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Creativity Matters: The Arts and Aging Toolkit
photo of two men and one woman dancing (PARADIGM)

3.2: Exploring Infrastructure

Led by the Administration on Aging, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the aging services network consists of federal, state, and local agencies that work together to provide services and opportunities to help older adults lead independent and dignified lives at home and in their communities. This network serves 7 million older adults age 60 and above and anywhere from 325,000 to 800,000 caregivers (the number varies depending on the source.) It includes 56 state units on aging, 655 area agencies on aging, 243 tribal organizations, more than 29,000 local community service organizations, 500,000 volunteers, and a variety of national organizations.


Most federal aging funds flow through the Department of Health and Human Services under the Older Americans Act. The department includes the Administration on Aging, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Aging. The Older Americans Act authorizes—or enables the existence of—programs and policies; the money primarily comes from appropriations legislation. It is not unusual for a federal agency to be directed by the authorizing legislation to do something new but have no new or additional dollars to support that mandate.

The Administration on Aging, the agency most relevant to the arts and aging field, heightens awareness of the needs of older adults, recommends policy, develops regulations, and disseminates money, including funds to state units. Most funding for arts programs is available under Title III of the Older Americans Act; grants using Title IV funds, which support projects that develop, test, and disseminate best practices, may also be available.


State units on aging work with other state agencies and public- and private-sector entities on behalf of older adults. They receive funds from the Administration on Aging and state governments to support home- and community-based services and elder rights programs. State units award grants to area agencies on aging so that programs and services are tailored to meet the needs of older adults at the community level.


Area agencies on aging address local needs and concerns. Each has an advisory council of providers and other stakeholders, such as healthcare foundations or veterans’ associations. An area agency may be part of county or city government or a private nonprofit organization. Primary responsibilities include advocacy, planning and service development, and administration of funds to public and private service providers, such as senior centers, residential facilities, hospitals, faith-based organizations, foundations, and nonprofit community organizations. The Eldercare Locator helps find local aging services networks.


More than funding sources, foundations are policy leaders actively involved in the aging services infrastructure of the field. Healthcare, family, and community foundations exist at the national, state, and local levels. A resource is the Foundation Center.


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