Senior living operators are being urged to contact their senators to support allocation of Provider Relief Fund resources to the industry, an opportunity that will end this Friday, according to Argentum.
In its March policy briefing on Wednesday, the industry advocate highlighted varied efforts to help secure federal funding for an industry that’s been weighed down by pandemic expenses and debt. Its most time-sensitive request is that members contact and encourage their state senators to sign on to a letter written by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Susan Collins (R-ME). The senators have asked the Biden administration to provide a “fair and equitable allocation” of the $23 billion remaining of provider relief funds to assisted living operators that have so far received comparatively little relief.
Operators have faced an estimated $15 billion in losses while paying for overtime, hero pay, personal protective equipment, new staff and stepped up cleaning due to the pandemic, Maggie Elehwany, Argentum senior vice president of public affairs, said in the Wednesday briefing call. An earlier amendment to the American Rescue Plan was proposed by Argentum with the aim to ensure industry inclusion but failed to make it into the final draft.
But the efforts to push the amendment forward served to put the senior living and overall long-term care industry on the administration’s radar, Elehwany added.
Argentum recommends that members capitalize on that effort by reaching out not only to their congresspeople, but to the media with two key messages: More than half of assisted living providers are operating at a loss; and fully 56% anticipate closures within the next year, potentially forcing older adults from their homes and caregivers out of a job.
“We can have many meetings and make a compelling case, but until they hear from you, it’s only then they move into action,” Elehwany told members. A House companion letter is forthcoming.
In the meantime, for those who were approved for Provider Relief Fund monies, disbursements remain “woefully slow and insufficient,” according to Argentum. Based on data from October, the organization estimates that almost 90% of senior living providers have applied for the funds and that more than 80% were approved but that less than half have received their payments due to a backlog.
But there is a bit of good news related to payment status requests, said Paul Williams, Argentum’s vice president of government relations. Claims processing activity has ramped up, and providers can expect more fully detailed responses, he said. The organization provided a link to payment status request forms that can be completed and returned to Argentum, which it then will submit on the providers’ behalf.
Argentum also is working with the Small Business Administration to restore provider access to second-draw loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP. The program, which was due to expire March 31, now expires June 30, and applications close May 31. Many small providers were eligible for the initial loans but now do not qualify, Elehwany said. There is a sign-on letter regarding this effort that members can support, Argentum policy advocates said. Reps. Lori Trahan (D-MA) and Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH) are asking the SBA for emergency rule-making to allow loan access to previously-eligible senior living communities and nursing homes. Fully 32 members of Congress have co-signed the letter.
Infrastructure gets much-needed boost
Argentum is praising the Biden administration’s Wednesday announcement of a sweeping infrastructure plan that includes significant investments in eldercare. Among other things, the plan sets aside $100 billion to ensure broadband access to all Americans, an investment encouraged by senior living advocates. Enhanced telehealth, telepsychology and family interaction are critical to continued senior living viability, the organization said.
The infrastructure package, which is the first phase of the president’s American Jobs Plan, also includes $400 billion to expand access to caregiving for older adults and those with disabilities and to improve pay and benefits for caregivers.
“Senior living providers were largely left behind in Provider Relief Fund disbursements and in the American Rescue Plan Act, so this financial investment in their future, and the future of seniors and caregivers, is more important than ever,” Argentum President and CEO James Balda said in late-day statement following Biden’s announcement.
“Without this essential support, providers will be forced to make even more difficult decisions on continuing operations after weathering the pandemic, leaving an enormous financial burden on taxpayers,” he added.
Argentum also has pushed for financial support for energy efficient facility upgrades and infection mitigation to improve air and water purification. The latter ideally would include filtration systems, touch-less fixtures, HVAC systems, and expansion of interior and exterior spaces to prevent spread of infectious diseases, it has said. More details about what exactly the administration’s new investments will support are expected to be hashed out in the coming months, according to reports.
Reopening essential to recovery
A key to operators’ post-pandemic recovery is widespread facility reopening, Argentum’s policy advocates added. The organization is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to assist in drafting reopening guidance specific to assisted living communities. It is calling for a focus on group dining and social events, Williams said.
Other Argentum priorities laid out in the March policy briefing include the creation of an Assisted Living Stabilization Fund, similar to the $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund; more work with states on liability protections for operators; and assurances that the industry remains prioritized for COVID-19 vaccinations going forward.
Argentum also told members to remain vigilant about upcoming legislation. An “onslaught” of new federal regulations should be expected, with a focus on the number of COVID-19 deaths in 2020 and Democrats in charge of the House and Senate, Elehwany said. Bills such as the Assisted Living Facility Coronavirus Reporting Act, which requires states to meet reporting requirements to qualify for future COVID–19 response funds, is just one example of what’s likely to come, they said.
Encouraging the Biden administration to release Provider Relief Fund monies for senior living operators also is a goal of the American Seniors Housing Association, which is holding its annual “fly-in” this week. Politico noted that the association’s outreach will include meetings with more than 40 House and Senate offices, including leadership in both chambers of Congress as well as members of the Senate Finance and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees and the House Energy and Commerce and House Ways and Means committees.