Midterm election 2022 in United States of America
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The midterm elections will have major implications for the Biden agenda, potentially flipping control of the House and Senate. But with change comes new opportunities, according to senior living experts.

“The big takeaway going into this election: no matter who is in power, the 118th Congress is going to create an opportunity for dialogue, it’s going to give us a chance to draft legislative priorities, and I think that it allows us the opportunity to craft and carefully message issues that are important to us and that reflect well on assisted living,” said Joe Novotny, a principal with Washington, DC-based lobbying firm Husch Blackwell Strategies.

Novotny spoke Wednesday during an Argentum Advocates 2022 midterm pre-election briefing on potential opportunities and concerns for the industry, as well as on the state of senior living policy. He covered a variety of topics, including polling, congressional retirements, toss-up races and committees key to the senior living industry. The event also included representatives from the American Seniors Housing Association and LeadingAge.

One potential concern for senior living if there is a divided or Republican-controlled Congress, Argentum Senior Vice President of Public Policy Maggie Elehwany said, is the likelihood of more executive orders and regulatory actions at the federal level. 

No matter who is in power, both Novotny and Elehwany said, it is vital for the senior living industry to show its value. Elehwany said that the “dramatic” aging of the population in the coming decade offers senior living an opportunity to show itself in a positive light.

“Congress needs to hear from people with voices — you educate them and share your stories,” Novotny said. “That is one of the things that became such an important part of how Congress operates and gets things done. It really makes a big difference when you can connect on a personal level.”

Novotny, who spent 30 years on Capitol Hill, most recently as House reading clerk, said that as a lobbyist, he has learned that members of Congress feel passionately about issues they can relate to and understand. 

Back to the basics

The industry may lose some champions in the midterms, Elehwany said, but it also has the opportunity to gain new champions. Argentum’s focus in the coming year, she added, will be on education and advocacy related to the workforce shortage, easing provider financial struggles and making communities more accessible and affordable, and demonstrating the value of the senior living industry.

ASHA Vice President of Government Affairs Jeanne McGlynn Delgado told McKnight’s Senior Living that with at least 66 members of the House and seven members of the Senate retiring or seeking higher office, it will be important to educate the “new faces” there about the industry and “get our issues on their radar.”

LeadingAge Senior Vice President of Policy Ruth Katz similarly told McKnight’s Senior Living that the association takes a bipartisan approach and is eager to work with policymakers “motivated to ensure that our country’s program and funding policies make this nation a great place to grow old.”

“Aging and aging services issues and challenges are universal,” Katz said. “They cross political parties, and so do the solutions.”

Lame duck expectations

Workforce shortages continue to be top of mind for the senior living industry. Although near-term action is a long shot, Delgado said, the lame duck session offers limited opportunities for immigration reform to help mitigate the stress to the industry caused by labor shortages.

“When the unemployment rate is at 3.5% and 10 million jobs remain unfilled, we must look outside our borders for workers,” she said. “The gap cannot be closed with US-born workers, especially given the aging population data that tells us that older adults over 65 will soon outnumber those under 18.”

ASHA, she said, will continue to advocate for accelerating the worker permit process for refugees and asylees, as well as improving the backlog of cases awaiting worker authorization.

Deadline-driven agenda items, Delgado added, will be priorities for Congress during the lame duck session, including the federal spending bill. That, she said, creates opportunities for other programs to “hitch a ride,” including supplemental disaster relief for Hurricane Ian and annual extension of targeted tax breaks. 

Continuing resolutions that “trespass” into 2023, Katz said, risk both great inefficiency and insufficiency. US Department of Housing and Urban Development-funded programs, such as the Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly program, and the providers that operate HUD-funded communities, could suffer, requiring months — if not years — to bounce back from the effect, she said.

“It’s imperative that Congress finish its FY23 bill this year,” Katz said. 

Novotny said that Republicans are looking forward to entering the new year with a clean slate and have prioritized passing an omnibus bill. That, he said, means potential movement on bipartisan bills before the end of the year.

For their part, Delgado said, connecting with congressional supporters will be key to ASHA’s policy agenda in the lame duck session and in the 118th Congress. Part of that agenda includes working to include the Expanding Veterans’ Options for Long Term Care Act in the year-end spending package. The legislation creates a pilot program allowing veterans access to assisted living care. 

“This program has the potential to enhance policymakers’ awareness of the value proposition of senior living as they address the challenging issues relative to an aging population and the demand for long-term care now and for years to come,” Delgado said. “With support from key congressional leaders, we are optimistic we can get this done this year.”

118th Congress agenda

Advocating for solutions to workforce shortage challenges will continue to be a focus for all senior living and care organizations, the speakers conveyed. 

Delgado said that ASHA’s focus will be on federal workforce development opportunities and immigration reform.

“Securing a specific caregiver visa category — which does not exist today among the current alphabet soup of visas — is critical if we are to meet the needs of an aging population,” she said, adding that ASHA will focus its efforts on members of the Senate Special Committee on Aging as well as the newly formed House 21st Century Long Term Care Caucus.

Securing funding for Alzheimer’s research also will figure prominently in ASHA’s advocacy agenda, as well as supporting measures that incentivize retirement savings to maintain the viability of the senior living product for generations to come, she said.

Workforce was a top theme at LeadingAge’s recent Annual Meeting + Expo in Denver, where President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan said that the long-term care industry needs a system that allows for paying a livable wage and professionalizing the direct care workforce. 

In its Aging Services Workforce NOW campaign, LeadingAge called on Congress and the administration to pay aging services professionals a living wage, offer recruitment and retention incentives, expand training and advancement opportunities, build dependable international workforce pipelines and enact equitable long-term care financing.

Legislative priorities also will continue related to the aging services workforce, according to the organization. Under affordable senior housing, LeadingAge seeks to expand the supply, fund more service coordinators, improve housing infrastructure and expand the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit.