Why won’t Congress feed hungry seniors?

Congress is like the weather. We all talk about it, but nobody does anything about it. We routinely re-elect incumbents — Republicans and Democrats — despite the fact that most public opinion polls put Congress’ approval rating in the low teens.

The public’s cynicism — regardless of political party — that anything good can come from Washington is at an all-time high. But sometimes bipartisanship prevails and good actually happens. Recent examples include the Farm Bill, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Neither side got all it wanted in any of these bills, but there were enough members willing to compromise to do something good for the American people.

Why isn’t the Older Americans Act (OAA) in this group? Feeding frail seniors, protecting them from elder abuse and providing job training for those able to continue working is low-hanging fruit, easy for both sides to approve. The news release taking credit just about writes itself.

Serving Seniors, formerly Senior Community Centers, provides over 550,000 meals each year at 10 senior centers throughout San Diego County. Meals are also delivered to homebound seniors. The OAA provides funding for these meals, which are vital to seniors’ health and independence.

In addition to being productive members of the community, healthy seniors access care in the emergency room less often, have fewer days in the hospital and often can delay, or eliminate, the need for expensive long-term care.

Next year, the OAA will celebrate its 50th anniversary, having been enacted in 1965 at the same time as Medicare and Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California). It has been around longer than either the VAWA or Workforce Act. The OAA is considered to be one of the most cost-effective government programs because of reduced government health care costs, and it creates and preserves jobs in every congressional district in the country.

Four years have passed since the renewal of OAA. Renewing a bill that saves taxpayer dollars should be a no-brainer. A Senate committee passed an excellent OAA reauthorization bill in 2013 that has been awaiting action by the full Senate for more than nine months; but there is no indication of a vote. The House has two pending bills but no sign of action.

These bills will die if no action is taken before the new Congress is sworn in next January. If that occurs, it means the entire reauthorization process will have to start from scratch with new bills. Funding could be impacted.

San Diego has five members in its congressional delegation — Susan Davis, Darrell Issa, Duncan Hunter, Scott Peters and Juan Vargas. Please take a moment to call or email their office.

Better yet, if you see them at a community event, deliver the simple message: renew the Older Americans Act because it is important to seniors in our community; the Act has more than proven its value and will continue to as our population ages.

Paul Downey is president and CEO of Serving Seniors, a nonprofit agency dedicated to increasing the quality of life for San Diego seniors living in poverty. Learn more at

User Response
0 UserComments