Celebrating Older Americans Month by Empowering Our Older Adults

By: Xavier Becerra, Secretary

I remember working alongside my father during my youth paving and repairing Sacramento roads. My father was a strong man who woke up in the early morning hours every day, went to work, and returned home to do more work around the house. As he grew older, his body might have aged, but his resilient and hard-working spirit stayed the same. “Don’t confuse them with your lean in,” he would tell me when I drafted remarks to constituents. “Tell them about GANAS!” In my home GANAS mean guts, grits, and game, and my father had a lot of GANAS.

Throughout his life and until his passing two years ago, my father remained committed to his community and to his family. And despite the sadness of having to say goodbye, I took satisfaction in being able to care for him and assist him as he led a plentiful life during his golden years.

Like my father, since the beginning of the pandemic, older Americans have shown a lot of GANAS through the disproportionate challenges they have faced. Isolated from their families and friends, separated from community resources, and under siege from a pandemic that put them at far greater risk of serious illness and even death, millions of older Americans set an example of resilience for us all to follow, by overcoming hardships and even finding new ways to thrive. Older Americans are themselves a “Community of Strength,” and our nation is stronger when they can contribute their knowledge, skills and example to the communities in which they live. Older Americans have played an important role in helping our nation weather this crisis, and they will continue to play an important role as we recover. Now it is important that we assist our older adults in their later years.

During Older Americans Month, we recognize and celebrate these contributions, and recommit to our work to empower older adults, so they can live as independently as possible and continue to participate fully in their communities and our country. Here is how:

  • HRSA-funded health centers deliver affordable accessible, quality, and cost-effective primary health care to nearly 30 million people each year, including more than 8 million people age 50 and older.
  • Vaccination is critical for older adults, but many have had difficulty making or traveling to vaccination appointments or have faced other barriers to taking this important step to protect themselves from COVID-19. With funding from CDC, the Administration for Community Living (ACL) issued nearly $100 million in grants to the aging and disability networks to provide critical services to help older adults and people with disabilities overcome these barriers.  ACL, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) published several new resources and guidance on April 13, 2021 to help states, vaccination providers, and others leading COVID-19 response activities improve access to vaccines for older adults and people with disabilities.
  • Funded through the American Rescue Plan, ACL issued grants totaling $1.4B to help older adults recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other benefits, these grants will help accelerate vaccinations of older adults, support family caregivers, provide meals and other nutrition services, help older adults connect and engage with others to reduce social isolation, and re-open senior centers.
  • Building on work they have done throughout the pandemic to uphold the rights of older adults and people with disabilities to non-discriminatory access to medical resources, OCR this week announced the successful resolution of a complaint against the State of Arizona. As a result, Arizona’s crisis standards of care guidelines were revised to reflect legal requirements and best practices regarding the needs of older adults and people with disabilities.
  • The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) has provided grants to all states, territories, and several tribes over the past several years to establish, expand and evaluate kinship navigator programs, which provide an important mechanism to support kinship caregivers, such as grandparents. The Census Bureau estimates that there are 2.7 million grandparent caregivers in the United States.
  • The CDC and the Alzheimer’s Association, with contributions from the Indian Health Service and guidance from tribes and tribal organizations, produced the Healthy Brain Initiative Roadmap for Indian Country, the first-ever public health guide focused on dementia in American Indian and Alaska Native communities.
  • The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), in collaboration with OCR, developed the Guide to Getting and Using Your Health Records to help everyone – patients and their caregivers – learn about their rights to get, check and use their health information to take control of their health, well-being, and safety.
  • The CDC’s Division of Injury Prevention launched the national Still Going Strong Campaign on May 6, 2021 to raise awareness of the leading causes of unintentional injuries and deaths in older adults, age 65 and older, so that older adults can stay healthy and independent longer.
  • The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has provided states with guidance for receiving increased federal funding for home and community-based services (HCBS) through the American Rescue Plan. HCBS make it possible for millions of seniors and people with disabilities and chronic illnesses to live in the community and to avoid institutions.

Growing old is a road that we all travel if we are fortunate, and most of us will need assistance – whether that is from family or friends, or through services provided in our homes – to travel it in our own communities. As we build back better, the Biden-Harris Administration has committed to ensuring that we build the infrastructure we need to provide those services and support informal caregivers. This Older Americans Month, I think of my father and his example and guidance, and as a Department we recommit to doing our part to honor older adults and to empowering them to continue living full, healthy and independent lives.

