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Federal Agencies on Aging

Social Security Administration, Centers For Medicare And Medicaid Services, National Institute On Aging, Employment And Training AdministrationAdministration on Aging

A large number of departments and agencies within the federal government administer programs designed to help older Americans. There are multiple reasons why this public responsibility is spread across so many different government bureaucracies (Hudson).

First, older Americans have long had special needs that are absent or less intense among younger people. At advanced ages, people's strength tends to fail, and their health status may decline. Thus, it is often difficult for older people to work and support themselves. If they are ill, they may not be able to pay medical bills or gain access to health care services. It is also true that many older persons, especially very old women, are without family or nearby family members to assist them when they are in need. Thus, there has historically been a need for government to step in and help many people who have problems associated with old age (Binstock).

Second, the needs of older people for governmental assistance were acknowledged in the United States when assistance was not thought to be appropriate for other groups. In other industrial nations, many government programs were begun to assist workers and other working-age people, and were not targeted specifically to the old. The United States, however, proved more reluctant to put in place broad income and health care programs for working-age adults, holding more to a philosophy that such individuals should take care of themselves and their families (Rimlinger).

Third, older people make up a large percentage of the U.S. population today—12.6 percent of Americans are over age sixty-four—and have many of the same needs and demands for government programs that younger people have. Like other Americans, older people want safe streets, good transportation, a clean environment, and healthy food. Because of these interests older people have in common with younger ones, there are many agencies that address the needs of the old and the young on a largely undifferentiated basis.

The government agencies discussed here are confined to ones that devote their attention either exclusively or largely to older Americans. The best example of the first type of agency is the Administration on Aging (AoA) within the Department of Health and Human Services. AoA administers the Older Americans Act, which exclusively addresses the concerns of the 43 million Americans age sixty and above. An example of the second type of agency is the Social Security Administration, which is charged with administering most titles of the Social Security Act. Largely because of its old-age program for retired workers, most Social Security beneficiaries are elderly. However, because survivor, dependent, and disability benefits are also available through Social Security, roughly one-third of Social Security beneficiaries are under age sixty-five. An example of a third type of agency serving elderly and nonelderly is the Federal Transit Administration within the Department of Transportation. Though the elderly are frequent users of mass transit and this agency is very relevant to them, it serves a much broader population than just the old. As such, it is outside the bounds of the agencies discussed here.

The Administration on Aging (AoA), within the Department of Health and Human Services, is charged with being an advocate for older people within the federal government and with administering all but one title of the Older Americans Act, which supports a range of socially supportive services for elderly people through a network of state, regional, and provider organizations.

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 2