As the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic on senior living is on track to reach $17 billion annually, providers need more funds to cover additional expenses and lost revenue, and they need new tax credits to pay for certain expenses incurred as employers, the American Seniors Housing Association told leaders in Congress on Wednesday.

In a letter, ASHA urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to pass a COVID-19 relief package during the “lame duck” session of Congress before President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated Jan. 20. ASHA represents operators of independent living, assisted living, memory care and continuing care retirement communities.

“While we are encouraged by the news of a vaccine on the horizon, until it is widely available to our residents and staff, we must continue to take all necessary measures to protect our communities,” ASHA President David Schless wrote. “This public health crisis demands that federal resources be allocated to the senior living industry to ensure our ongoing ability to serve this vulnerable population,” he added.

Senior living providers to date have received a “limited” amount of aid from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Provider Relief Fund, “not adequate to cover the significant outlays and revenue loss already experienced, not to mention the ongoing costs in the months ahead,” Schless said. Such costs include those associated with enhanced infection control practices, the hiring and training of new workers, overtime wages, “hero pay,” the restructuring of social and dining practices, the procurement of PPE and testing supplies, new technologies and more, he said. “At the same time, our communities are suffering from lost revenue associated with our inability to move in new residents due to safety concerns associated with COVID-19. In fact, we are experiencing record low occupancy rates which, coupled with the additional expenses, is not sustainable,” Schless added.

He called for increased funding for the Provider Relief Fund, “with the allocation of a meaningful amount to the senior living providers,” and adoption of new tax credits for qualified pandemic employer expenses such as employee protection, technology improvements, and renovations to assist with COVID-19 safety protocols.

“It is also critical that the industry be on equal footing with other health care providers in the distribution of all COVID-19 related resources such as affordable rapid result testing supplies, vaccines, PPE and approved therapies for those who are infected with the virus,” Schless said.

ASHA cited bipartisan support from members of Congress who have sent letters to HHS, made social media posts or spoken to the media. Among them: Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL), Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), Rep. Matthew Cartwright (D-PA), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), Rep. Robin Kelley (D-IL), Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) and Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA).

The American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living, LeadingAge and Argentum also have called for Congress to pass a COVID relief package before the end of the year.