Americans are living longer than ever, and the need to protect our older adults has never been higher. That was the message Wednesday, May 15 as Lee Girard, the director of the County's Aging, Disability & Veterans Services Division, testified in defense of the Older Americans Act. The act--which currently serves 11 million older Americans through social services and community-based programs including Meals and Wheels--is up for reauthorization on Capitol Hill this year.
Girard spoke as a witness during the Civil Rights and Human Services Subcommittee's first hearing on the act's reauthorization. Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici is leading the bipartisan effort to update and reauthorize the act.
Speaking on behalf of Multnomah County, Girard delivered testimony and responded to questions from committee members. Girard's staff of 465 currently oversees 10 community centers and 11 meal sites, serving 136,000 people each year. Girard also serves as the chair for the Oregon Association of Agencies on Aging and as a board member of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging.
"Oregon is no different than the national trend – we now enjoy a longer lifespan than previous generations," Girard said. "By 2025, it is estimated that 20% of Oregon’s population will be age 65 and over. Oregon’s person-centered system prioritizes the needs of the individual to provide better care, lower costs and a better quality of life for older adults and people with disabilities."
Shifting the focus on adjustments that must be made to the Act, Girard highlighted several needs that need to be met during its renewal, including:
- Addressing the social and economic needs of LGBTQ communities
- Giving more flexibility to local jurisdictions to administer the provisions of the act
- Supporting innovation and best practices
- Committing to bipartisan support going forward
"In Oregon, we have set forth in statute the values of independence, dignity and choice as the foundation of our work in supporting older adults and people with disabilities," Girard says. "These values are also foundational in the Older Americans Act. Area Agencies across the nation have worked to build a strong and dynamic network of services and supports that allow older adults to have the kinds of choices we all wish for – living in the communities of our choosing in ways that are responsive to our diverse needs and preferences."