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In an open letter to the American public Tuesday, 32 national and regional nonprofit aging services, health and social support leaders sounded the alarm about the “growing crisis” for older adults and called on the public to fight for support of the stalled Build Back Better Act.

Democrats’ plans to vote on the $2 trillion social spending bill were derailed in late December in a surprise “no” vote announcement from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). At the time, the senior living and care industry expressed optimism that the bill’s collapse would provide opportunities for improvements.

Led by LeadingAge, the leaders of 15 national organizations, along with 18 LeadingAge state partners, wrote the letter to summarize an “extensive and growing” crisis facing older adults seeking care. They also called on Americans to hold their elected officials accountable to “the most consequential programs and initiatives affecting older adults and families in decades.”

Among those from providers signing the letter were David Lawrenz, executive director of the Fellowship of the Brethren Homes, and Cindy Ray, M.Div, executive director of Presbyterian Association of Homes & Services for the Aging.

The leaders addressed a growing reliance on home- and community-based services, the direct care workforce shortage and the lack of affordable housing.

Build Back Better, they said, includes the “most consequential programs and initiative affecting older adults and families in decades.” The industry hailed the social spending bill for its “historic investments” in HCBS, affordable housing for low-income older adults and measures to address the sector’s severe workforce challenges.

When passed by the House in late November, the bill called for $150 billion in HCBS and $150 billion to increase the supply of affordable housing, including $450 million for the Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly program and other investments. 

But it lacked funding specifically targeted for assisted living caregivers. The bill’s workforce development grant program to train, recruit and retain a direct care workforce also is not available to senior living operators.

Senior living providers who participate in Medicaid wavier programs are among those that could benefit from an HCBS expansion. And additional funding for the Department of Labor-registered apprenticeship programs used by the senior living industry also was included in the legislation. In addition, the bill would increase the low-income tax credit, which has been a significant source for affordable housing — including senior housing, experts have said.

The letter comes as Congress and the Biden administration seek to revive stalled negotiations over the Build Back Better package. 

“Our futures will be decided in the coming weeks,” the letter reads, opining that the country has not made the necessary investment in a caring infrastructure to keep up with an aging population. “The lack of public commitment to and financial support for our country’s aging services infrastructure — including essential caregiving professionals — means that you, or your family or neighbors, are denied access to these fundamental services,” the signers said.