Latest COVID-19 Relief Package
Leaves At-Risk Older Adults Stranded

For Immediate Release
December 21, 2020
Contact: Joellen Leavelle, jleavelle@n4a.org and 202.872.0888
 
WASHINGTON—As the country continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers in Washington released today a relief package that the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a) and its members—local agencies serving older adults and caregivers in communities around the country—will remember most for what it does not contain.
 
Despite funding for Older Americans Act (OAA) programs and services being included in every House-passed, Senate-proposed and bipartisan bill since May, the approximately $900 billion relief package funds vital senior nutrition programs at only $175 million, down from the $750 million that had been included in the most recent bipartisan proposal, and leaves out funding for other key programs such as the in-home services, evidence-based health promotion and disease prevention programs, and caregiver support that have served as a lifeline for older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
“n4a and our members are deeply disappointed by what is not in the final COVID-19 relief package,” said n4a CEO Sandy Markwood. “The package fails to provide sufficient funding to maintain essential services to older adults and family caregivers who are struggling to stay safe at home during the pandemic. With such limited funding for Older Americans Act home-delivered meals given the huge need, the package means that the Aging Network will not be able to maintain the life-sustaining local services they are delivering to older adults during the pandemic, leaving many in this vulnerable population at risk of prolonged hunger and malnutrition.
 
“The package also fails to increase resources that would strengthen Medicaid home and community-based services, which provide a cost-effective alternative to nursing homes whose populations have been severely affected by the pandemic. In addition, the final relief package is shortsighted in that it leaves out state and local relief that would offset the rising costs and dropping revenues states are facing due to the pandemic and will lead to cuts in state and local funding for aging services provided at home and in the community,” said Markwood.  
 
The bipartisan proposal that restarted COVID-19 relief talks last month, eight months after the last major COVID-19 relief package, included $750 million for nutrition programs serving older adults, a figure that represents what the Aging Network needs now to prevent a massive service drop-off over the next few months that will result in millions of older adults no longer receiving home-delivered meals. The $175 million included in this COVID-19 relief package is simply not sufficient to avert this disaster, and n4a is deeply disappointed that Congress did not follow through with the bipartisan recommendation to adequately fund these services for older adults.
 
The COVID-relief measures passed by Congress earlier this year provided significant boosts to nutrition programs, supportive services to older adults, assistance for family caregivers, and included an increase for Title VI Native American aging programs that serve elders in Indian Country. This Older Americans Act funding has been life-saving and essential, allowing the federal-state-local Aging Network to meet the escalated and complex needs of older adults during the pandemic. These home and community-based services are needed now more than ever. For many who receive these services, losing them will lead to worsened health, increased social isolation and loss of independence, or could necessitate a move to a nursing home. The former is unacceptable, and the latter is especially dangerous as the virus continues to rage and hit such facilities especially hard.
 
In addition to the deficiencies already noted, this COVID-19 relief package fails on two additional fronts by neglecting to include several other critical and much-needed responses to the pandemic. The package does not include resources to allow more older adults and people with disabilities to receive home and community-based services in Medicaid (thus enabling them to stay out of nursing homes). The package also overlooks states and localities that have borne huge costs during the pandemic and require federal investment to ensure that vaccine deployment does not bankrupt states, thus driving drastic state and local cuts to and other aging services. (See n4a’s December 3 letter to Congress.)
 
n4a calls on Congress to recognize that this COVID-relief package, while containing assistance for millions of Americans and including several provisions n4a welcomes, does not come close to addressing the needs of the home and community-dwelling older adults most at risk from the virus, most at risk of social isolation and the negative health effects it drives, and most at risk for hunger. This package must not be the final word in COVID relief: the 117th Congress must right this wrong, and swiftly provide additional resources. While there’s hope on the horizon with vaccines, the population of older adults the Aging Network serves, including the increased number of clients served during the pandemic, will need our enhanced, direct support for months and months to come.
 
“Statistics and the on-the-ground experience of our members tell us that older adults are most at-risk of experiencing severe effects of COVID-19,” said Markwood. “But, by leaving out or inadequately funding the vital services that have helped older adults stay healthy and safe at home during this national health crisis, this package fails to rise to the needs of this critical moment. n4a will work to ensure the incoming Biden Administration and 117th Congress understand the urgency of this situation for older adults, family caregivers and the aging professionals who support them.”
 

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