Niese testifies for senior citizens
Written by KAREN NADLER COTA Sentinel Lifestyles Editor
Thursday, 13 February 2014 11:22
It's not every day that Washington calls, but when it does, Denise Niese answers.
|Snow continues to fall as a sidewalk is cleared of snow at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Niese, executive director of the Wood County Committee on Aging, was invited to the nation's capital Tuesday to testify before a U.S. Congressional subcommittee considering whether to reauthorize the Older Americans Act
Originally passed into law in 1965, during the Johnson administration, the Older Americans Act "has a significant impact on the real lives of older adults," Niese argued during the five minutes of oral testimony she was allotted in an appearance before the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training.
"My role" in addressing the subcommittee "was as the service provider who is providing the direct service," as opposed to the other three people on the witness list, including a representative of the National Hispanic Council on Aging, whom Niese defined as "more policy-based, bureaucratic."
It was no more than two weeks ago that Niese received an email from the National Council on Aging "to see if I'd be willing to have my name submitted" as a potential witness.
A telephone interview was the next step "and last Tuesday I got my official notification. I was chosen to represent Congressman John Kline from Minnesota, who is chair of the Committee on Education and Workforce, and Virginia Foxx, serving Congress from North Carolina," who chairs the above-named subcommittee.
Niese had to scramble to put together her written testimony so she could submit it in advance.
She flew to Washington late Monday morning and spent a total of 30 hours in D.C.
During her five minutes in the witness seat she explained how "WCCOA operates seven designated multipurpose senior centers throughout Wood County and a centrally located Production Kitchen from which all meals for the senior centers and home delivered clients are prepared." The construction of that kitchen has allowed for an increase from 567 meals provided in Wood County per day in 2004 to today's average of 746 meals daily.
"As a direct service provider at the local level, we work closely with our local Area Agency on Aging," she told the Congress members. "While entities such as ours are in the local communities delivering programs and services, we look to them for technical assistance to best serve our client base."
Niese talked about how useful the Older Americans Act remains - after a half century - primarily because of its flexibility.
"The act is very solid the way it is. It provides diversity of programming. What works in New York City may not work in Wood County, and the act allows for that."
For example, in the boroughs of New York City "a lot of the money goes to nutrition" because they have a very high percentage of low-income seniors being served.
"In our area, we also use it for transportation services."
Niese noted that the flexibility to collaborate with businesses, schools, institutions of higher learning - like Bowling Green State University - and other partners "allow us to expand our programs and services to meet local needs."
These local offerings and collaborations include:
• Club Fit - which meets the needs of older adults who want to remain healthy and flexible through exercise. In Wood County, it is a collaboration with five local nursing facilities.
• Non-emergency medical transportation and escort. "A unique component of the transportation is that we provide door through door service. The level of assistance" depends on the "need and choice of the older adult."
Niese did point out the drastic reduction in the percentage of the WCCOA's budget that comes from the Older Americans Act now as compared to several decades ago.
"In 1977, the first year we received federal funding, the Older Americans Act funds represented 61.6 percent of our budget. In 2014, Older Americans Act funds account for 9 percent of our total budget.
"The remaining 91 percent of our operating budget is comprised by other sources including a county-wide property tax and donations for meals.
"As you can see," she told the subcommittee members, "the majority of funds for programs and services in Wood County are non-federal."
The Older Americans Act is supposed to come up for reauthorization every five years, Niese said, although "historically it has not been reauthorized" with that frequency. "Sometimes it gets put on the back burner."
The last reauthorization came in 2006.
"So it is time to get it moving forward."
Niese closed by recommending that Congress "focus on opportunities for the Older Americans Act to be used as seed money that will allow service providers to leverage other dollars to further develop needed services."