U.S. Senators Tina Smith, Lisa Murkowski Introduce Legislation to Improve Aging Services for American Indian Elders

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-MN) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced the Enhancing Native Elders’ Longevity, Dignity, Empowerment, and Respect (Native ELDER) Act that would improve federal programs and services focused on healthy aging and independence for Alaska Native, American Indian, and Native Hawaiian elders. The legislation was introduced in May during Older Americans Month, a time to recognize the important role and contributions of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian elders.

“Honoring and caring for elders is foundational to Native American communities. Tribal elders in Minnesota and across the country have been clear about their needs,” said Senator Smith. “Enhanced support for caregivers, funding for home modifications, and better training programs for Tribes to deliver in-home care are some of the basic needs this bill would help to meet. Taking care of our elders – giving them the tools to age comfortably and with dignity in their own homes – this is how we keep our communities strong, and I’m proud this bill will help to deliver on that promise.”

“When meeting with Alaska stakeholders, they identified home modifications to improve accessibility and caregiver support as some of the greatest unmet needs for Alaska Native Elders,” said Senator Murkowski.“Our Elders already face substantially worse health outcomes at disproportionally higher rates than other seniors. We have to help bridge this divide by ensuring our Elders have the support they need to age at home, in their local communities. Prioritizing home modifications and supporting family members who act as caregivers, is essential in supporting not only Elders, but the entire community. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with ANTHC, Southcentral Foundation, Tanana Chiefs Conference, Maniilaq Association, National Indian Health Board, and the National Indian Council on Aging to help Alaska Native Elders live their lives with care and dignity, in the communities they call home.”

The Native ELDER Act is a part of the 2024 OAA reauthorization effort and would:

·         Establish an Older Americans Tribal Advisory Committee at the Administration on Aging, which would provide recommendations on how the OAA’s programs can improve services for Native American Elders.

·         Prioritize accessible home modifications and in-home services necessary for American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian Elders.

·         Enhance technical assistance and build infrastructure for tribes and tribal organizations so they have the capacity to deliver services to build up self-reliance of Native American communities.

·         Conduct a feasibility study for modifying the Native American Caregiver Support program, with the goal of enhancing elders’ ability to age in their own communities.

·         Direct the Secretary of Labor to submit a report to Congress on how recipients of funding under Title V of the OAA, a program providing subsidized community service and employment training to low-income, unemployed people 55 and older, are serving Native American Elders.

·         Direct the Assistant Secretary of Aging to evaluate and identify the barriers to Indian tribes accessing programs under Title VI of the Older American Act, which provides grants for nutrition services as well as family caregiver support to older Native Americans.

As members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Senators Smith and Murkowski have long been focused on investing in Tribes’ efforts to support Native elders. In 2019, they introduced the Strengthening Services for Native Elders Act that would help tribal organizations provide a wider range of home and community-based health services to American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) elders. In 2020, provisions from that bill and the Older Americans Social Isolation and Loneliness Prevention Act were signed into law as part of the Older Americans Act Reauthorization.

You can read the full text of the bill here