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What Is the Older Americans Act?

The Older Americans Act (OAA) is a federal law that promotes the well-being of Americans 60 years old and above through services and programs designed to meet the specific needs of older citizens. Services provided under the Older Americans Act include:

  • Home-delivered and communal meals
  • Family caregiver support
  • Health services home assistance for the elderly
  • Job training and volunteer opportunities
  • Protections from elder abuse

About 11 million people received services such as meals, home care, and transportation through OAA programs in 2010.

Objectives of the Older Americans Act

Congressional concern about the lack of community-based support services for older people helped spur the passage of the Older Americans Act. Like Medicare and Medicaid, the Older Americans Act was passed in 1965 as part of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society reforms. The Act seeks to ensure retirement income, physical and mental health, suitable housing, employment, protection from age-based discrimination and efficient community services for older individuals. The OAA works to accomplish these goals through direct funding to states and state services and the creation of federal agencies designed to implement the Act.

The Administration on Aging

The Older Americans Act created the Administration on Aging, the main federal agency tasked with carrying out the objectives of the Act. The Administration on Aging provides services and programs designed to help aging individuals live independent lives in their homes and communities. Perhaps the most well-known of these programs is the communal and home delivered meals program, sometimes referred to as "Meals on Wheels." In addition to meals, this program focuses on health and nutrition education.

The Administration's Office of Elder Rights Protection focuses on protecting older individuals from elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation through strategic planning and research. The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program provides full-time ombudsmen, or public advocates, to help represent the interests of people in long-term care environments, such as assisted living facilities. Finally, the OAA funds employment and training programs for low-income, unemployed people 55 years old and above, which has helped more than 1 million participants enter or re-enter the workforce.

State and Area Agencies on Aging

The Older Americans Act funds many programs for the elderly through direct grants to states. Each state receives OAA funds based on the percentage of people 60 or above in the state. OAA funding, while small compared to programs such as Medicaid, provides an important safety-net for older individuals who might be at risk of hunger, food insecurity or loss of independent living.

As part of the Older Americans Act, each state must create a State Agency on Aging. State Agencies in turn manage Area Agencies on Aging, which plan, develop, and coordinate community services for older people. There are over 620 Area Agencies. These agencies connect older individuals to the important services provided through the Older Americans Act. You can check online to find the area agency nearest to you.

Who Is Eligible for Services Under the Older Americans Act?

Each state establishes its own eligibility criteria for receiving services under OAA programs. Generally, no one age 60 or above can be denied services from Older American Act programs unless the state establishes. States are prohibited from denying anyone services because of their income. That means that someone who might earn too much to qualify for services directed at low income individuals would still be able to receive services provided under OAA state programs. Contacting a State Agency on Aging will help you determine which services are available to you.

If you're wondering about your rights as you age or if you're caring for an aging parent or family member, consider contacting a qualified elder law attorney to discuss the unique issues you may face.

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