U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), member of the Special Committee on Aging, and U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), Chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, led Senate colleagues in calling for the inclusion of $1.1 billion in funding for Older Americans Act (OAA) programs, including $750 million in funding for the OAA Nutrition Services in the next coronavirus relief package. The funding would provide grants to states, territories, and tribes to help support the delivery of nutritious meals for older adults throughout the country. Older, low-income residents are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and, due to public health guidelines, many more have become newly homebound without access to food outside the home. Additionally, many older adults have lost access to existing emergency feeding programs in senior centers and other congregate feeding programs that have been closed during the pandemic. While the HEROES Act included $20 million for senior nutrition under OAA, this amount is nearly the current weekly budget for New York City’s senior food program and advocates are calling for a significant increase in funding to meet the unprecedented need.
“Before the pandemic, more than 5 million older adults experienced food insecurity and more than 17.4 million lived alone. Now, as the majority of older adults have been required to self-isolate for months in order to keep themselves safe and healthy, the need for essential nutrition resources and programs has grown exponentially,” said Senator Gillibrand. “It is our job as public servants to protect our most vulnerable and we must ensure that low-income older adults do not go hungry. Bolstering OAA programs in the next relief package with significant funding and resources is a vital step to address the unique barriers they face. I’m proud to lead this call for emergency funding so that everyone has food on the table during these challenging times.”
“For more than half a century, the Older Americans Act has served as a lifeline for millions of seniors by enriching their lives and improving their overall health,” said Senator Collins, the Chairman of the Aging Committee. “Earlier this year, I authored the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act, which boosted funding for all of the critical OAA programs by seven percent. Given the ongoing pandemic and the increased demand on OAA programs, particularly for nutrition services, the next coronavirus relief package must include additional funding for OAA programs to support older adults.”
In a letter, the senators are urging Senate leadership to provide additional emergency funding to meet the increased demand for the Older Americans Act Title III and Title VI Native American Nutrition Services programs, as well as the caregiver support program, the long-term care ombudsman program to address the crisis in nursing homes, and targeted efforts to address social isolation among older adults. The letter was signed by U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Tina Smith (D-MN), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jack Reed (D-RI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), and Angus King (I-ME).
The need for emergency relief funding for nutrition programs for older adults is a priority for leading food security for older adult groups. The senators’ letter has received support from Meals on Wheels America, the National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs (NANASP), and National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a):
“We applaud Senator Gillibrand and Senator Collins for leading this effort and the 14 senators who joined them in an urgent request for additional emergency funding to combat senior hunger and isolation. Pre-pandemic, Meals on Wheels programs across the country had waiting lists for services due largely to insufficient funding. The coronavirus and related stay-at-home orders have quickly increased the number of homebound seniors requesting this vital lifeline, greatly exacerbating the already-existing unmet need. Thank you again to the Senators for their longstanding support and work to ensure our nation’s most vulnerable seniors are healthy and nourished throughout this pandemic and beyond.” –Ellie Hollander, President and CEO of Meals on Wheels America
“We commend Senator Gillibrand and Senator Collins and the co-signers of their letter for recognizing a reality missed in the original HEALS Act. The pandemic has not ended, neither should funding for key aging service programs. Nutrition services under the Older Americans Act have been essential for millions of seniors during the pandemic. Demand has spiked across the country. Nutrition providers tell us that emergency money already provided could be exhausted by Labor Day. We cannot let this happen.” – BobBlancato, Executive Director of the National Association of Nutrition and Aging Service Programs
“n4a deeply appreciates the leadership of Senators Gillibrand and Collins to ensure that millions of older adults have access to healthy food, social engagement, in-home services and the other vital supports they need to stay safe and independent during COVID-19. Our Area Agency on Aging members develop, coordinate and deliver these aging services at the local level and they tell us that the Families First and CARES Acts funding won’t last much longer, yet the increased number of older adults they are serving still very much require help. We urge Congress to provide continued emergency funding to support this vulnerable population of older adults.” – Sandy Markwood, CEO of National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a)
Full text of the letter can be found here and below.
Dear Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer, Chairman Shelby, and Vice Chairman Leahy:
As Congress considers additional relief in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we urge you to prioritize nutrition programs for older adults. Specifically, we request that the next COVID-19 relief package include $1.1 billion in funding for Older Americans Act (OAA) programs, including $750 million for OAA Nutrition Services, which critically support the delivery of nutritious meals to older adults throughout the country.
The COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately impacting older adults. With the closure of congregate meal sites and the steep increase in newly homebound older adults, there is now a higher demand for OAA Programs, such as Home Delivered Meals and other community-based supportive services. According to the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a), 93 percent of Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) have reported serving more clients since the pandemic began, and 69 percent of AAAs saw an increase in demand for their supportive services. In addition, Meals on Wheels America members are serving an average of 77 percent more meals to 47 percent more seniors since March, with virtually all programs having seen the cost of providing services increase. According to n4a, AAAs reported a 52 percent increase in demand for their caregiver support programs, a 32 percent increase in demand for the Long-Term Care Ombudsman program, and an 84 percent increase in demand for telephone wellness checks, which may be the only form of contact for socially isolated, homebound older adults.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act were important first steps in responding to the increased demand for OAA programs, but additional funding is needed to continue providing vital services to seniors across the country. Even prior to the pandemic, an estimated 5.3 million (more than 7 percent) older adults experienced food insecurity and more than 17.4 million (24 percent) lived alone, putting them at greater risk of being socially isolated and/or lonely. In addition, COVID-19 has also magnified existing disparities for low-income older adults, which underscores the need for funding and programming to be appropriately targeted to those with the greatest need. Ensuring nutrition and supportive services reach communities of color, including those with disproportionately high infection and death rates, is extremely important as we work to address COVID-19 related racial and ethnic disparities.
Many older adults remain unable to safely access congregate meals and engage in other social activities outside of the home during this time. We urge you build on Congress’ past support for senior meal delivery by including $1.1 billion in funding for OAA programs, including $750 million for OAA Nutrition Services, in the next COVID-19 relief bill for senior nutrition and other targeted efforts to address social isolation. We also urge you to prioritize sufficient supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) needed for these services and testing for social services staff, health care workers, older adults, and their caregivers.