Planning ahead

October 18, 2006

President Bush signed into law yesterday a forward-looking initiative that will benefit older Americans at a time when their numbers are growing rapidly. The measure creates an executive-level office charged with coordinating the housing and health needs of senior citizens.

With the ranks of those age 65 and older expected to swell significantly in the next 15 years, the new office will allow for better planning between federal agencies and streamlining programs for the elderly. The secretaries of housing and health and top administrators of other agencies will make up the new Interagency Coordinating Committee and will also focus on transportation and other housing-related needs.

The committee will also monitor and evaluate state and local programs and make recommendations for improving them. This is an especially important goal that should help establish good communication systems between the states and the federal government. Ideally, it would also diminish layers of bureaucracy and waste.

Nearly 36 million people age 65 and older live in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and that population is expected to grow to 50 million by 2020.

Much of the credit for this initiative belongs to Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, Maryland's senior senator, who is retiring from Congress this year. Mr. Sarbanes sounded warning bells about the country's graying population and called for long-term planning that would allow the elderly to stay in their homes by providing them supportive services.

As he joins the ranks of retirees, Mr. Sarbanes should take comfort knowing that his legislation could help ensure that other retirees live out their days in comfort, too.

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