In a world filled with uncertainty, it is most often comforting to know that some things are reliable, ever the same, changeless. Take for example the succession of the seasons: fall always follows summer, the cycle inevitably proceeds as it has since the beginning of time. Night shadows day and then day turns to night. Those sequences are set and we have no control over them.
Then there are those habits that we fall into that seem to take on the same kind of inevitability – and they are not always good. Congressional inaction on the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act (OAA) seems to be one such unfortunate example. Discretionary programs – like those created and supported by the OAA – do not automatically “renew.” As the legislative terminology implies, they need to be re-authorized, that is, considered by Congress and passed again, usually with amendments, every several years. Congress knows this, just as we advocates do; but for the last several cycles (translate that as for well more than a decade), lawmakers have failed to take that action in a timely manner. They have done so again this year. The only “certainty” this leaves us with seems to be uncertainty. As of September 30, the funding authorized under the Act expired.
Just for the record, Congress did approve some short-term funding to keep money available for a brief period of time. But that’s only a band-aid and, more important, that is not the point. This is: many of the services provided under the Act are critical for many of our nation’s most vulnerable seniors. They deserve attention. They should be given priority. While the programs are literally “discretionary” from a legal point of view, they are certainly not for millions of seniors who sometimes open the door of an empty refrigerator.
If you know NFESH, or even the words for which our acronym stands (National Foundation to End Senior Hunger), then you know about whom we write. We speak of and for those elders who, without access to nutritious meals furnished under the OAA, would likely suffer – and we do mean suffer – from “hunger and food insecurity.” The primary purpose of the Act’s nutrition programs is to address those very problems. And they do, and they will, we hope without an interruption in funding regardless of how long the current reauthorization process takes.
But here is another point. This needless cycle of delay, which seems to have taken on the inevitability of the seasons, is more than disheartening. It is dangerous. Poor seniors are not likely to get less poor. Their cycle of poverty most often continues with the same certainty as that of day running into night. And each day in America more individuals become seniors. With that, research shows us, more older Americans are facing hunger and food insecurity.
It need not be so. It must not be so. At least where those programs supported by the Older Americans Act are concerned, this is a cycle that folks have the power to change. We challenge those who were elected to exercise it to do just that – without excuse and without delay.