James Balda headshot
Argentum President and CEO James Balda

With Congress poised to pass the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act without dedicated coronavirus relief for senior living communities, the role of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Provider Relief Fund becomes even more important to operators, Argentum said Thursday.

“The administration needs to step up and ensure this funding is distributed before communities have to start closing their doors,” Argentum President and CEO James Balda said in a statement. “If communities close, seniors will lose their homes, caregivers will lose jobs, and the financial burden on Medicaid will rise steeply.”

In a recent survey, more than half of participating senior living providers said they are operating at a loss, up 20% from October; 56% said they won’t be able to sustain operations for another year.

Argentum previously had advocated for the federal government to include $5 billion in funding for assisted living, independent living, memory care and continuing care retirement communities in the relief package to help with personal protective equipment, staff and testing needs. Last week, House Democratic leaders, through an amendment that Argentum said was due to “jurisdictional issues,” eliminated $1.8 billion in the legislation that was to be allocated to congregate settings. The move, which Argentum said was “unconscionable,” eliminated any reference to senior living from the legislation. Senators now are considering a 628-page bill.

Balda said it was “nonsensical” for the senior living industry to be left out of the latest COVID relief bill, given that operators serve the most vulnerable population, older adults.

“The pandemic is far from over for the long-term care industry, and providers are continuing to shoulder rising costs,” Balda said. “Given the failure of Congress to consider the needs of seniors and caregivers in this package, there remains a need for targeting support in future legislation and most critically through what remains in the Provider Relief Fund.”

Assisted living communities have been promised less than 2% of funding from the fund and have received only half of that to date, according to the association.

In a call with members of the media on Tuesday, American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living President and CEO Mark Parkinson also pointed to the Provider Relief Fund as one of two potential avenues for coronavirus relief for senior living providers, since the package expected to land on President Biden’s desk does not contain any direct funding for senior living providers.

Approximately $25 billion in unallocated Provider Relief Funds could continue to provide support for long-term care, especially assisted living, which has received “very little help” from the federal government so far, he suggested.

Also, noting that the American Rescue Plan Act earmarks $200 billion for states, Parkinson said that the organization is asking state governments to review their Medicaid programs and provide assistance not just to long-term care providers but to all providers that have been adversely affected by the pandemic.