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NHCOA President & CEO Gives Statement at Older Americans Act Reauthorization Listening Session

Washington, DC– Dr. Yanira Cruz, NHCOA President and CEO, gave a statement during a Older Americans Act Reauthorization listening session hosted by the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) on Friday, September 9, 2011 in representation of the millions of Hispanic older adults, families, and caregivers NHCOA serves. Below is her prepared statement, which is also available as a PDF document:

“Thank you for seeking our input as you renew one of the most valuable and cost-effective pieces of legislation in the United States today, the Older Americans Act. The National Hispanic Council on Aging, NHCOA, is the leading organization working to improve the lives of Hispanic older adults, their families, and caregivers.

“For more than 30 years, NHCOA has been a strong voice dedicated to ensuring that the nation’s Latino seniors— who represent fastest growing segment of the U.S.’s rapidly expanding aging population— can age with economic security, dignity, and in the best possible health.

“Alongside its Hispanic Aging Network, a consortium of community-based organizations and non-profits across the country, NHCOA’s impact reaches about ten million Hispanics each year.

“Hispanic older adults experience myriad challenges as they seek to obtain a good quality of life in their golden years. Therefore, the Older Americans Act programs— particularly the National Family Caregiver Support Program— help Latino seniors immensely as they are disproportionately affected by health afflictions such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and Alzheimer’s disease.

“Exacerbating these problems is the low rate of access to preventative care, and disproportionate employment in low-pay, low-skill jobs that require fewer levels of formal education. Thus, Social Security is often the sole source of income during their later years. Given these challenges, Hispanic older adults tend to depend on family members and caregivers to help them carry out most basic daily activities.

“The National Family Caregiver Support Program strengthens families by allowing people to care for their loved ones more effectively than they could otherwise, providing them with the ability to take some time off when needed.

“The National Family Caregiver Support Program also gives families across the country the flexibility to care for their loved ones as they best see fit. The broad categories of assistance allow service providers to tailor their services to effectively meet the needs of the community they serve.

“For example, a NHCOA Hispanic Aging Network member in Alamo, Texas—Senior Community Outreach Services— conducts strong community outreach because they have found that many of the area’s Hispanic families are reluctant to seek out help due to factors such as cultural and linguistic barriers.

“However, in Miami, caregiving services are more familiar to the Latino community, so much of the caregiver support is in the form of respite care.

“The vast majority of caregivers across the country say that the Administration on Aging programs have helped them to provide continuous care for loved ones much longer than possible without such support.

“However, despite its many virtues, the National Family Caregiver Support Program can be improved to better Hispanic families. Many Latino families are not aware of or do not accept the help that is available to them. A few, but significant changes to the Older Americans Act would help change that.

“Culturally and linguistically competent outreach and services would help make Hispanic older adults, their families, and caregivers feel comfortable about getting help from local senior centers.

“Increased data collection, specifically related to the need for services, will help state and local government pinpoint these outreach efforts. Additionally, we ask that data collection provisions in the Act be revised to include data collection on unmet needs.

“We also ask that Title 3E of the Older Americans Act be written to prioritize services to caregivers who experience the greatest social and economic need, as well as older adults and caregivers living in rural areas.

“NHCOA believes these changes will help make Latino families more receptive to available services, as well as equip communities to serve Hispanic older adults, their families, and caregivers more effectively.