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New Congress begins slowly, but seniors’ priorities remain on the docket

NOTE: On Jan. 25, Congress is expected to pass, and the President sign, legislation that reopens the parts of government that have been shut down since Dec. 23, 2018. A longer-term deal will have to be reached to provide funding through September, and we will continue to monitor effects on benefits and services for older adults.

As the partial government shutdown extends into a fourth week and becomes the longest one on record, we continue to monitor the effects on benefits and services that older adults rely on.

Only 5 of the 12 FY19 appropriations bills have been enacted into law. Those 5 bills provide 75% of federal government funding, and many aging services programs are included. FY19 funding is secure for Older Americans Act (OAA) and Elder Justice Act (EJA) programs, Senior Corps, the Medicare State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

However, several other programs have not been funded. These include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), low-income housing assistance, senior transportation programs, and elder justice and consumer protection initiatives administered by the Justice and Treasury Departments. To date, there have not been any reductions in these services for older adults. But if the shutdown continues, harmful effects will begin to emerge in February and March.

What’s ahead for FY20

Traditionally, the annual appropriations debate kicks off with the release of the President’s budget request in early February. Due to the shutdown, we believe this will be delayed and the Congressional debate will be postponed until all FY19 funding is enacted.

An important element for FY20 will be the need for another 2-year deal to raise the caps on discretionary spending. Congress has done this in increments over the past few years, and this year they are facing a 9% cut (from $597 to $543 billion) in non-defense discretionary spending and an 11% cut (from $647 to $576 billion) for defense spending if the caps are not raised.

For FY20, NCOA will continue to focus on funding for a range of aging services, calling particular attention to protecting and increasing investments in falls prevention, Chronic Disease Self-Management Education (CDSME), SHIPs, and the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP).

Key statutes slated for renewal

Also due later this year are renewals of key statutes impacting older adults.

The first is renewal of authority under the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act (MIPPA) to provide targeted funding for SHIPs, Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs), Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRCs), and the National Center for Benefits Outreach and Enrollment (NCBOE) to find and enroll eligible low-income older adults into benefits programs. The current authority expires Oct. 1. NCOA is advocating to make this initiative permanent to eliminate the need for regular renewal.

Also up for renewal is the Older Americans Act. Reauthorization provides an opportunity to update and modernize the OAA to better serve the rapidly growing older population and strengthen the ability of the aging services network to address their needs. We are focused on strengthening research, demonstration, and evaluation activities through the creation of a new Innovation Center; protecting investments in falls prevention, CDSME, and SCSEP; enhancing efforts to coordinate and promote federal resources for home modifications; building upon senior center modernization secured in the last reauthorization; and enhancing the measurement of economic security of older adults.

Despite legislative activity getting off to a slow start, we were able to secure a three-month extension of the Medicaid home care Money Follows the Person (MFP) and Spousal Impoverishment protection programs. MFP has proven successful in helping low-income nursing home residents return to their homes. Advocates from all over the country worked hard to earn these victories, and we look forward to continuing work with our colleagues of the aging and disability communities toward a long-term reauthorization of these important programs.

As these debates ramp up, the NCOA Public Policy and Advocacy team will provide additional details about these proposals and how you can help ensure benefits and services for older adults are protected and strengthened in this Congressional session.

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Marci Phillips

About Marci Phillips

Marci Phillips is NCOA's Director of Public Policy and Advocacy. She oversees NCOA's advocacy efforts related to budget and appropriations for seniors’ programs, Older Americans Act, economic security and hunger, and elder justice.