry in 2017, in accordance with a study released last year by the anti-hunger group Feeding America. That’s 5.5 million seniors who don’t have constant entry to sufficient meals for a wholesome life, a quantity that has greater than doubled since 2001.

Without regular, nutritious meals, seniors can weaken, sicken and even die. They can wind up in hospitals and nursing houses, driving up Medicare and Medicaid prices for taxpayers. A single day within the hospital prices a median of round $2,500, one estimate found, in contrast with $2,828 to serve a senior Meals on Wheels for a yr.

“I owe my health to Meals on Wheels,” stated Catherine Merkel, a blind 86-year-old from Wernersville, Pennsylvania, who has been receiving meals for greater than 25 years. “If I didn’t get it, I’m not sure I’d eat balanced meals.”

LuAnn Oatman, president of Berks Encore, which runs the meal program encompassing the Wernersville space, stated demand has grown steadily in her area, with 40 to 50 new referrals a month. With extra money, she stated, “we’re going to be able to serve more people. That’s the bottom line.”

New funding also needs to assist whittle down ready lists for Meals on Wheels packages, which all instructed get about 39% of their funding from the Older Americans Act, Hollander stated. Nationally, tens of hundreds of seniors are on such waitlists, which may stretch 1,000 names lengthy in some cities.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), one of many invoice’s sponsors, stated in a press release that the reauthorization will assist seniors “age with dignity, respect, and community.” She described the act as a lifeline for thousands and thousands of seniors because it was first handed greater than a half-century in the past as a part of former President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society reforms.

Though it could be a protracted shot, some advocates stated they plan to push for even bigger will increase in the course of the appropriations course of. Hollander, for instance, stated she’d prefer to see a 10% improve for vitamin packages as a substitute of the 7% proposed within the first yr.

“These services collectively help keep older adults in their homes and communities,” stated Megan O’Reilly, AARP’s vice chairman of governmental affairs. “And we know that’s where they want to be.”

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Laura Ungar:”>, @laura_ungar

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