The Older Americans Act

Background

Title III of the Older Americans Act (OAA) provides for social and nutritional services. These include home-care and homemaker services, adult day services, case management, and health promotion. Also covered are congregate and home-delivered meals, family caregiver support, transportation, and to a lesser extent, elder abuse prevention and detection. Other provisions cover employment and training for low-income, unemployed people age 55 and older. Title III’s primary objectives are to enable people age 60 and older to live independently in their own homes, to remove individual and social barriers to older people’s economic independence, and to provide those who are vulnerable with an array of services.

In April 2012 the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) created the Administration for Community Living (ACL) as a single HHS organization focused on community living and support of seniors and people with disabilities. The ACL was created by folding the Administration on Aging (AoA), the Office on Disability (OD), and the Administration on Developmental Disabilities (ADD) into a single agency. The reorganization establishes a formal infrastructure to ensure consistency and coordination in community living policy across the federal government. Among the government’s goals in making the change was increased access to community supports for children with developmental disabilities, for adults with physical disabilities, and for older adults in general. Increased participation in the community by older adults and people with disabilities is also a focus, as is the provision of greater resources for their needs.

The OAA is administered by the AoA but is operated locally. The primary role of state and area agencies on aging (AAAs) is to coordinate service delivery by contracting with local providers. They are required not only to target services to people with the greatest social or economic need but also to make programs available to all older people in the community. The targeted populations include older adults, people with disabilities or low incomes, members of racial and ethnic groups that have experienced discrimination, people with limited English proficiency, rural residents, and others with special needs.

Title III also authorizes services that support family caregivers, including grandparents or older caregivers, as part of the National Family Caregiver Support Program established in 2000. Continuing support for family caregivers is critical; the economic value of their contributions was valued at $470 billion per year in 2013. The program gives each state funds to provide services to caregivers such as information about available services, assistance in gaining access to services, caregiver training, respite care, and a limited amount of supplemental services. Overall an estimated 12 million people in the US and its territories were served under Title III in 2015. In 2014 almost 1.6 million received congregate meals, and just over 835,000 received home-delivered meals.

The OAA also funds the long-term care (LTC) ombudsman program. The LTC ombudsman in each state is responsible for identifying, investigating, and resolving complaints made by or on behalf of residents in long-term services and supports facilities. Although funding has never been adequate, states have historically been able to count on receiving an appropriation dedicated to ombudsman programs.

In 2006 service providers and business community members were added to AAA advisory councils (previously all members were private citizens or from consumer groups). This dilutes the influence of consumers on advisory boards and could significantly expand the group of stakeholders in policy debates over service to local older people.

Amendments to the act in 2016 made several important changes, including:

  • improved coordination between Aging and Disability Resource Centers and other community-based organizations to provide information and referral services for home- and community-based services for those who live in or are at risk of entering an institutional setting;
  • eligibility of older adults caring for adult children with disabilities to participate in the National Family Caregiver Support program;
  • modifications to statutory funding allocations whereby states with population growth in residents age 60 and older will receive increased funding, but loss in funding will be minimized for states with a decline in this population; and
  • the addition of improved training on elder abuse prevention and screening for those working in the aging field.

The Older Americans Act: Policy

Importance of Older Americans Act (OAA) programs

In this policy: Federal

Federal and state governments should continue to provide public funding for OAA programs and outreach designed to increase participation by diverse communities in low-income benefit programs.

Congress should leave intact OAA language that targets the most vulnerable populations, especially low-income and seniors from racial and ethnic groups that have experienced discrimination.

States should enact legislation establishing the state unit on aging (SUA) as an independent entity. SUAs should have the prominence and funding necessary to promote independence in accordance with the objectives and functions stipulated in the OAA.

Role of the Administration on Aging (AoA) and Administration for Community Living (ACL)

In this policy: FederalState

The AoA and ACL should ensure that states adequately deliver services to the most vulnerable populations.

The AoA’s authority to approve state plans and intrastate funding formulas should be clearly stated in both law and regulation.

The AoA should enforce the OAA provision that prohibits state and area agencies on aging (AAAs) from directly providing supportive, nutrition, and in-home services except when necessary to ensure an adequate supply of services related to the agency’s administrative functions or when the services would be more economical.

