May 15, 2015

Dissing the Elderly

Every ten years since 1961, the White House has convened a Conference on Aging. It’s an opportunity for leaders in the field of Geriatrics as well as senior advocates and community representatives to articulate their vision of how best to assure that older Americans can lead dignified, meaningful, and healthy lives. We’re due for a WHCOA this year. But it’s the middle of May and the conference, while promised, hasn’t yet been scheduled. What’s going on?

It’s very simple. Congress hasn’t allocated the funds. The framework for the Conference has been established by legislation, and the legislation in question is the Older Americans Act. The problem is that Congress hasn’t re-authorized the Older Americans Act.

Failure to re-authorize the Older Americans Act doesn’t just mean undermining the White House Conference, which this year was supposed to focus on proposals to ensure retirement security, healthy aging, long term care services, and elder justice. It also means imperiling all the other programs supported by the Older Americans Act. The Act created a federal Administration on Aging and regional Area Agencies on Aging which provide funding for nutrition programs, congregate housing, and community services.

Our just-say-no Congress has evidently decided that the creed of personal responsibility extends to older people as well as to the poor, the disabled, and other vulnerable groups in our society. Medicare is too popular to roll back but other supportive services for older Americans can evidently be cut with impunity. After all, the people whose homes and whose meals are in jeopardy are poor, they often live in rural communities, and many are ethnic minorities whose first language is not English. They need others to speak out for them. So write to your Congressman. As Mahatma Gandhi said, a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.

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