WASHINGTON - Today U.S. Senator Herb Kohl held a hearing of the Senate Special Committee on Aging exploring ways to reshape and modernize aging services through the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act (OAA). 

OAA programs provide assistance to over 10 million older adults by helping them to live independently in their communities through home care services, congregate and home delivered meals, senior transportation, family caregiver support, and other services.   As America's population rapidly ages, many Americans will need critical support services like those that are provided under the OAA.  Yet funding for OAA programs fell from $2.3 billion in FY 2010 to $1.9 billion in FY 2011 - a 17 percent decrease.

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Kohl has been an advocate for OAA programs each year.  Kohl has been a champion for the National Family Caregiver Support Program, which provides needed support and respite services to family members who care for an elderly or disabled relative, as well as the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, which provides an advocate for elderly and disabled patients to help resolve complaints of abuse and neglect in long-term care.

"One of my priorities [for OAA reauthorization] will address helping the nearly 44 million family members providing care to an older relative by… permitting states to assess whether family caregivers need services such as respite care and counseling," Kohl said.

"I also believe we must strengthen the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program… and I will work to expand the capacity of the National Ombudsman Resource Center and increase the Ombudsman's access to resident health records so that they can be more efficient and effective."

The hearing featured testimony from former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, the current President of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving (RCI) at Georgia Southwestern State University and Kathy Greenlee, Assistant Secretary for Aging at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Carter described her experience supporting family caregivers and shared RCI's recommendations for improving the National Family Caregiver Support Program.  Greenlee outlined the Obama Administration's efforts to convene listening sessions across the country to receive input from seniors and aging network stakeholders on recommendations for Congress to consider when reauthorizing the OAA. 

In addition to Carter and Greenlee, the hearing heard testimony from Elizabeth Marshall a 92-year old, former Mayor of York, Pennsylvania.  She described how receiving Meals on Wheels three times a week has helped her to remain independent in her home.

Max Richtman, Chairman of the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations, provided an overview of the coalition's recommendations for improving the OAA.  Next, Heather Bruemmer, the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman for Wisconsin, discussed the work of the Ombudsman program, which responds to reports of abuse, neglect and mistreatment in nursing homes as well as assisted living facilities and home and community-based settings.  Timothy Howell, CEO of Senior Citizen Home Assistance Services, described the types of services his company provides to seniors in East Tennessee to help them remain at home and independent as they age.