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A final rule on how states and local governments can spend $350 billion in COVID-19 prevention and mitigation funds provides a new opportunity for senior living providers to secure funding for pandemic-related expenses, according to senior living experts.

The Jan. 6 final rule for the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds provides some changes, clarification and flexibilities to the interim final rule released in May. More importantly, according to the experts, it codifies that senior living communities are eligible for funds under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

Argentum Vice President of Government Relations Paul Williams said that, last year when ARPA was passed, the association sought clarification from the Treasury Department as to whether assisted living communities were among the congregate care communities eligible for funding.

Although senior living most clearly falls under the funding areas providing support for congregate care settings working on prevention and mitigation efforts tied to the public health threat from the pandemic, Williams told McKnight’s Senior Living that it’s possible that senior living also could benefit from sections in the fund addressing premium pay and broadband infrastructure. 

Eligible uses for funding under the public health threat include vaccination programs, testing programs, monitoring, equipment, personal protective equipment and medical supplies, support for isolation and quarantine, and ventilation systems.

But Williams said that very few awards through ARPA have gone to assisted living communities from states. Pennsylvania awarded ARPA dollars to assisted living communities and personal care homes, Texas directed its ARPA dollars toward workforce development, Montana provided aid to state Medicaid and child care programs, Minnesota funneled dollars into a CNA training program and New Jersey improved and expanded home- and community-based Medicaid services, he said.

American Seniors Housing Association President and CEO David Schless said that ARPA allows state and local policymakers to respond “in a more local way to the pandemic by allocating emergency funds and giving broad latitude in how to spend these resources.”

“Senior living has a strong case to make for these funds and has already achieved results in 2021 in a few states where funds were allocated to communities for COVID-related losses,” Schless told McKnight’s Senior Living, adding that the final rule grants policymakers increased flexibility in pursuing a wider range of uses for those funds by designating an industry as “impacted,” and thus eligible for assistance.

Williams said the adoption of the final rule provides another opportunity to remind states that senior living — as a frontline provider — should be a priority for ARPA funding. 

“We’re taking care of the most vulnerable population,” he said. “We really should be prioritized in ARPA considerations along with the rest of the heroes on the front lines providing COVID mitigation and prevention.”

The message to providers, Williams said, is that there still is an opportunity for funding. He encouraged operators to work with their state associations to tell their stories and encourage the states to apply for funding if they haven’t done so already. 

“Make sure at the state level that legislators, regulatory officials and governors continue to know about the challenges you are facing that have not relented since the beginning of the crisis,” Williams said, adding that although COVID-19’s delta variant has trailed off, the omicron variant has put providers “right back in the middle of it.”

Schless said that half of the $350 billion in funding was allocated last year, with the rest expected to be allocated in March. Government leaders have until December 2024 to obligate all funding, leaving time for providers to “influence” some of this spending, he said.

“We believe engaging at the local level — such as city councils — is the best way to access funding for senior living communities in need,” he said. “Beyond the current Phase 4 Provider Relief Funds, these are the funds most readily available to providers at this time, and we encourage providers to seek opportunities to engage at this level for these needed funds.”

A spokeswoman for the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living told McKnight’s Senior Living that the organization continues to urge local and state governments “to direct this aid to long-term care and senior living to help protect our vulnerable residents from this ongoing pandemic.”

Under the final rule, funds must be used for costs incurred on or after March 3, 2021. The final rule takes effect April 1. 

For more information on the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds program, visit the Treasury Department’s program website.