The U.S. Capitol buildng in Washington DC at night (stock image)

Both the House and Senate on Monday night approved a $900 billion COVID-19 stimulus package that will provide direct payments and jobless aid to Americans as well as needed funding for small businesses and long-term care facilities to help with vaccine distribution.

The long-sought relief package was part of a $2.3 trillion catchall package that included $1.4 trillion to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. The bill includes $285 billion for additional loans under the Paycheck Protection Program, allowing particularly hard-hit firms to get a second loan. It also provides additional money for expanded COVID-19 testing and contact tracing but falls far short of the funding many in the long-term care industry say is needed to address the pandemic’s ongoing financial drain on nursing homes and assisted living communities. 

“While we appreciate the difficulty in reaching a bipartisan compromise, we are disappointed that Congress could not strike a deal that recognizes the dire situation our long-term care residents and staff are facing right now,” Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living, said in a statement Monday evening. “Due to soaring community spread, nursing homes are experiencing a record-breaking number of cases and deaths — worse than the spring. Even with a vaccine on its way, it will likely take months to fully vaccinate our residents and staff, as well as the remaining public. Facilities will not be able to return to normal for some time, meaning providers need ongoing support with personal protective equipment, testing and staffing.”

The measure passed with just minutes to spare before a scheduled government shutdown at midnight. The White House has indicated that President Trump will sign the legislation into law.

Argentum President and CEO James Balda also expressed disappointment Monday around the measure’s addition of just $3 billion to the Provider Relief Fund, to be distributed by the Department of Health and Human Services.

“While we appreciate the inclusion of additional funding for expanded COVID-19 testing and tracing for long-term care in this latest package, the funding allocated for the Provider Relief Fund falls woefully short of what the industry needs and what prior drafts of the legislation had suggested,” he said in a statement. “It also leaves a large sum of the Provider Relief Fund unassigned.”

American Seniors Housing Association President David Schless noted that the final version of the bill was “a shocking decline from earlier reports of an additional $35 billion” to be added to the fund.

“With the third and fourth quarters expecting to reflect significant financial stress in the industry, significantly more relief is needed,” he said. “The Provider Relief Fund is one of the few sources of financial relief available to the industry, and to not replenish these badly needed funds is seriously flawed and fails to recognize the significant work of the senior living industry to keep seniors and staff safe during the past 11 months.”

Balda also criticized lawmakers for not including protections for businesses against COVID-19-related lawsuits in the latest round of relief measures. Long-term care lobbyists have said a lack of liability protections, once promised by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), would produce a threat to the survival of the industry.

“We are equally as disappointed that reasonable liability protections supporting the industry and those caring for residents fell off the negotiating table early,” Balda said. “We are hopeful that additional considerations will continue on a federal level, and we will continue our efforts at the state level in the forthcoming 2021 legislative sessions to improve upon the time-limited protections that we helped to enact through executive order or statute.”

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