What Is the Older Americans Act?

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on June 16, 2022
4 min read

The Older Americans Act (OAA) was passed in 1965. President Johnson signed it into law as part of the "Great Society" initiative. The goal of the OAA is to help senior citizens live at home and remain a part of their community for as long as possible. 

Today, the OAA is the framework for delivering home and community-based services for around 11 million seniors.

The OAA provides critical services that help older adults live independently with dignity. These services are administered through local resources and include: 

  • Meals, delivered at home and available in the community
  • In-home assistance 
  • Preventative healthcare 
  • Job training
  • Transportation
  • Protection from abuse 

The infrastructure of the OAA is administered by a national network that includes: 

  • 56 state and territorial agencies
  • Over 600 Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs)
  • Over 260 Title VI Native American Aging Programs
  • Over 20,000 community service providers 

The programs provided by the agencies covered under the OAA include a wide range of services that are designed to help older adults maintain their independence. Some services provided include: 

Nutrition

Around 40% of OAA funding goes to providing meals. These meals are either available in senior centers or adult daycares, or they're delivered directly to seniors at home. Home-delivered meal programs, such as Meals on Wheels, deliver around 146 million meals per year. Senior centers and adult daycares provide about 79 million meals. 

These programs feed about 2.4 million older adults per year.

Family Caregivers

The OAA provides funding to state agencies to provide a range of services for family caregivers. Some of these supports include: 

  • Information
  • Referrals
  • Respite care
  • Support groups
  • Training
  • Supplemental services

Family caregivers are the largest providers of long-term services and support (LTSS) for older adults, providing over $470 billion in unpaid care. The OAA allocates $181 million for services for family caregivers, a small fraction of the care provided. 

Employment 

The OAA provides part-time employment in community service positions, as well as employment training to low-income unemployed people who are over the age of 55. Over one million seniors have entered the workforce through the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) since it began. 

Native American Services 

The OAA was amended in 1978 to include services for elderly Native Americans. Eligible Tribal organizations are given grants to help provide community and home-based services for their elders. Nutrition and supportive services were added in 1978, and in 2000, family and caregiver support services were added. Tribal organizations have the discretion to allocate funds to the services provided and to decide the age when their elders are eligible to receive them. 

The nutrition and supportive services provided include: 

  • Meals delivered to homes or provided in community centers
  • Information and referral
  • Transportation 
  • Personal care
  • Chores
  • Health promotion
  • Disease prevention 
  • Other supportive services 

The Native American Caregiver Support Services expresses a core value that their services should not replace the tradition of families caring for their elders. Instead, they seek to provide supportive services to family caregivers, many of whom are geographically isolated. The purpose of family caregiver support services is to strengthen the family caregiver's role through services such as: 

  • Information and outreach
  • Access assistance
  • Individual counseling
  • Support groups 
  • Training
  • Respite care
  • Other supplemental services

Home and Community-Based Services

Home and community-based services aim to reduce the need for more costly interventions. These supportive and preventative services include: 

  • Home care
  • Adult day services
  • Case management
  • Transportation
  • Health promotion 

Adult Protective Services

The OAA provides minimal support for protective services for older adults, including: 

  • Elder Rights Protection
  • Elder Rights Support
  • Adult Protective Services (APS)
  • Aging Network Support Activities
  • The Ombudsman program
  • Aging and Disability Resource Centers
  • Alzheimer’s Disease Program
  • Administration for Community Living Program Administration.

The OAA serves millions of seniors who depend on these programs. However, there isn't enough funding to address the needs of frail older adults and their caregivers. This shortfall leaves many vulnerable seniors with unmet needs that could lead to costlier care in the future. 

To try to address the additional issues older adults are facing as a result of the pandemic, in May of 2021, the Biden-Harris administration provided an additional 1.4 billion in funds through the American Rescue Plan for Older Americans Act. These funds are to support the health of older Americans by supporting vaccine outreach and coordination, addressing social isolation, providing caregiver support, and providing nutritional support.

The money will go to programs supported by the OAA and will be distributed as follows: 

Nutritional Support

Programs that were closed due to the pandemic may be safely re-opened, and meals can be delivered on a drive-by basis using the $750 million allocated to nutritional support. 

Home and Community-Based Programs 

This act provides $460 million to support home and community-based programs through the OAA. This funding will help older adults with issues such as: 

  • Grocery shopping
  • Household chores
  • Transportation for essential services like grocery stores, banks, and doctor's appointments 
  • Case management 
  • Vaccination
  • Services to address social isolation because of the pandemic

Health Promotion and Disease Prevention

Evidence-based programs will receive $44 million to help with the following: 

Caregiver support

The National Family Caregiver Support Program will receive $145 million to help provide support services for caregivers.

Long-term Care

State Long-term Care Ombudsman programs will receive $10 million to advocate for seniors living in long-term care facilities. These programs promote the welfare, health, and safety of residents in long-term care facilities.