Integration of services

In this policy: State

Administrative links between state plans for Social Services Block Grants and state plans under the OAA should be strengthened through interagency agreements designed to include cost effectiveness and improve service delivery and coordination.

Cost-sharing and voluntary contributions

In this policy: FederalState

States and the AoA should carefully monitor the implementation of cost-sharing and make a publicly available report of the results to ensure the adequacy of services to target populations.

Congress should amend the OAA to require that the AoA approve all state cost-sharing plans prior to their implementation. State cost-sharing plans should be approved only if they contain all the elements designed to protect low-income beneficiaries, including sliding-scale fees, payment-accounting policies, and written materials that explain cost-sharing.

The AoA should rigorously monitor and evaluate states’ implementation of cost-sharing provisions and expanded authority to solicit voluntary contributions.

Before expanding the use of voluntary contributions or implementing cost-sharing, states should obtain public input, focusing especially on low-income and participants from racial and ethnic groups that have experienced discrimination.

States should carefully consider the impact of such changes on their ability to deliver services to the most vulnerable populations, including the possible effects of requesting payment for a multiplicity of services.

States that enact cost-sharing should exempt individuals with incomes below 185 percent of the federal poverty level.

Consumer participation in advisory bodies

In this policy: FederalState

Ensuring protection of public and consumer interests on AAAs and other advisory bodies under the OAA requires that consumer representation constitute not less than 60 percent of the membership.

Services for rural areas

In this policy: FederalState

The AoA and the entire aging services network should promote the full participation of older people who live in rural areas, and of those with special needs, in all aspects of the OAA. These efforts should encourage public-private partnerships.

Data collection and metrics

In this policy: FederalState

The AoA’s data collection efforts should be used to evaluate the effects of provisions regarding service delivery to rural residents, the expansion of voluntary contributions, and the authority to implement cost-sharing.

The AoA should monitor and evaluate its data collection effort, particularly as it pertains to the participation of racial and ethnic groups that have experienced discrimination and special-needs populations in OAA programs.

Improvements to the data collection system should be made, based on the findings of the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services. Improvements could include the addition of new data, such as the number of people who request and receive each type of OAA service.

States should establish statewide clearinghouses to collect and disseminate data on the older adult population, including age, race, and gender.

States also should collect data on, document, and report annually the adequacy of services for older people who are poor, members of racial and ethnic groups that have experienced discrimination, frail, or otherwise vulnerable. They should use this information to improve service delivery and promote more consumer choice and independence in all social services and long-term services and supports, irrespective of program or payer source.

States should publish yearly expenditure reports containing age-specific, uniform data on program activities, and should make the findings available to the public. Lawmakers and regulators should use the data in planning for, and filling gaps in, service needs.

Data collection should include determining how much OAA services save Medicaid and Medicare on an annual basis.

Competitive bidding for services

In this policy: FederalState

State and AAA contracts with direct service providers under the OAA should be opened periodically for competitive bidding or reviewed to ensure quality.

Current and prospective service providers should be evaluated on the basis of standardized criteria, including quality and effectiveness of service provision, capacity, and other factors.

Long-range planning

In this policy: FederalState

The AoA and the entire aging network should ensure that all states engage in a comprehensive long-range planning process that spans all relevant state departments, agencies, and entities (such as those pertaining to health, housing, transportation, aging, etc.) in order to prepare for a rapidly aging and increasingly diverse population.

Funding

Congress should adjust appropriations for all Title III programs to reflect both growth in the older population and the effects of inflation, should earmark funding for the ombudsman program, and should significantly increase funding appropriations for the National Family Caregiver Support Program.

States should supplement AoA funds to ensure adequate support for their long-term care ombudsman programs.

Support for family caregivers

In this policy: FederalState

The AoA should expand the capacity of the National Family Caregiver Support Program, including expanding respite services, allowing more hours per client, making eligibility guidelines more flexible, and increasing training offerings.

States and the AoA should strengthen the National Family Caregiver Support Program. States should perform family caregiver assessments to determine the needs of the individual family caregivers.

Substance abuse and mental health

In this policy: State

States should expand programs that identify and increase awareness of (and heighten providers’ sensitivity to) depression, suicide risk, and substance abuse among older people. These programs should particularly target health and social service providers.