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Oregon Democrat speaks to lunchtime crowd at Elsie Stuhr Center in Beaverton, which focuses on activities for people 55 and up.

PMG PHOTO: PETER WONG - U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, right, speaks to a lunchtime crowd Thursday, Feb. 21, at the Elsie Stuhr Center in Beaverton. The Oregon Democrat leads a new House subcommittee that will take up renewal of federal spending authority for senior programs such as Meals on Wheels.U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, newly empowered with leadership of a House subcommittee, says she wants to press forward with the renewal of federal spending authority for programs that help older people.

The latest three-year extension of the Older Americans Act, a law first passed in 1965, is due to expire this fall.

Bonamici, a Democrat from Beaverton, now leads a new panel of the House Education and Labor Committee that is starting work on the renewal, among its duties of overseeing civil rights and human services.

"This is a great place to spend our federal resources," she told a lunchtime crowd at the Elsie Stuhr Center in Beaverton. "Making sure you have these meals, protecting you from elder fraud, and having support for caregivers and senior employment are good investments in our community.

"I want to tell you I am committed to updating this law in a way that is good for our community."

The center is operated by the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District and is the district's only one focused on activities for people 55 and older. Meals on Wheels People operates in Multnomah, Washington and Clark counties; eight meal sites are in Washington County.

Under the law, the federal government aids a range of programs from nutrition — still the largest component — to in-home services, transportation, prevention of elder abuse, legal assistance, and support for caregivers.

Bonamici herself has delivered meals as a volunteer in suburban neighborhoods and rural areas.

"Oftentimes the person who is delivering the meal is the only person that a senior might see all day long," she said.

Bonamici said her mother, who will turn 91 this year, has Alzheimer's disease and requires an assisted-living setting for care.

Accompanying Bonamici at the Stuhr Center was Bob Blancato, executive director of the National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs and a member of the AARP national board. Blancato also owns his own public relations and governmental advocacy firm.

He has attended four White House Conferences on Aging — they are held once a decade — and was director of the 1995 conference.

"We want to find out the importance of this program from you, especially the part about socialization," he said as he moved from table to table, taking notes while diners ate Taiwanese beef stew, Hawaiian pizza or salads.

PMG PHOTO: PETER WONG - U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., speaks to a lunchtime crowd Thursday, Feb. 21, at the Elsie Stuhr Center in Beaverton.Bonamici said her goal is for Congress to renew the Older Americans Act by the close of the current two-year session in December 2020.

"This is a step of getting information about where we need to make adjustments. We certainly would like to get the reauthorization done this Congress," she said.

"It's helpful to hear from those who benefit from the program so we know how we need to strengthen it and where we need to change it — and also to make the case to colleagues about why this is an important program."

In 1965, just under 10 percent of the nation's population was 65 and older. Today it is 15.6 percent, and it has grown by 10,000 people each day since the first of the post-World War II baby-boom generation turned 65 in 2011. It will reach 20 percent by 2030, still lower than in most developed nations.

Although President Donald Trump has not yet unveiled his proposed federal budget for the year ending Sept. 30, 2020, Bonamici said Trump's previous proposals would have cut spending on Older Americans Act programs.

But even with Republican majorities in both chambers the past two years, Bonamici said Congress has rebuffed those efforts — and she is determined that the new Democratic majority in the House will do likewise.

She said the programs go hand in hand with the major federal programs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. (Although widely known as the joint federal-state program of health insurance for low-income people, Medicaid also supports low-income seniors who spend down their assets when they go into nursing homes or other care.)

"Here's what I have to say: It's a good thing we have three separate and independent branches of government, because it is the responsibility of Congress to come up with the budget and fund the programs," Bonamici said.

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