Congressional Committee Advances Senior Bill with Arts Focus

The U.S. House Education and Labor Committee began the process last week of reauthorizing the Older Americans Act (OAA). This law represents the primary dedicated Federal funding to support seniors through home- and community-based services. This legislative effort also included an expanded focus sought by Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA) to ensuring seniors have access to and engage in cultural and arts experiences.

While not precluding the use of OAA resources to support cultural experiences and the arts for seniors, the law has never prioritized this focus. GIA endeavored to remedy this through work with full Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA), full Committee Ranking member (top Republican) Virginia Foxx (R-NC), and arts champion and author of the Dignity in Aging Act of 2019, Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR). The bill, which passed the Committee on a bipartisan vote, remedies this lack of culture and arts prioritization in two primary ways.

First, the bill includes references to cultural experiences, including the arts in the list of issues that should be identified by the agency, which is charged with carrying out the OAA, the Administration on Aging (AoA). This would require the AoA to focus on the arts as it considers how to conduct research and provide direction on services for older Americans. This additional language will ensure that the AoA prioritizes cultural experience and the arts in the administration of the OAA.

Second, the bill makes clear that supportive services under the OAA include cultural experiences and the arts. Supportive services are a comprehensive set of services that are provided to seniors through various programs under the OAA. The law makes numerous references to supportive services for older Americans throughout all its provisions, which will expand the ability of seniors to gain access to and benefit from the arts and cultural experiences.

Next up for this legislation is a vote before the full House of Representatives in the coming weeks. At present the Senate has begun, but not yet advanced similar legislation. GIA is working to ensure any version that emerges from the Senate includes similar language. We remain hopeful, as do Congressional Leaders, that an OAA bill including this focus on the arts can pass Congress late this year or early next.