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    The services preposition combat and support assets ashore and afloat worldwide, including in the Indo-Pacific region. Prepositioned assets include combat vehicles, equipment sets for engineering and construction, and protective gear for chemical or biological attacks. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Defense (DOD) used prepositioned medical assets for personnel in Guam, South Korea, and Germany. All of the services have reported some shortfalls in their prepositioned assets from 2015 through 2019—including mortars, combat vehicles, and medical equipment. In the Indo-Pacific region, for example, the Army reported shortfalls in equipment to construct bridges over difficult terrain. All services also cited challenges, such as insufficient storage space, storage facilities located far away from intended points of use, and the perishability of some assets. In some cases, the services are taking actions to address these shortfalls and challenges. In others, the services are accepting risk because, according to officials, not all shortfalls and challenges can be fully addressed. Sailors and Marines Offload Assets from a Prepositioning Ship during the COVID-19 Response in Guam DOD has taken steps to implement a joint oversight framework but does not have a complete view of the services' prepositioning programs. DOD revised two guidance documents—an instruction in 2019 and a strategic implementation plan in 2020—to establish a joint oversight framework. However, DOD has focused much of its joint efforts to date on preparing a required annual report to Congress on the status of the services' prepositioning programs. While the report provides some useful information, GAO found inaccurate and inconsistent information in multiple annual reports, which hinder their utility. DOD does not have a reporting mechanism or information-collection tool to develop a complete picture of the services' prepositioning programs. The current annual reporting requirement expires in 2021, which provides DOD with an opportunity to create a new reporting mechanism, or modify existing mechanisms or tools, to enable a complete picture of the services' prepositioning programs. By doing so, DOD could better identify gaps or redundancies in the services' programs, make more informed decisions to mitigate asset shortfalls and challenges, reduce potential duplication and fragmentation, and improve its joint oversight. The U.S. military services preposition critical assets at strategic locations around the world for access during the initial phases of an operation. DOD uses these prepositioned assets for combat, support to allies, and disaster and humanitarian assistance. For many years, GAO has identified weaknesses in DOD's efforts to establish a joint oversight framework to guide its ability to assess the services' prepositioning programs. This has led to fragmentation and the potential for duplication. Senate Report 116-48 included a provision for GAO to evaluate the services' prepositioning programs and associated challenges. This report (1) describes the types of assets the services preposition worldwide, as well as asset shortfalls and challenges the services have identified, and (2) assesses the extent to which DOD has made progress in implementing a joint oversight framework for the services' programs. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed DOD prepositioning documents and interviewed DOD and State Department officials from over 20 offices. This is a public version of a sensitive report that GAO issued in December 2020. Information that DOD deemed sensitive has been omitted. GAO recommends that DOD develop a reporting mechanism or tool to gather complete information about the military services' prepositioning programs for joint oversight and to reduce duplication and fragmentation. DOD concurred with the recommendation. For more information, contact Cary B. Russell at (202) 512-5431 or russellc@gao.gov.
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    In Crime Control and Security News
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    In Crime News
    Brian M. Boynton, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Civil Division, released the following statement:
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  • The Nation’s Fiscal Health: Effective Use of Fiscal Rules and Targets
    In U.S GAO News
    In fiscal year 2019, debt held by the public reached 79 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). The government's fiscal response to COVID-19 combined with the severe economic contraction from the pandemic will substantially increase federal debt. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected that debt held by the public will reach 98 percent of GDP by the end of fiscal year 2020. The nation's fiscal challenges will require attention once the economy has substantially recovered and public health goals have been attained. GAO has previously reported that a long-term plan is needed to put the government on a sustainable fiscal path. Other countries have used well-designed fiscal rules and targets—which constrain fiscal policy by controlling factors like expenditures or revenue—to contain excessive deficits. For example, Germany's constitution places limits on its deficits. The U.S. federal government has previously enacted fiscal rules, such as those in the Budget Control Act of 2011. However, current fiscal rules have not effectively addressed the misalignment between spending and revenues over time. GAO identified key considerations to help Congress if it were to adopt new fiscal rules and targets, as part of a long-term plan for fiscal sustainability (see table). Key Considerations for Designing, Implementing, and Enforcing Fiscal Rules and Targets Setting clear goals and objectives can anchor a country's fiscal policy. Fiscal rules and targets can help ensure that spending and revenue decisions align with agreed-upon goals and objectives. The weight given to tradeoffs among simplicity, flexibility, and enforceability depends on the goals a country is trying to achieve with a fiscal rule. In addition, there are tradeoffs between the types and combinations of rules, and the time frames over which the rules apply. The degree to which fiscal rules and targets are binding, such as being supported through a country's constitution or nonbinding political agreements, can impact their permanence, as well as the extent to which ongoing political commitment is needed to uphold them. Integrating fiscal rules and targets into budget discussions can contribute to their ongoing use and provide for a built-in enforcement mechanism. The budget process can include reviews of fiscal rules and targets. Fiscal rules and targets with limited, well-defined exemptions, clear escape clauses for events such as national emergencies, and adjustments for the economic cycle can help a country address future crises. Institutions supporting fiscal rules and targets