The Senior Community Service Employment Program

The Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) is the largest federally-funded program specifically targeting older adults seeking employment and training assistance. Authorized by Title V of the Older Americans Act (OAA), SCSEP started in 1965 as Operation Mainstream, a demonstration program funded by the Office of Economic Opportunity. It employed about 300 older men in rural community beautification projects in four states.

This year, more than 125,000 SCSEP participants—older women and men—were employed in a wide range of programs, including those serving other older adults, in nearly every county in every state.

SCSEP Provides Jobs, Promotes Well-Being, and Meets Community Needs

Providing jobs to unemployed, low-income older adults has been a core mission of SCSEP throughout its history. In 2006, the Congressional Research Service described SCSEP as the primary job creation program for adults since Congress in 1982 eliminated public service employment under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA).

During this period of the highest unemployment since the 1930s, Congress gave additional money to SCSEP—both in the 2010 federal budget and the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act—to create thousands of new job opportunities for older Americans. Through June 2010, we estimate that funding from the Recovery Act alone paid nearly 24,000 unemployed low- income older adults to work over 9.5 million hours serving their community.

Most SCSEP participants work part-time at minimum wage in a local nonprofit or public agency serving their communities. This paid work experience prepares many of them to find employment not paid for with SCSEP dollars.

SCSEP is much more than a job training and placement program. Congress has repeatedly affirmed SCSEP as an aging services program since it first moved SCSEP under the OAA in 1975 and then in each of the following seven authorizations.

Current law enacted in 2006 calls for coordination between Title V and all other titles of the OAA, which conveys our nation’s commitment to promote the health, well-being, and independence of all older adults.

Also in 2006, Congress included a new OAA Title V section that aligned SCSEP with other national and community service programs: It is the sense of Congress that … placing older individuals in community service positions strengthens the ability of the individuals to become self sufficient, provides much-needed support to organizations that benefit from increased civic engagement, and strengthens the communities that are served by such organizations.

We estimate that 127,700 SCSEP participants nationwide contributed 60.6 million hours of service to their communities in the year ending June 30, 2010. Of that total, 32,500 participants were paid for 15.3 million hours helping other older adults by working in senior nutrition programs, senior centers, and similar agencies.

As an innovative community service, a group of SCSEP participants are coaching other older adults to use the Internet for the first time through SSAI’s Digital Inclusion Initiative.

Who Operates SCSEP?

The U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration (DOLETA) administers SCSEP by awarding grants to 15 non-profit organizations (including Senior Service America, Inc.) and to each of 56 state and territorial governments. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging administers all OAA programs except SCSEP.

Who’s Eligible for SCSEP?

SCSEP participants must be:

  • Fifty-five or older
  • Legally eligible to work in the U.S.
  • Living in a household with income no more than 125 percent of the federal poverty level

Special consideration is given to people who are any of the following:

  • Sixty-five and older
  • Have a disability
  • Have limited English proficiency or low literacy skills
  • Live in a rural area
  • Are a veteran
  • Have low employment prospects
  • Are homeless or at risk of homelessness

Who Are the SCSEP Participants?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in the Program Year (PY) ending June 30, 2009, 70% of all SCSEP participants were women, 48% were minority, and 89% had family incomes at or below the federal poverty level.

Participants come to SCSEP with many life stories. Read more about some of our SCSEP participants and their stories.