Bill sets up office to help seniors navigate government programs

A bill to establish an interagency office to help elder Americans navigate the plethora of government programs in various agencies was adopted Thursday by the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

Sponsored by Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., and sent to the floor by voice vote, the bill (S. 705) would set up the Interagency Council on Meeting the Housing and Service Needs of Seniors. It would be headed by the Secretaries of the Housing and Urban Development and the Health and Human Services departments, with representatives from the Departments of Transportation, Agriculture, Treasury, Labor and Veterans Affairs; the Social Security Administration, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Administration on Aging.

The council would be directed to review all federal programs and services that serve elder citizens in their housing needs and to identify gaps in services, to eliminate or reduce duplications and to improve the availability of housing and other services.

"We need to be doing much more to prepare for the needs of our growing elderly population, which will number 50 million by 2020," Sarbanes said. He said means must be developed to help seniors "gracefully age in place" to minimize the need for assisted living facilities. And, he added, families will increasingly need help not only in finding affordable housing for seniors but in piecing together health care, transportation, physical assistance and other services.

The bill drew bipartisan support and sponsorship from Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Tom Carper, D-Del., Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and Mel Martinez, R-Fla., all members of the committee.

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