The Aging Services Network: Serving a Vulnerable and Growing Elderly Population in Tough Economic Times

Source: Carol V. O’Shaughnessy, National Health Policy Forum, Background Paper no. 83, December 13, 2011

Anticipating consideration of proposals to reauthorize the Older Americans Act during the 112th Congress, this publication updates a background paper published by the Forum in 2008.

OVERVIEW — In 1965, Congress enacted the Older Americans Act, establishing a federal agency and state agencies to address the social services needs of the aging population. The mission of the Older Americans Act is broad: to help older people maintain maximum independence in their homes and communities and to promote a continuum of care for the vulnerable elderly. In successive amendments, the Act created area agencies on aging and a host of social support programs. The “aging services network,” broadly described, refers to the agencies, programs, and activities that are sponsored by the Older Americans Act. The Act’s funding for services is supplemented by other federal funds, such as Medicaid, as well as state and local funds. As the number of older people increases with the aging of the baby boom population, the need for a wide spectrum of services is expected to place pressure on the aging services network. Research has shown that the Act’s programs serve vulnerable older people, yet many more are likely to need, but not receive, certain services important to help them to live in their own homes. Whether the aging services network will be able to sustain its current capacity and fully realize its potential will depend on its ability to attract and retain additional resources. Its challenges have been heightened by the continuing budget constraints faced by state and local governments during stressed economic times.

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