need clear roles and responsibilities for supporting their implementation and measuring their effectiveness. Independently analyzed data and assessments can help institutions monitor compliance with fiscal rules and targets. Having clear, transparent fiscal rules and targets that a government communicates to the public and that the public understands can contribute to a culture of fiscal transparency and promote fiscal sustainability for the country. Source: GAO analysis of literature review and interviews. | GAO-20-561 Our nation faces serious challenges at a time when the federal government is highly leveraged in debt by historical norms. The imbalance between revenue and spending built into current law and policy have placed the nation on an unsustainable long-term fiscal path. Fiscal rules and targets can be used to help frame and control the overall results of spending and revenue decisions that affect the debt. GAO was asked to review fiscal rules and targets. This report (1) assesses the extent to which the federal government has taken action to contribute to long-term fiscal sustainability through fiscal rules and targets, and (2) identifies key considerations for designing, implementing, and enforcing fiscal rules and targets in the U.S. GAO compared current and former U.S. fiscal rules to literature on the effective use of rules and targets; reviewed CBO reports and relevant laws; and interviewed experts. GAO conducted case studies of national fiscal rules in Australia, Germany, and the Netherlands. Congress should consider establishing a long-term fiscal plan that includes fiscal rules and targets, such as a debt-to-GDP target, and weigh GAO's key considerations to ensure proper design, implementation, and enforcement of these rules and targets. The Department of the Treasury and other entities provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Jeff Arkin, at (202) 512-6806 or arkinj@gao.gov.
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    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice’s U.S. Trustee Program (USTP) has entered into a settlement with three law firms representing Purdue Pharma (Purdue) in its ongoing bankruptcy cases. The firms are Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP; Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP; and Dechert LLP (the Firms). 
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  • Judiciary Steps Up Calls to Enact Security Measures
    In U.S Courts
    Citing the latest act of violence this year, in which a judge's family and officers at two federal courthouses have come under attack, the Judiciary has stepped up its call to congressional leaders for a series of safety measures “to protect the safety of the public at our nation’s courthouses.”
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  • Servicemember Rights: Mandatory Arbitration Clauses Have Affected Some Employment and Consumer Claims but the Extent of Their Effects is Unknown
    In U.S GAO News
    Mandatory arbitration clauses in civilian employment contracts and consumer agreements have prevented servicemembers from resolving certain claims in court under two laws that offer protections: the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, as amended (USERRA), and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, as amended (SCRA) (see figure). Some courts have held that claims involving mandatory arbitration clauses must be resolved with arbitrators in private proceedings rather than in court. Although we reviewed federal court cases that upheld the enforceability of these clauses, Department of Justice (DOJ) officials said mandatory arbitration clauses have not prevented DOJ from initiating lawsuits against employers and other businesses under USERRA or SCRA. However, DOJ officials noted that these clauses could affect their ability to pursue USERRA claims against private employers on behalf of servicemembers. Servicemembers may also seek administrative assistance from federal agencies, and mandatory arbitration clauses have not prevented agencies from providing this assistance. For example, officials from DOJ, as well as the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Labor (DOL), told us they can often informally resolve claims for servicemembers by explaining servicemember rights to employers and businesses. Examples of Employment and Consumer Protections for Servicemembers Note: USERRA generally provides protections for individuals who voluntarily or involuntarily leave civilian employment to perform service in the uniformed services. SCRA generally provides protections for servicemembers on active duty, including reservists and members of the National Guard and Coast Guard called to active duty. Data needed to determine the prevalence of mandatory arbitration clauses and their effect on the outcomes of servicemembers' employment and consumer claims under USERRA and SCRA are insufficient or do not exist. Officials from DOD, DOL, and DOJ told us their data systems are not set up to track these clauses. Further, no data exist for claims settled without litigation or abandoned by servicemembers. Finally, data on arbitrations are limited because they are often private proceedings that the parties involved agree to keep confidential. Servicemembers are among millions of Americans who enter into contracts or agreements with mandatory arbitration clauses. For example, these provisions may be included in the contracts servicemembers sign when they enter the civilian workforce, obtain a car loan, or lease an apartment. These contracts generally require disputes to be resolved in private proceedings with arbitrators rather than in court. Due to concerns these clauses may not afford servicemembers certain employment and consumer rights, Congress included a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 for GAO to study their effects on servicemembers' ability to file claims under USERRA and SCRA. This report examines (1) the effect mandatory arbitration has on servicemembers' ability to file claims and obtain relief for violations of USERRA and SCRA, and (2) the extent to which data are available to determine the prevalence of mandatory arbitration clauses and their effect on servicemember claims. GAO reviewed federal laws, court cases, and regulations, as well as agency documents, academic and industry research, and articles on the claims process. GAO interviewed officials from DOD, DOL, DOJ, and other agencies, academic researchers, and a range of stakeholders representing servicemembers, businesses, attorneys, and arbitration firms. GAO also identified and evaluated potential sources of data on servicemembers' employment and consumer claims collected by federal agencies and the firms that administer arbitrations or maintained in court records. For more information, contact Kris T. Nguyen at (202) 512-7215 or NguyenTT@gao.gov.
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    In Crime Control and Security News
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