Celebrate Older Americans Month by Fighting Senior Poverty

05/19/2015 01:00 pm ET | Updated May 19, 2016

As established in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy, May is designated as Older Americans Month in the United States. The month provides an excellent opportunity to celebrate this Nation's older adults and our programs that are working, and identify the challenges ahead, raise awareness of the folks who are aging in poverty, and join the fight to make things better for everyone as we age. As President Obama said in his 2015 proclamation for Older Americans Month: "Our elders forged a bright future for all our Nation's children, and they deserve the best America has to offer. As heirs to their proud legacy, we must reach for the world they have made possible. During Older Americans Month, we lift up all those whose life's work has made ours a little easier, and we recommit to showing them the fullest care, support, and respect of a grateful Nation." This May, there are two major ways to fight senior poverty and honor the older adults in your life by supporting the programs and services they rely on.

The Older Americans Act
As 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the Older Americans Act (OAA), the theme of this year's Older Americans Month (as designated by the Administration for Community Living) is Get Into the Act to celebrate its impact and urge for its reauthorization. Fifty years of OAA has meant fifty years of increased aging in place and independence, better access to nutrition and health care services, and more. But the OAA is overdue for reauthorization. The number of seniors in the country is targeted to double by 2030: more people need these services than ever. We must urge congress to fund, reauthorize, and protect the OAA in its 50th year. You can also share your story of how and why the OAA is important to you, your community, and the ones you love.

The Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act of 2015
In the United States, fifteen percent of older adults are living in poverty. That's 6.4 million seniors scraping by. With 10,000 people in America turning 65 every day (a phenomenon that will continue every day for the next 15 years) the number of seniors living in poverty is only going to grow. I don't mean to scare you, but this is an urgent problem that needs an urgent response. Now.

An answer to this call came May 19: Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) with several co-sponsors, introduced The Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act of 2015 into both houses of Congress. Justice in Aging and over 70 other national organizations have signed on in support of the bill. The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, administered by the Social Security Administration, was enacted by Congress as a safety net for older adults and people with disabilities--to spare anyone with low or no income from the harms of poverty. The program is designed to provide a modest monthly benefit for basic needs like rent, food, transportation, utility bills, and health care co-pays. Unfortunately, the program has been falling behind on its original intent to keep people from the devastating effects of poverty. Some of its rules have not been updated or adjusted for inflation since the early 70s. For instance, the current eligibility requirements mean SSI recipients are prevented from saving more than $2,000 to get beyond day-to-day living. Our seniors deserve better. Some of the specifics of The SSI Restoration Act of 2015 include:

  • Individuals will be able to save up to10,000 and couples will be able to save up to15,000 for emergencies such as car repairs, new roofs, and other unexpected expenses without losing benefits.
  • Individuals will be able to receive up to112 monthly from other sources, such as Social Security benefits or pension payments without a corresponding loss in benefits.
  • Individuals who are able to work will be able to earn up to364 a month without being penalized.
  • Individuals who live in households with others, including family members, will no longer be penalized with lower benefits through the in-kind support and maintenance provision.
  • Individuals who transfer assets (even small amounts of money to a family member) will no longer suffer harsh penalties.
These are modest updates to the SSI rules that will translate into major improvements for our lowest-income older adults and people with disabilities. The restoration of SSI has been gaining momentum and support for several years, but your voice on this issue is now more crucial than ever. Support the act by sharing this piece and tweeting your support #RestoreSSI. You can also show your commitment to ending senior poverty by signing Justice in Aging's petition. To learn more about the OAA and the SSI Restoration Act of 2015, visit