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Older Americans Act reauthorized

WASHINGTON - After years of delay and prolonged debate in Congress, the president finally signed off on a bill which reauthorizes the Older Americans Act (OAA).

It was originally passed to ensure that seniors in need have access to meals, nursing home services, legal assistance, elder abuse prevention, employment and transportation services. Provisions have grown over the years to include specific language on services for tribal elders.

"Care for our elders is critical to the preservation of our communities," said James Del La Cruz of the Quinault Indian Nation in Washington state. "If we do not provide for them, they will no longer be able to share their knowledge and ensure a future for our people. They deserve the best life we can provide"

The new law reauthorizes grants for Native American programs at levels which may be necessary through 2004. The grants are available to eligible organizations to cover the cost to deliver support services and nutrition services to tribal elders. Grants made to organizations serving Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians are not to be less than the amount received in 1991.

The law also requires the BIA to make surplus Indian education facilities and surplus Alaska Native educational facilities available to organizations to use as multipurpose senior centers. It also makes any other surplus educational facilities in the state of Hawaii controlled by the Department of Interior available to organizations serving Native Hawaiians.

The law will create a $125 million National Family Caregiver Support Program to help families care for frail elderly relatives and to help grandparents care for grandchildren and other related children. This includes a separate $5 million program to make grants to eligible tribal organizations to pay the federal share of tribal family caregiver support programs.

The law reauthorizes training, research and demonstration programs and new demonstration projects, including protection from violence, computer training, healthcare services in rural areas, and technical assistance to improve transportation for seniors. Tribal organizations are included among eligible grantees.

In a statement following the bill's passage, President Clinton expressed his support for reauthorization and appreciation for those who worked on the final bill.

"I applaud the bipartisan leadership in the U.S. Senate for its outstanding efforts to approve the Older American Act Amendments of 2000," said Clinton.

"I am especially pleased that the final legislation includes the National Family Caregiver Support Program, a key administration priority designed to provide respite care and other supportive services to help hundreds of thousands of families who are struggling to care for their older loved ones who are ill or disabled."

The law further requires a "White House Conference on Aging" to be held before December 31, 2005. The conference will be limited to developing not more than 50 recommendations on the meeting objectives of the act and evaluating how national policies related to economic security and health care will serve the "baby boom" generation.

The act is managed through the Administration on Aging in the Department of Health and Human Services.