A bipartisan group of House legislators is asking the federal government to immediately distribute the remaining Provider Relief Funds, as well as give providers more time and flexibility in using those funds.

U.S. Reps. Cindy Axne (D-IA) and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA) sent a letter on Tuesday to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra asking that the original June 30, 2021, deadline to spend Provider Relief funds be extended to June 30, 2022, since some of the funds have yet to be distributed.

“While this assistance has been a vital lifeline for our healthcare providers in their fight against COVID-19, we remain worried that inconsistent and incomplete reporting requirements are limiting the ability of recipients to fully utilize their awards from the PRF,” the letter reads. “Providers are still delivering complex care for patients with COVID-19 and coping with higher procurement costs for personal protective equipment.”

In January, HHS issued updated guidance on reporting requirements, asking providers to justify expenses, which would increase the likelihood of an audit by the Health Resources and Services Administration. The legislators said providing “much-needed flexibility” would give providers the ability to more of their funds toward fighting COVID-19.

A LeadingAge spokesperson called the effort a “critical show of force.”

“The Provider Relief Funds have been an important and vital lifeline for aging services providers who’ve been on the front lines of caregiving throughout the pandemic,” the spokesperson said, adding that funds distributed to date only applied to COVID-19 expenses and losses for the first half of 2020.

As the virus spread unevenly across the country, the LeadingAge spokesperson said, many providers hardest hit at the end of 2020 are struggling financially to keep their doors open. Even with the arrival of vaccines, the threat of infection remains as providers continue to incur expenses for personal protective equipment, testing and staffing.

“At the same time, nursing homes and assisted living facilities continue to experience much lower admissions than before, so the revenues they are taking in to cover those extra expenses are also down,” the spokesperson said.

An informal LeadingAge member survey conducted in March revealed that 75% of respondents need more money to get through the pandemic. Of those, 17% said if additional relief is not received soon, they will be forced to sell or close.

In a Wednesday op-ed piece on Morning Consult, Argentum President and CEO James Balda said that assisted living providers have absorbed almost $15 billion in coronavirus expenses. Those expenses were on top of unsustainable revenue loss due to occupancy declines during the pandemic. But assisted living providers have received less than a half of 1% of relief funds — “far less than any other long-term care provider.”

Argentum recently unveiled its SENIOR (Safeguarding Elderly Needs for Infrastructure and Occupational Resources) Act proposal, which aims to address immediate COVID-19-related challenges and plan for future long-term care needs. Both Argentum and the American Seniors Housing Association also recently met with HRSA representatives to review outstanding Provider Relief Fund payments and advocate for future disbursements.

According to a fall survey from the National Center for Assisted Living, half of assisted living providers are opening at a loss, and 64% indicated that without additional funding, they would be unable to sustain operations for another year, threatening the nation’s senior care system. 

Tuesday’s letter is the latest in congressional efforts to drive additional funding to senior living providers.