(Alexandria, Va.) – Senior living advocates Argentum sent a letter on Feb. 17 to Congressional leaders urging quick action to target $10 billion in fresh COVID relief funds for senior living communities, half of which are losing money. Lost business during the pandemic and the steep costs of protecting residents and staff from infection, along with significant wage increases amid a nationwide worker shortage, require the immediate attention of Congress.
Already, scores of facilities are closing their doors or selling their businesses because of the ongoing pandemic-related woes. While Washington considers another round of COVID relief, it is seniors living in assisted living, memory care, and other senior living settings who have not seen the level of financial support for their providers as experienced in other industries.
Argentum President and CEO James Balda wrote in the letter to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), that “time and again, assisted living providers have been left behind in federal COVID-19 relief efforts, despite caring for the most at-risk population to this deadly virus and its variants.”
Now, he said with remaining federal support nearly exhausted in the Provider Relief Fund, and the majority of assisted living caregivers operating at a loss, “we call on Congress to target $10 billion in new relief or existing relief for these caregivers.”
More than $30 billion in losses have been incurred in the senior living industry, yet despite broad bipartisan support in Congress for targeting relief to these frontline caregivers, less than 5% of these losses have been reimbursed—meanwhile other providers have had nearly all of their expenses and losses offset.
Argentum is also asking Congress to pass common-sense solutions to address the unprecedented workforce crisis facing long-term care providers.
“During the first 20 months of the pandemic, the senior living industry lost more than 100,000 workers, resulting in 96% of communities facing staff shortages and 61% concerned that the staffing shortages might force them to close,” Balda said.
“The challenge is not only in finding enough caregivers to meet current needs, but long term to meet the anticipated demand for care in the coming years.”
Some 10,000 people turning age 65 in this country on a daily basis, and estimates are that up to 70% will need some form of care in their lifetimes. Argentum said it is deeply concerned that if Congress does not act now, there simply will not be enough caregivers to meet the needs of the tens of millions of seniors who will need help in the coming decades.
Fortunately, action has already occurred in the House of Representatives on these issues, when bipartisan legislation was introduced recently by Reps. Lori Trahan (MA-3) and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-1) that would address some of these challenges. H.R. 6530, the SENIOR Act, would provide $10 billion in funding to assisted living caregivers that demonstrate significant and uncompensated COVID-19 related losses due to direct senior care, similar to the Provider Relief Fund.
And the legislation increases the investment in existing HHS workforce development programs through $1.25 billion in new four-year grants to help develop a geriatric care workforce.
Balda said Argentum strongly supports the bill and urge Congress to promptly advance it for President Biden’s consideration. “We also strongly support bipartisan legislation in both the House and Senate, H.R. 6161 and S. 3625, the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) Reinstatement Act. The ERTC had been a lifeline for senior living providers to be able to retain critical frontline caregivers, despite their financial challenges during the pandemic, by providing up to $26,000 in refundable credits per employee—helping address both the financial and workforce crises.”
This program was due to run through this past December, but Balda said “incredibly, it was retroactively terminated back to the end of the third quarter of 2021, leaving many providers to face a tax increase for a credit that will need to be forfeited.” The bipartisan bills would reinstate the ERTC through the end of 2021 to alleviate the retroactive tax increase.