An updated version of the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act released Monday by House Democrats in an effort to restart negotiations maintains some key provisions that benefit the senior living industry, but more help is needed, according to industry experts.
The $2.2 trillion legislation is an updated version of the original $3 trillion package passed in May in the House of Representatives and addresses needs that have developed since May and reflects negotiations between Democrats and Republicans. The overall relief package is intended to provide states and communities critical resources for four months, until February.
“This new slimmed down bill maintains some key provisions from the bill that passed in May, which is of interest to senior living communities,” American Seniors Housing Association President David Schless told McKnight’s Senior Living. “These include support for COVID-19 testing, tracing and treatment; additional economic impact payments, which are very important to staff, residents and their families in this difficult time; employee retention tax credits are helpful for certain employers; and our highest priority is the additional funding of the HHS [Department of Health and Human Services] Provider Relief Fund.”
ASHA sent a letter last week to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy in anticipation of this House action “reiterating that senior living is in need of additional funding to help with their additional costs and revenue loss that are on track for annual financial impact of $17 billion,” Schless said. “This is not sustainable without financial relief.”
In his letter, Schless called for at least $5 billion of HHS Provider Fund grant dollars for senior living providers for additional COVID-19 expenses and lost revenue; direct distribution of rapid result testing kits — and vaccines when available — and reimbursement to senior living communities as part of national testing strategy; and expansion of the Paycheck Protection Program to permit senior living operators who employ less than 500 employees per location access to the program.
“To date, this industry has not received a meaningful level of financial relief from the CARES Act (2% of patient revenues has recently been allocated for distribution to a segment of the industry, not nearly enough to recognize the significant costs required to combat this virus), we have not been prioritized for PPE and while we continue to source our own testing capacity through private labs, there is some movement at HHS to deliver limited antigen rapid testing supplies to assisted living,” Schless wrote. ‘This piecemeal approach is unacceptable and could severely hinder the ability to remain viable as this pandemic continues to be a public health crisis.”
LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan said the current bill includes $500 million for HUD’s Section 202 Housing for the Elderly program, including $300 million for new service coordinators, and $750 million for the Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance program.
The bill also funds state and local health departments to purchase personal protective equipment for essential workers in aging services organizations, and testing, tracing and vaccination provisions.
“We appreciate that House leaders are trying to reach a deal to deliver some of the much-needed resources and support for older Americans, who account for 80% of all coronavirus deaths,” Sloan said. “Parts of the latest Heroes Act draft provide some of what is needed to protect older Americans.
“We urge Senate lawmakers and the administration to follow the House’s lead and to collaborate in building on the new Heroes Act proposal. Please, reach a deal that should have been made months ago. Too many lives are at stake to walk away now.”
Late last week, LeadingAge sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) outlining provisions the group sees as critical to providing essential services to older adults and those who care for them.
Argentum President and CEO James Balda said he appreciates that the revised HEROES Act still makes “support and relief on the front lines of this pandemic a priority.”
“Senior living, however, continues to need additional support for acquiring PPE and the cost and administration of tests and ultimately, vaccines. Efforts to provide senior living with these supports will go a long way in protecting the residents and staff at our communities,” Balda told McKnight’s Senior Living. “We are hopeful a deal will be reached soon in Congress on this latest legislative relief effort to ensure this essential funding reaches those who need it most.”
On Monday, the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living warned Congress that it “needs to end the partisan logjam and prioritize frontline healthcare workers and residents, particularly vulnerable elderly populations.”
“Without replenishing funds for federal and state agencies, healthcare facilities, including nursing homes and assisted living communities, could find themselves less than completely prepared for the challenges of the upcoming cold and flu season, which could inevitably result in an uptick in new COVID cases,” AHCA / NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson said.
Parkinson, as did Sloan, urged Congress to provide an additional $100 billion for the HHS Provider Relief Fund for nursing homes and assisted living communities to acquire testing, PPE and staff support resources.
“Without adequate funding and resources, the U.S. will repeat the same mistakes made during the initial outbreak last spring and the major spike over the summer,” Parkinson said. “We need Congress to prioritize our vulnerable seniors and their caregivers in nursing homes and assisted living communities by passing another COVID funding package before they leave town for the elections.”