During the 113th Congress (2013-14), two Older Americans Act reauthorization bills were introduced in the House:
- H.R. 4122, Older Americans Act Reauthorization Act of 2014 and NCOA letter of support
- H.R. 3850, Older Americans Act Reauthorization of 2014 and Rep. Gibson’s press release
The Education and the Workforce Committee convened an OAA reauthorization hearing, “Serving Seniors Through the Older Americans Act,”that included a National Institute of Senior Centers (NISC) leader. The experience was recapped as follows:
Our Senior Center Voice in Washington
Senior centers have played an important role in the delivery of home and community-based services since the creation of the Older Americans Act (OAA) in 1965 and with each reauthorization.
Throughout the life of the OAA, senior centers have been at the ground level of planning and service delivery. Their role and function has evolved from the original sites developed to combat isolation and poor nutrition to today’s multipurpose senior centers that deliver an expanded continuum of services and opportunities to support wellness, independence, and a high quality of life for older adults spanning three generations.
Congress is currently considering the next OAA reauthorization, and senior centers have both a unique perspective on needs and a unique capacity to deliver services.
That’s why it was so exciting that when the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training wanted to learn more about OAA programs and services in preparation for reauthorization, it sought a senior center director to get a first-hand account.
Denise Niese, director of the Wood County Committee on Aging in Ohio, traveled to Washington, DC to testify at the subcommittee’s hearing entitled Serving Seniors through the Older Americans Act on Feb. 11.
Sitting on a panel with three other guests representing national and regional perspectives, Niese provided compelling testimony on the OAA’s importance at the local level. She spoke about the nutrition program and the capacity for leveraging local funds that OAA seed money can build. Her full testimony is posted online.
It was no accident that Niese was invited to testify. She has been a long-time leader within NCOA’s National Institute of Senior Centers (NISC), known for her commitment to and expertise in nutrition services. When NCOA was asked to recommend local representatives, Niese was an obvious choice.
A Unique Experience
Testifying at a Congressional hearing is a unique experience. After initial contact and an interview process, Niese had less than a week to prepare and submit up to 15 pages of written and no more than five minutes of oral testimony. While the staff of the subcommittee was helpful, they are not permitted to provide direct assistance in forming testimony.
On the day of the hearing, after standing in line for security screening, the witnesses were brought into an anteroom and given an overview of the process—the order of speakers, the green-yellow-red light timing system, and who would be in the room. Then the witnesses were led into the hearing room.
While the process is clearly formal, structured by rules and somewhat intimidating, there was an opportunity to take pictures and greet legislators. Each of the witnesses—Carol O’Shaughnessy, national policy analyst with the National Health Policy Forum, Lynn Kellogg, CEO of Michigan’s Region IV Area Agency on Aging, Dr. Yanira Cruz, CEO of the National Hispanic Council on Aging, and Niese—provided their five minutes of testimony.
The 10 subcommittee members then spent five minutes each questioning the witnesses. It was clear that the members had listened, read the written testimony, and have a deep interest in OAA reauthorization.
Add Your Voice
Niese spent 30 hours in our nation’s capital and was an excellent witness. Through her testimony, senior centers across the country had a voice.
While we cannot all travel to DC or testify at a hearing, we do all have the opportunity to use our voice locally, with our locally elected representatives in their home districts. We hope Niese has inspired all of us to take up that challenge!