Senior living and care leaders turned up the pressure on members of Congress on Friday, pointing out the dangers associated with a rumored plan to take $24 billion away from the Provider Relief Fund — meant to help operators with COVID-19-related costs — and repurpose those dollars to help pay for a bipartisan $953 billion infrastructure bill.

“We anticipate that these negotiations will be finalized over the weekend and formal consideration may begin as soon as Monday,” Argentum said Friday in an urgent email to members of its Argentum Advocates program. The association called on members to contact their legislators and write letters to the White House.

Other major associations serving the long-term care industry called for similar activism.

Following up on recent advocacy efforts, on Friday, the leaders of Argentum, the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living, LeadingAge and the American Seniors Housing Association joined forces to send a letter to the Democrat and Republican leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives.

“While we support proposals to invest in our nation’s infrastructure, including addressing the growing need for long-term services and supports, we are strongly opposed to any efforts that would take away relief dollars to help pay for infrastructure projects,” wrote Argentum President and CEO James Balda, AHCA/NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson, ASHA President David Schless, and LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan. “Doing so would be short-sighted, especially as COVID-19 variants continue to spread — including the Delta variant that now accounts for 83% of cases — that threaten the safety of our nation’s seniors and their caregivers,” they added.

The four called for Phase 4 Provider Relief Funds, meant to help with provider losses and expenses incurred over the past 12 months, to be “made available in full and as quickly as possible.”

Balda also published an opinion piece in The Hill in which he called on federal leaders to “loudly object to this effort to rob seniors.”

Congress appropriated $178 billion to help ensure that long-term care providers recover from the pandemic and are able to continue to provide services, care and housing for older adults, he wrote. Senior living operators in particular, Balda said, have incurred almost $30 billion in uncompensated losses due the the pandemic, yet they have received less than 1% of the Provider Relief Fund resources meant to assist them.

“More than a year-and-a-half into the pandemic, and despite the promised relief represented by that legislation, both the current and former administration have failed to release these monies contrary to their public comments to Congress, legislative intent, and clear, demonstrated financial duress in this industry,” he said.

Taking money from the Provider Relief Fund to pay for the infrastructure bill, he added, “will push many facilities past the breaking point, requiring them to close and creating an immediate housing crisis for tens of thousands of the most at-risk Americans just as new strains of COVID spread” and at a time when the industry is facing record-low occupancy levels.

U.S. assisted living providers serve more than 811,000 residents and directly support more than 767,000 workers, according to industry associations. That’s more than 1.5 million reasons, then, for Congress not to “rob” the Provider Relief Fund to pay for “roads and bridges” and “sewer pipes,” as the associations put it. Nursing homes, home health providers and other long-term care organizations no doubt can add thousands of additional reasons.

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