A few weeks ago, AgingCare.com attended the Assisted Living Federation of America's (ALFA) Advocacy Fly-In in Washington D.C., which addressed several hot-button issues of senior care.
Increasing government officials' awareness of elder care issues was the primary purpose of the event, and three particular pieces of legislation featured prominently in most discussions: the Older Americans Act, the Elder Justice Act, and the Alzheimer's Project Act.
Maribeth Bersani, director of public policy for ALFA, discusses what each of these statutes means for caregivers and their elderly loved ones and where they are in terms of nation-wide implementation:
- The Older Americans Act (OAA): Initially signed into law in 1965, the OAA was meant to deliver support services specifically designed for aging Americans. Bersani says the overall goal of the legislation was to, "help seniors remain independent and age with dignity." The OAA was responsible for creating the National Aging Network, made up of the Administration on Aging, the State Units on Aging, and Area Agencies on Aging. It also focused on helping seniors by providing funding for programs such as Meals on Wheels, local senior centers, long term care ombudsman offices, the National Family Caregiver Support Program, and services focusing on disease prevention in the elderly. The OAA is currently up for re-authorization by Congress. The past few years have seen a decline in funding for the programs provided by the act and, if it is not re-authorized, the programs it has created will likely have to cut back on the services they offer seniors and their caregivers. This has the potential to impact millions of aging adults. In a 2011 statement to the Senate Special Committee on Aging, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Programs for the Administration on Aging, Edwin Walker, pointed to the widespread success of the OAA as a compelling reason for reauthorization. "Over the past year, nearly 11 million older Americans and their family caregivers have been supported through the OAA's comprehensive home and community-based system," he said.
- The Elder Justice Act (EJA): Having just been made an official law in March 2010, the EJA was created to address the issues of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation. It includes provisions for developing an Elder Justice Coordinating Council to pinpoint best practices and come up with a strategic plan for battling elder abuse, as well as an Advisory Board on elder abuse, neglect and exploitation. The EJA also formally increases funding for Adult Protective Services and lays the groundwork for more extensive background checks and enhanced training regimens for people caring for the elderly. According to Bersani, despite its admirable aims, the EJA has never been funded. She says that the EJA will only become effective if Congress includes funding for it when they examine the federal budget for next year.
- The National Alzheimer's Project Act (NAPA): The NAPA was signed into law in March 2010 as part of the over-arching Affordable Care Act. The most important function of NAPA is to create a strategic plan to combat the national Alzheimer's epidemic. Policymakers and experts in the fields of Alzheimer's and aging have met and drafted a prospective plan that includes, increased funding for disease-related research and caregiver support. The proposal also sets the goal of being able to prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer's disease by the year 2025. A finalized strategy is expected to be issued sometime this spring.
Bersani says that seniors and their caregivers can help this legislation get re-authorized and obtain additional funding by voicing their support of these programs to their local congressmen.