Murkowski Introduces Legislation to Improve Services for Alaska Native Elders

Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Tina Smith (D-Minnesota) introduced the Enhancing Native Elders’ Longevity, Dignity, Empowerment, and Respect (Native ELDER) Act legislation that will improve federal programs and services for Alaska Native, American Indian, and Native Hawaiian Elders. The legislation will be introduced in May, in light of the national observance of Older Americans Month, a time to recognize the important role and contributions of Alaska Native Elders.

In 2019 Senator Murkowski, along with Senator Smith, co-led the Strengthening Services for Native Elders Act that was included in the reauthorization for the Older Americans Act (OAA) of 2020, which expires on September 30, 2024. The Native ELDER Act builds on that piece of legislation by prioritizing supportive services and in-home modifications, to ensure Native American Elders are able to age at home within their own communities.

“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.”

“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.”

“This legislation is important for Alaska Native and American Indian Elders. It aligns with Southcentral Foundation’s work to support Elders aging well by allowing them to maintain independence in their homes with family and as honored members of communities,” said April Kyle, President and CEO of Southcentral Foundation.

“The Native ELDER Act provides a mechanism for a more robust program to address how home care is utilized in rural Alaska,” said Brian Ridley, Chief of Tanana Chiefs Conference. “As recipients of Title VI funding, Tanana Chiefs Conference is deeply familiar with the benefits of the Home Care program. This Act is an excellent step towards improving agency coordination and increasing funding.” He adds, “Our culture puts great emphasis on elder care. Our elders should have the ability to pass down traditional knowledge and values in the safety and comfort of their homes.”

“The OAA is the key legislative framework for developing, coordinating, and delivering home and community-based services to allow American Indian and Alaska Native elders to maintain their independence and dignity,” Billie Tohee, Executive Director of the National Indian Council on Aging. “NICOA appreciates Senator Murkowski's leadership in introducing legislation that emphasizes Tribal priorities and increases coordination across agencies that serve our elders.”

“The Reauthorization of the Older Americans Act (OAA) is an important contribution to our native elder and aging population,” said Chairman William Smith, National Indian Health Board. “The Native ELDER Act will make changes to Title VI programs which reflect Tribal priorities including the establishment of an Older Americans Tribal Advisory Committee and expanded technical assistance authority to help tribes keep their elders at home and age in place. The National Indian Health Board is proud to support the Native ELDER Act.”

The Native ELDER Act is a part of the 2024 OAA reauthorization effort and includes a number of provisions to:

  • 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 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.

To learn more about the background of the legislation, you can view a one-pager here. You can also view the legislation here.


Related Issues: Alaska Natives & Rural Alaska