In a recent joint address to Congress, President Biden declared a “new moment in the fight against COVID-19,” and proposed a four-part plan to support a return to normalcy.
The White House plan focuses on: (1) vaccines and treatments; (2) preparing for new variants; (3) ending shutdowns at schools and businesses; and (4) international vaccination efforts. In support of this plan, the administration is requesting additional funding measures for resources like vaccines, treatments, tests, and masks.
As this plan is rolled out, Argentum is pressing the administration and Congress to address the unmet needs of seniors and caregivers. COVID-19 still poses a significant threat to seniors who remain most at-risk of complications from the virus—even with vaccination—as two-thirds of breakthrough hospitalizations have occurred in those who are age 65 and older. Providers are also still reeling from tens of billions in unreimbursed expenses from combating the virus.
In anticipation of the administration’s request to Congress, Argentum sent a letter to congressional leadership urging consideration of the financial and workforce crises facing providers and for the allocation of $10 billion for senior living providers to offset their pandemic-related losses.
Additional relief funding is critically needed, as $17 billion was shifted from the Provider Relief Fund to pharmaceutical companies to cover vaccines, effectively depleting all remaining funds. We are pushing for passage of the Provider Relief Fund Improvement Act (H.R. 5963 and S. 3611), bipartisan legislation to require HHS to distribute remaining relief and to signal the importance of restoring relief for providers.
Argentum is also calling for passage of the H.R. 6530, the SENIOR Act. This bipartisan legislation was introduced directly at Argentum’s request and would create a $10 billion caregiver sustainability fund dedicated exclusively for assisted living providers to help offset their extreme losses. The legislation would also establish $1.25 billion in workforce development grants to help develop, attract, and retain the workforce that is critically needed to meet the needs of our aging population.
Another key piece of legislation Argentum is supporting is the Employee Retention Tax Credit Reinstatement Act (H.R. 6161 and S. 3625). This would restore access to a $26,000 per employee credit intended for small businesses and nonprofits that experienced revenue drops and kept workers on payroll during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, it was prematurely terminated at the end of the third quarter of 2021, leaving enormous tax burdens for providers that had already claimed the credit.
Amplifying our message on these priorities were nearly 100 senior living advocates, joining together on Capitol Hill as part of Argentum’s Public Policy Institute in March. This event marked the first in-person advocacy event for the industry since 2019, and Argentum was able to able to be among the first advocacy groups to meet with lawmakers face-to-face since the beginning of the pandemic.
Along with the congressional meetings, numerous high-profile members of Congress and the administration addressed attendees at the event to share their perspective on pandemic response, including Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and officials from HHS and CMS.
While Argentum continues its efforts to address the immediate pandemic challenges, it is also pivoting to the short- and long-term needs of the industry, including addressing financial and workforce challenges.
Occupancy is perhaps the biggest benchmark for overcoming the financial challenges. The dramatic drops in occupancy—more than 43 percent of communities had occupancy below 80 percent by the end of 2020—are unsustainable and present the greatest immediate-term threat to the industry.
The other major threat is the workforce shortage. During the first 20 months of the pandemic, the senior living industry lost just over 100,000 workers, bringing the number of jobs to the same level as May 2015. It is no surprise that 96 percent of communities reported staffing shortages and 61 percent of assisted living operators expressed concerns that these shortages might force them to close.
This is why our advocacy campaigns to policymakers in the administration and on Capitol Hill, and the strategic work led by Argentum’s Public Policy Committee, are so instrumental in taking on these challenges.
But our advocacy also needs grassroots engagement from throughout the industry to succeed. Over the past year, grassroots meant getting our message out through billboards, yard signs, and thousands of messages sent directly to lawmakers from senior living residents, their family members, community staff, and other advocates.
We urge you to remain engaged in these efforts, too. No matter how much we invest in our advocacy, ultimately our voices only carry so much weight and that’s why we need you all, as constituents, to help amplify our messages.
If you aren’t already a member of our free advocacy program, Argentum Advocates, join today and share it with your colleagues!