By: Kenneth Terrell
President Biden signed a law that will upgrade the nation’s infrastructure, including improved public transportation and increased access to broadband internet, on Nov. 15. The legislation will help many older Americans stay better connected to their communities, both in person and online.
Both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives passed the legislation with strong bipartisan support. The Senate voted 69-30 in August to pass the bill, known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The House voted 228-206 in favor of the bill on Nov. 5.
This measure is one of two major pieces of legislation being pushed by the Biden administration. The other — the Build Back Better bill — is still awaiting a vote in the House before it moves to the Senate.
AARP advocated strongly in support of the infrastructure legislation, noting how provisions such as its funding for broadband internet can improve the lives of people age 50 and older.
“With [this law], historic investments will be made in digital equity and increased support for the Emergency Broadband Benefit,” said Nancy LeaMond, AARP executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer when the House passed the bill. “Millions more Americans will now have access to high-speed internet, including those with limited means, those who face barriers due to language or ability, and those who live in unserved and underserved areas. Internet accessibility is essential for older adults to stay connected with their families, communities, commerce and services.”
Here are five ways the infrastructure law will directly benefit older Americans.
The Emergency Broadband Benefit will continue. The law contains roughly $65 billion to improve access to high-quality, high-speed internet nationwide. The stimulus law enacted this year created a federal benefit to help people from lower-income households pay for high-speed internet connections. More than 7 million families — 40 percent of which include someone who is age 50 and older — took advantage of that provision. The infrastructure law will make that benefit permanent, renaming it the Affordable Connectivity Program.
“Internet accessibility is essential for older adults to stay connected with their families, communities, commerce and services,” LeaMond says.
Broadband could reach new populations. The infrastructure law will invest in the expansion of high-speed internet to areas in need — particularly unserved and underserved areas — as well as provide training for those who need it. These provisions — when added to the subsidy program — will put high-speed internet service within reach of more people.
Roads and highways could become safer. The new Safe Streets for All program — and other programs to enhance safety funded in the infrastructure law — will provide resources to make the nation’s roads and highways safer for all users. According to the National Safety Council, approximately 22 percent of the people who died in motor vehicle crashes in 2019 were age 45 or older.
“Programs like Complete Streets and Safe Streets for All promote increased accessibility and transit options for seniors in their local communities,” LeaMond said following the House vote on the bill.
Public transportation will become more accessible. The legislation will deliver approximately $39 billion to expand and upgrade public transit services nationwide, including efforts to make these services more accessible for older riders and people with disabilities. The money will be used to modernize buses, trains and transit stations, extend service and reduce costs for users. Together, it will represent the largest investment the federal government has ever made in local public transportation.
Many older adults will benefit from these improvements to public transportation, particularly the near 20 percent of people 65 and older who do not drive, and the 35 percent of women over 75 who don’t drive at all.
More choice in how to get around. The legislation will support local and state efforts to offer more choice in how people get around no matter where they live, by increasing funding for investments for options like walking and bicycling. It also will make it easier for rural areas and low-income communities to get the funds they need to create safer roads.
“Older adults want to continue to live in their communities as they age, yet they too frequently lack convenient, safe and accessible transportation options when they no longer are able to drive or choose not to drive,” LeaMond said.