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The Older Americans Act Gets an Update

The Older Americans Act got its first update in 36 years. Two Kimbrough Law staff members share their thoughts about the changes.

In early February, the U.S. Administration for Community Living (ACL) released a final rule to update the regulations of its Older Americans Act programs — the first significant update in 36 years.


First passed in 1965 and last reauthorized on March 25, 2020, the Older Americans Act (OAA) authorizes a wide range of programs and services, most of which focus on helping older adults age in place. These services include home-delivered and congregate meals, support for family caregivers, preventive health services, personal and home care services, transportation, legal assistance, elder abuse prevention, and so much more. In addition, the OAA provides ombudsman services for people who live in long-term care facilities.


Through the aging services network, the OAA helps older adults continue to work and volunteer, live independently, and age with dignity, to the great benefit of all. Because of the OAA, neighborhoods and organizations across the country are able to continue to draw upon the wealth of knowledge that comes only with life experience.


The Older Americans Act: Strengthening the System that Helps Millions Age in Place

The world has changed dramatically in the 36 years that have passed since the last substantial update to the regulations for most of ACL’s Older Americans Act Programs in 1988. The population of older adults has nearly doubled, and older adults are living longer than ever before. Their expectations for aging are different from those of earlier generations. Increased understanding of the impact of the social determinants of health is reshaping health care, as non- medical services that help people avoid hospitalization and institutional care – like those provided through OAA programs – are increasingly being incorporated into health care service delivery models. In addition, the OAA has been amended by Congress seven times since 1988.


One important thing has not changed, however. Older adults overwhelmingly want to continue to live independently, in the community – and nearly 95 percent of them do, many with the support of ACL’s OAA programs.


The 2024 final rule aligns regulations to the current statute, addresses issues that have emerged since the last update, and clarifies a number of requirements. It aims to better support the national aging network that delivers OAA services and improve program implementation, with the ultimate goal of ensuring that the nation's growing population of older adults can continue to receive the services and supports they need to live – and thrive – in their own homes and communities.


Key Provisions of the 2024 Older Americans Act Final Rule

The updated regulations reinforce and clarify policies and expectations, promote appropriate stewardship of OAA resources, and incorporate lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some examples:


  • Clarifies requirements for state and area plans on aging and details requirements for coordination among tribal, state, and local programs.

  • Clarifies and strengthens provisions for meeting OAA requirements for prioritizing people with the greatest social and economic needs.

  • Specifies the broad range of people who can receive services, how funds can be used, fiscal requirements, and other requirements that apply across programs. 

  • Includes guidance for the National Family Caregiver Support Program and the Native American Caregiver Support Program, which were authorized since the last update.

  • Addresses emergency preparedness and response, incorporating lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Establishes expectations for legal assistance and activities to prevent elder abuse.

  • Clarifies the role of the aging network in defending against the imposition of guardianship and in promoting alternatives.

  • Updates definitions, modernizes requirements, and clarifies flexibilities within the OAA nutrition programs. For example, the rule allows for continuation of innovations developed during the pandemic, such as providing carry-out meals through the congregate meals program, in certain circumstances. 


This overview has more details. Read or download the entire final rule on the Federal Register website.


What do Kimbrough Law staff members think about the OAA update? “This is good news for our clients and older Americans in general,” said Hailey Brock, attorney and owner of the firm. “The OAA needed to be reviewed and updated to fit our current circumstances.” Hailey is especially excited about how the revision addresses some of the most crucial advocacy points for older Americans such as elder abuse, transportation, family caregiver support, and even legal assistance. “The population of older adults in this country is ever-changing, and the revision after 36 years was long overdue.”


Life Care Coordinator Robin Lacrimosa sees the update addressing long needed changes. “I find it really interesting that they are finally acknowledging and recognizing ‘older relative caregivers’ since more than 1 in 10 caregivers are over the age of 75,” she said. “They have also expanded the term ‘family caregiver’ to include friends, neighbors, etc. In our current society where many families are so spread out, these ‘family caregivers’ are really stepping in and need to be recognized and eligible for assistance in their caregiving role." 


Hailey is happy to see that the rule change is addressing contracts and community relations. “I think this will help our clients and seniors across the country, but it will also provide a stronger foundation for accountability in senior services,” she said. “I am glad to see the revision, but more importantly, I hope we don't wait another 36 years to review our policies.”

 

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