With Senate passage of the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal on Tuesday, the senior living industry is breathing a sigh of relief that Provider Relief Funds emerged unscathed. 

And now they are calling on the federal government to release those unspent dollars.

The American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living, American Seniors Housing Association, Argentum and LeadingAge co-authored a letter to the administration on Tuesday asking for the immediate allocation of remaining Provider Relief Funds to long-term care facilities.

As the delta variant contributes to rising COVID-19 case counts across the country, assisted living operators and other long-term care providers are still fighting to protect residents. The senior living associations said long-term care providers have incurred “tens of billions of dollars in expenses and losses” due to personal protective equipment, staffing, overtime, hero pay and record-low occupancy rates that continue to compound.

“While much of the economy is recovering, for these providers, COVID-19 is not over, and the rapidly spreading delta variant underscores the need to remain vigilant,” they wrote. “Providers have been anticipating the forthcoming Phase 4 of relief for months, and the administration must ensure that these funds are made available in full and as quickly as possible.”

AHCA / NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson on Monday asked U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to release the remaining $44 billion Provider Relief Funds. Parkinson asked that $13 billion be dedicated to long-term care providers who “continue to face immediate and dire circumstances” due to the delta variant. 

“Providers have dedicated extensive resources to fighting COVID-19. The costs associated with routine testing, personal protective equipment and staffing have pushed many facilities to the brink” Parkinson wrote in a letter to HHS. “Our members and their caregivers remain at ground zero for this pandemic, and ongoing support is critical to these facilities’ recovery and stability in the future.”

American Seniors Housing Association President David Schless said there are aspects of the infrastructure bill that will be beneficial to senior living, including better access to broadband in certain parts of the country, he is grateful that Congress opted not to tap unspent Provider Relief Funds to pay for the legislation.

“ASHA and other industry organizations worked tirelessly to ensure that the Provider Relief Funds were not used as an infrastructure pay-for,” Schless told McKnight’s Senior Living, adding that he is hopeful an announcement about a Phase 4 allocation will be forthcoming from HHS in the near future.

According to AHCA / NCAL, providers spent $30 billion on personal protective equipment and staffing alone in 2020. By the end of 2021, the two-year pandemic bill for providers is projected to be $60 billion.

LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan said the infrastructure bill includes $65 billion for broadband infrastructure deployment, which can provide a basic utility for telehealth and other care services for older adults.

But Sloan said more needs to be done for older adults. She turned her attention to the FY 2022 budget resolution that could provide more funding for home- and community-based services, affordable senior housing and the aging services workforce. Sloan said “every dollar makes a difference” for older adults.

In a letter to Congress on Monday, Sloan detailed the nation’s most pressing aging services needs, including $400 billion for HCBS, $7.5 billion to address a shortage of affordable housing for low-income older adults, and a $1 billion investment in the aging services workforce to strengthen training and recruitment.

Argentum President and CEO James Balda congratulated the Senate on passage of the bipartisan infrastructure package, but agreed that more needs to be done for seniors and their caregivers.

“As the package now heads to the House, we will be vigilant to ensure these relief funds remain available as they were intended; but moreover, we are urging the Biden administration to release the remaining Provider Relief Funds as expeditiously as possible,” Balda said. “Providers have been on the front lines waiting for months to receive these critically needed funds to continue protecting our most vulnerable seniors.”

Argentum has taken its advocacy a step further. The association also announced Tuesday the launch of a five-week campaign to encourage the Biden administration to #ReleasethePRF.

“This campaign will use direct outreach to the administration, grassroots engagement, strategic media placements, and congressional support to urge the Biden administration to use its authority to distribute this money,” Balda stated in a press release.

Each week of the #ReleasethePRF campaign will feature a different theme and will ask for active engagement from the senior living industry.