Transcript: Dr. Sandra Nathan on the Older Americans Act reauthorization

Dr. Sandra Nathan urged Congress to pass the Older Americans Act reauthorization and highlighted several reform initiatives to help improve older American’s economic security damaged by the Great Recession. 

U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
Hearing on the Recession and Older Americans
Oct. 18, 2011

Dr. Sandra Nathan, Senior Vice President for Economic Security at the National Council on Aging

Dr. Sandra Nathan, Senior Vice President for Economic Security at the National Council on Aging. PHOTO SOURCE: help.senate.gov

“Thank you, Chairman Sanders. My fellow witnesses and guests, on behalf of the National Council on Aging, I greatly appreciate the opportunity to testify today.

“NCOA is a non-profit service and advocacy organization headquartered here in Washington, D.C. NCOA’s mission is to improve the health and economic security of millions of older adults, especially those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged. NCOA is the national voice for older Americans and community organizations that serve them. Working with non-profit, businesses and government, NCOA develops creative solutions to help seniors find jobs and benefits, improve their health, live independently, and remain active in their communities.

“Senator, throughout my career, I have examined the issues that we are discussing here today from a public, private, and non-profit perspective. But my expertise is not the focus of my remarks. Today, I am an ambassador on behalf of the millions of older adults who struggle everyday just to pay for food, for medicine, utilities, and a place to live. My remarks will give voice to the one in three, over 13 million, older adults in this country who are living on the edge, just one health incident away, one car repair, one missed rent payment, one roof leak, or one layoff away from poverty.

“People like Frank from St. Johnsbury, Vermont, who shares, “I am one paycheck away from foreclosure and bankruptcy. Struggling to make ends meet, I went back to college at the age of 59. I graduated at the age of 61 and continued training in my career field learning new valuable skills but can’t seem to get ahead simply because I’m so strapped with debt.”

“And Verdella from Warsaw, Kentucky, who says, “I’m a 72-year-old female getting by on $650 a month in Social Security. I’m living in a senior citizen’s subsidized apartment complex in rural Kentucky. I need my medical benefits and food stamps so that I can make ends meet every month. I’m someone’s mother and grandmother.”

“Struggling to make ends meet, many low-income and moderate-income older adults are either rethinking retirement plans and extending work or returning to the workforce, often their only option.

“As Marcus in Eugene, Oregon puts it, “My 83-year-old mother is so pressed economically that she’s had to go back to work in a part-time job.”

“With little cash, many older adults in this country today are balancing their budgets on credit, foregoing necessary medical care, and letting the bills mount.

“This past year, NCOA launched a national video advocacy campaign called “One Away,” which gives voice to older adults who are struggling financially. Working with over 14 state and local organizations, including many strong partners in states like Vermont, Kentucky, Iowa, Maryland, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, “One Away” captures real stories of seniors to raise awareness and advocate for policy change.

“The “One Away” campaign shines a spotlight on the fact that the “golden years” are not so golden for many older adults. Despite their struggles, they regularly suffer in silence. And the courageous few who do reach out for help often find a system that is ill-equipped to respond to their needs. Of course family caregivers and friends play an essential role in helping older adults, but the needs that older adults are facing today are often too complex for families and friends to have the expertise to assist them.

“With the retirement of 78 million baby boomers ahead of us, NCOA believes the pending reauthorization of the Older Americans Act provide a key opportunity to initiate important changes. We have three specific recommendations for the Older Americans Act this morning, and I’ll highlight them very briefly.

“First, the Older Americans [Act]reauthorization must improve the coordination of existing resources and empower older adults to access and navigate the range of public and public supports that are critical to increasing their economic security. With the growth in the older population and their economic struggles, the aging network organizations across the country are experiencing escalated demands for core services such as job training, help with applying for benefits, and subsidized meals. We feel strongly that the Older Americans Act reauthorization should remove barriers and strengthen opportunities for the network to better coordinate existing federal, state, local, and private resources through a comprehensive person-centered approach to elder economic security.

“Second, the Older Americans Act reauthorization should define economic security as explicitly stated as the objective of the Older Americans Act. It should evaluate and replicate comprehensive person-centered approaches to economic case work and assistance. Although the economic security has long been an applied goal of the Older Americans Act, the recent economic downturn and its negative impact on the housing, employment, and financial markets have made it an even more pressing matter for older adults. The aging network must define and adopt a measurable goal as a benchmark. The term economic security should mean access to assets, income, and community-based supports necessary to provide for basic needs. At a minimum, the measure should be geographically-based, taken to account life circumstances, and ensure that an individual can afford housing, health, nutrition, transportation, basic household needs, financial services, and, if necessary, long-term care. These recommendations are based on the elder economic security standard index or elder index created by the Wider Opportunities for Women and the Gerontology Institute.

“Our third recommendation is that the Older Americans Act reauthorization must modernize, expand, and protect training and employment assistance for mature workers, including the Senior Community Service Employment Program. Previous witness Mrs. Ruggles talked about the importance of that program, and we feel very strongly that it should be expanded to meet the needs of an aging workforce.

“Finally, we cannot forget to protect and strengthen the foundational role that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid play in ensuring economic security. We have specific recommendations, Senator, that we’ve included in our white papers, and I’d be happy to elaborate on those. But very quickly, I’d like to close with a story about Mrs. Perry in Baltimore, who worked hard and wanted to retire at the age of 70, and just found herself in a position where she wasn’t able to do so. She went to the CASH (Creating Assets, Savings, and Hope) Campaign in Baltimore, which is an economic security center, and as a result of the services and supports we were able to provide her, was able to get her life back on a path of economic security.

“So thank you so much for the opportunity to testify today, and I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have.”

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3 Comments on “Transcript: Dr. Sandra Nathan on the Older Americans Act reauthorization

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