Nancy LeaMond is AARP’s chief advocacy and engagement officer.
With headlines focused on turmoil overseas, it is easy to overlook developments at home that are significant for older Americans. But I want to point out some recent victories for the 50-plus that deserve attention.
The $1.5 trillion spending package just signed by President Joe Biden is mostly known for providing almost $14 billion in aid to Ukraine. But the new law also features a lengthy set of provisions for individuals and families that AARP fought to include in its more than 2,000 pages.
Among the highlights:
- Critical investment to fight hunger: Congress approved $140.4 billion in mandatory funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This money will provide a lifeline for more than 42 million people who are at risk for hunger every month, many of whom are older adults.
- Essential services for older Americans: The legislation provides $2.3 billion for an array of programs under the Older Americans Act. This will help fund nutrition assistance, aid to family caregivers, home- and community-based services, and support for Native Americans and people with disabilities.
- Extension of telehealth in Medicare: Lawmakers extended for five months the special rules that have given health care providers greater flexibility to serve patients through remote communications during the pandemic. Such services, known as telehealth or telemedicine, have been used by more than 28 million Medicare beneficiaries since early 2020.
- A stronger direct care workforce: The budget deal calls on the Administration for Community Living and the Department of Labor to work together to enhance the direct care workforce, which is too small to meet the public’s need. Roughly 14 million adults with health issues — more than half age 65 or older — rely on such workers who are low paid and lack meaningful career paths.
- National strategy to support family caregivers: Congress provided $400,000 to continue funding the RAISE Family Caregiving Advisory Council, which is developing a national strategy to better support and recognize the needs of family caregivers.
- Enhanced Medicaid funding in Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories: This financial assistance could help more than 1.4 million low-income individuals in American territories. Most of the beneficiaries live in Puerto Rico, which will receive $200 million in added funding for Medicaid.
And that is only a partial list. In addition to the above highlights, the new law will advance various AARP priorities for consumer protection and public health.
It strengthens anti-scam efforts by the Federal Trade Commission and creates a Senior Scams Prevention Advisory Group we pushed for that will help educate consumers on fraud. It also provides $45 billion for health research, which will enable more studies of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
It will improve access to the high-speed internet — a problem for many older adults — by providing $382 million to the Federal Communications Commission. And it dedicates $1.4 billion in housing assistance for seniors and individuals with disabilities.
While a big package like this contains a wide assortment of expenditures, there is an important unifying thread that runs through many of these provisions: In different ways, they reflect AARP’s goal of enabling individuals to age independently in their homes and communities.
For example, investments in home- and community-based services make it easier for people with health issues to remain in their homes — where they prefer to be — while giving family caregivers a needed break. Investments that support family caregivers, including $8.1 million for the Lifespan Respite Care Program, make it easier for them to manage their growing role as health care providers.
Financial support for telehealth strengthens a closely related phenomenon: the emergence of people’s own homes as centers of care. And a better-trained, better-paid workforce of health aides is essential, both to improve conditions inside many long-term care facilities and to care for individuals who wish to remain at home and do not have family caregivers to help them achieve this cherished goal.
We can’t expect all these provisions to grab headlines. But they will help make life better for many Americans, and I wanted to share them with you — even at a time when our attention is riveted elsewhere in the world.
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