Although the federal government rolled out a new $25 billion rent relief program in December for households struggling under COVID-19, LeadingAge is urging the new administration to include older adults.

In a Friday letter to the Department of Treasury, Department of Housing and Urban Development and the White House, the association urged the country’s leaders to include low-income older adults in affordable housing in the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

The program is designed to help cover rent and utilities for households struggling due to COVID-19. Landlords or property owners can apply on behalf of residents, but eligibility for HUD-assisted households remains unclear. 

During a call with the Biden administration last week and in the follow-up letter from Juliana Bilowich, LeadingAge director of housing operations and policy, LeadingAge said that older adults are facing financial hardships during the pandemic, and the program “has the potential to leave out older adults who are in need of rent relief.”

Bilowich’s letter noted that many older adults lost support from family members or community services that temporarily shut down, and “they may also have incurred higher expenses related to preparing for and responding to COVID-19, such as preemptive quarantine supplies, PPE and medication.”

“For low-income older adults, every added cost has the potential to create a financial hardship,” Bilowich wrote.

Bilowich called on the Treasury Department to reduce barriers to participation by expanding eligibility beyond those who have lost income and by allowing residents to self-certify their income and financial hardship eligibility for the program. 

The association also urged the Treasury to clarify eligibility of residents living in federally subsidized housing while limiting relief funds to the tenant rent portion to avoid duplicative uses of the rental assistance funds.  

Bilowich also suggested expanding data-tracking and reporting on the funds to “help measure the impact of rent relief on older adults.”