Founded in 1973, AgeWell Services of West Michigan’s mission invites adults 60 and older to redefine their age. We provide vital connections to keep one of our most vulnerable populations nourished, active, learning and living independently.

In this four-part series, we’re going to take you through a journey of the key legislations, networks and agencies that supported (and continue to support) the overall Aging Network in the United States. We’ll also explore where and how AgeWell Services fits. Today, we’re going to start with the Older Americans Act (OAA).

Older Americans Act (OAA)

AgeWell Services, formerly known as Nutritional Services for Older Americans, Inc., was founded as an outcome of the Older Americans Act (OAA).

OAA was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 14, 1965. The original legislation started the process for grant funding “for community planning and social services, research and development projects, and personnel training in the field of aging”. Over the years, there have been reauthorizations of the OAA, with the most recent in 2020. Reauthorizations renews the Act and includes new and / or updated provisions. Meals on Wheels America (MOWA) also notes that the OAA is the “only federally supported program designed specifically to meet the nutritional and social needs of seniors”. Overall, the OAA “promotes the well-being of older individuals by providing services and programs designed to help them live independently in their homes and communities” and “empowers the federal government to distribute funds to the states”.

OAA authorizes numerous service programs through a large and unique national network of 56 Agencies on Aging in states, 618 Area Agencies on Aging, 20,000 service providers, 281 Tribal organizations and 1 Native Hawaiian organization representing 400 Tribes. For a comprehensive and interesting history of programs specifically for older adults, the Administration for Community Living (ACL) has a timeline with details, starting in 1920 with the passing of the Civil Service Retirement Act. In 2015, in celebration of 50 years of OAA, ACL created multiple infographics on the impact that the OAA and subsequent legislations and networks have created. These infographics can be found here.

Even though there are other federal programs to support older adults, OAA “is considered to be a major vehicle for the organization and delivery of social and nutrition services” for older adults, their families and caregivers. Not surprisingly, the National Council on Aging notes that OAA is the “backbone for services to America’s aging population”.

To administer the grant programs and “serve as the federal focal point on matters” regarding older adults, the law created the Administration on Aging (AoA). This will be the topic for the second blog post in this four-part series.

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