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It’s time for states to step up and provide more pandemic-related relief to senior living communities, Argentum President and CEO James Balda told the National Governors Association on Monday.

In a letter to the NGA, Balda urged the nation’s governors to “more aggressively” encourage state governments to help senior living providers partially recoup the more than $30 billion in pandemic-related expenses they have spent by using federal American Rescue Plan Act funds that were provided to the states.

Argentum shared a chart demonstrating losses by state and the effects on senior living communities.

“Unfortunately, these facilities have not had the same access to federal relief as other healthcare providers,” Balda said. “Through the federal Provider Relief Fund, which was established by the CARES [Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security] Act, assisted living facilities have received to date roughly $1 billion nationwide — compared to $12.5 billion for skilled nursing facilities, which also serve the same number of seniors (2 million) as senior living communities.”

PRF funds now are exhausted, leaving limited options for providers to secure further relief, the CEO said.

“These ARPA allocations were intended to go, in part, to senior living communities, many of whom were dealt deep financial losses tied to caring for residents and paying staff and buying supplies during the pandemic,” Argentum Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Maggie Elehwany said. “Billions, in total, were lost. The pandemic and the higher costs to prevent outbreaks have eased in recent months, but by no means have stopped.”

The financial benefit that senior living communities provide to “stretched state budgets,” Balda said, includes saving Medicaid an estimated $43 billion annually by providing an alternative to skilled nursing care, which costs twice as much as assisted living. Pandemic losses, coupled with slow occupancy recovery, is threatening the survival of many senior living communities, he added.

“This vital long-term care option did not receive nearly the same relief as other providers,” Balda wrote. “The losses they sustained, coupled with increasing strain on the workforce, has left the majority of senior living providers operating at a financial loss and many have been forced to close.”

Balda shared examples of states that allocated have ARPA funds to senior living:

  • Pennsylvania, where the Pennsylvania Assisted Living Association helped secure $26.7 million in emergency relief for personal care homes and assisted living residences, and $20 million was dedicated in the 2022-2023 budget for personal care homes.
  • Texas, where the Texas Assisted Living Association helped secure $46 million for assisted living providers.
  • Missouri, where the Missouri Assisted Living Associated helped providers become eligible for $10 million in funding for businesses affected by COVID-19, including residential care facilities. 

Workforce development investments also needed

Balda also asked the states to invest in workforce development programs to meet the needs of the rapidly aging population as well as the corresponding need for caregivers. During the first 20 months of the pandemic, providers lost more than 100,000 caregivers — a 10% decline from pre-pandemic employment levels, Balda wrote. 

Specifically, Argentum is asking states to spend money on programs to help recruit, train and retain workers by funding career pathways and geriatric care programs in community colleges and secondary education that focus on all aspects of senior living-related shortages. The organization also is advocating for investments in grant programs and state offices of long-term care workforce development.

“By making these critical investments in the caregiving workforce and disbursing critically needed relief through the program created specifically to ‘support industries hardest hit by the crisis,’ we can and will meet the challenges we face together in the coming years and decades,” the CEO concluded.