Asian woman doctor holding graduation hat in hospital, Medical education concept.
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Bipartisan legislation expanding the use of 529 savings accounts to cover workforce training and credentialing program expenses is gaining support from the senior living industry.

The Freedom to Invest in Tomorrow’s Workforce Act, S 722 and HR 1477, would permit the use of state-sponsored 529 education account funds to cover tuition, books certification and testing costs related to workforce training programs, including certified nursing assistant programs. 529 funds are exempt from federal taxes if used to pay for qualified education expenses.

The legislation, promoted by the Center for Association Leadership, also would enable 529 beneficiaries to use their funds to pay for examinations to obtain and maintain recognized private professional certifications and other credentials. Current law only permits the use of 529 accounts to pay for costs related to attending colleges, universities, vocational schools, registered apprenticeship programs, K-12 private tuition or other post-secondary institutions. 

“This legislation broadens access to 529 savings plans, changing the paradigm from ‘college savings plans’ to ‘career savings plans,’” Craig Saperstein, public policy counsel to the Professional Certification Coalition, said in a statement. “Under the bill, 529 plan savings can be used to pay for certifications for middle-skill jobs as an alternative to college, or for post-college entry-level or mid-career credentials that enhance expertise and expand opportunity.”

Argentum is throwing its support behind the effort following the loss of 400,000 positions within the long-term care industry during the pandemic. The association’s senior vice president of public affairs, Maggie Elehwany, told McKnight’s Senior Living that the legislation would make workforce training and continuing education “more accessible for millions of Americans that might not otherwise be able to pursue professions with specialized training or certification requirements.”

“While the crisis has begun to ease, 82% of senior living providers are still experiencing staffing shortages, and 48% are concerned that these shortages might force them to close,” Elehwany said. “Meanwhile, in order to meet the growing demand for long-term care services as our population continues to age, the senior care industry will need to fill more than 20.2 million jobs by 2040.” Three million of those jobs will be needed in senior living specifically, according to Argentum.

Argentum also is the lead applicant and fiscal agent for the Healthcare Apprenticeship Expansion Program, a four-year US Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration Closing the Skills Gap grant. The program is designed to close the skills gap in healthcare and healthcare information technology occupations by expanding apprenticeship pathways for positions such as certified nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses, registered nurses and rehabilitation technicians. It also creates new apprenticeships for healthcare leadership positions, including nursing directors, health and wellness directors and executive directors. 

Elehwany said that Argentum and its partners plan to enroll and support more than 7,200 apprentices by February. To continue to address workforce shortages, the association is asking Congress to prevent the Closing the Skills Gap program from expiring next year.

The group also is calling on Congress to fund and redirect federal workforce training programs, such as Job Corps and American Job Centers within the Labor Department’s ETA, to offer specializations in senior care. 

Those programs could be in jeopardy if a proposed 30% cut to the Labor Department holds up. Last week, the House Appropriations Committee’s Labor, Health and Human Services, Education Subcommittee approved fiscal year 2024 spending levels that “drastically” cut several federal workforce training programs.