Executive Director1965 was a banner year in Lyndon Johnson’s dream of creating a “Great Society.” It was the year that Medicare and Medicaid were added into the Social Security Act, and it was also the year that the President signed the Older Americans Act. Together, these laws were aimed at attempting to lift up older Americans above the poverty level, give them some dignity, and reward them for the years of building our nation, taking hold of the post depression economy and turning it around.
In this year of 2015, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Older Americans Act, we see this act, as well as Medicare and Medicaid, under constant siege by legislators and others who view both entitlements and discretionary spending that help senior citizens, as spending gone awry. They are seen as money wasted, as cash spent frivolously.
We can’t deny that some entitlements especially are taken advantage of in an unscrupulous manner. Neither can we undo the reality that much of life has changed since 1965 with people living longer, and in many ways, healthier lives. With this we can call for reforms to stop the scamming of Medicaid and Medicare. We should discuss increasing the age of eligibility for programs under the Older Americans Act.
Yet we must admit that these laws have indeed helped the aged and poor. We must see that older people who are homebound do indeed receive nutrition, home care and other protective and crisis services because of these laws. Can we turn from the facts that older Americans find legal help when facing housing crises, or assistance in learning to live in their homes when blindness overtakes them? Should we remove help given to frail elders in nursing homes, to those who need guardians or simply help paying their bills?
Is it possible that we want to deny older people the right to live in their own homes and neighborhoods for as long as they are able?
The Older Americans Act helps to do all of these things. In its 50 years of existence, the seniors who have been helped are our history. In this, our time, the seniors that we help are our own parents and grandparents. And tomorrow, in our future, WE will be the ones struggling to live in dignity and hope.
We mustn't forget that while we are trying to solidify a nation’s economy for our children, neither can we afford to dismantle a system that has helped to make our nation a great and wonderful society that becomes also a birthright for our own children, and our children’s children. In all of this our generation has been given a legacy, a trust that we must bolster and even strengthen, to give to all those whom we leave behind. Let them have their time to “live the dream” of the Great Society.