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Congress Recesses with More Work to be Done

Congress is in recess, and members are in their home states talking with constituents and, for many, campaigning for votes. This is your opportunity to advocate for older adults! Here are the key issues that Congress must act upon when they return to Washington.

COVID-19 Relief

Congress has been debating another pandemic relief package for five months. The House passed the Heroes Act on May 15—a broad $3.4 trillion package that included several provisions supported by NCOA and other aging organizations.

The Senate was unable to pass a slimmed-down bill on Sept. 10, which would have cost about $500 billion. The proposal included liability protections, small business and education loans, funding for testing, and a more modest increase in unemployment benefits. It did not include the reforms called for by NCOA and other aging organizations.

On Oct. 1, the House passed a scaled-back $2.2 trillion revised Heroes Act, which has several provisions NCOA supports, including:

  • A 14% increase in the federal Medicaid match to states, including an additional 10% increase for home and community-based services
  • A $925 million increase for Older Americans Act (OAA) programs, including:
    • $480 million for Title III-C Nutrition Services and $20 million for Title VI Native American nutrition services
    • $200 million for Title III-B Supportive Services
    • $150 million for Title III-E Caregiver Support
    • $44 million for Title III-D Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
    • $20 million for Elder Rights Protection activities
  • An additional $175 million for the OAA and Elder Justice Act to address elder abuse and neglect in the community and in long-term care facilities
  • A $4.5 billion increase for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program
  • A 15% increase in the maximum benefit for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, plus an increase from $16 to $30 in the minimum monthly benefit and increased program flexibility to improve access
  • Policies to expand internet access, including greater availability of the Lifeline program
  • Policies and resources to support the integrity of the Postal Service, U.S. Census, and election

Unfortunately, one of NCOA’s top priorities, an investment in the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), was not included in the revised Heroes Act.

We had hoped that Congress would return before November to vote on COVID-19 legislation. But on Oct. 6, President Trump instructed his representatives to stop negotiating until after the election. Although he later backtracked and urged stand-alone relief bills for the airlines and small businesses and stimulus checks to individuals, an agreement is unlikely before the election. While Congress could act during a November/December lame duck session, early next year is more likely.

FY21 Budget Appropriations

Congress did find time to briefly extend appropriations for the fiscal year that started Oct. 1. A continuing resolution (CR) provides level funding for OAA programs, energy assistance, elder justice, and other discretionary programs that older adults rely on through Dec. 11.

The House passed all but two of the 12 annual appropriations bills this summer, outlining modest increases such as an extra $5 million for SCSEP and $3 million more for the Medicare State Health Insurance Assistance Program. Details are listed in our Aging Program Funding Table.

However, the Senate has not moved a single FY21 proposal through the committee process. It’s unclear what compromises are needed to finalize the budget process. Depending on the political landscape after the election, Congressional leadership will have to decide between reaching a quick agreement on final FY21 bills or passing another CR to postpone the decision until early next year.

Health Extenders

Passed along with the CR are modest provisions to extend expiring Medicare and Medicaid programs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 to align timing with the FY21 budget. These extenders include important Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act (MIPPA) funding for Medicare low-income outreach and enrollment, the Medicaid Money Follows the Person program, and home and community-based services spousal impoverishment protections. Whether Congress will make these programs permanent, which NCOA supports, or continue to pursue short-term extensions will be determined by the election results.

What’s Next

It has become more common for Congress to finish important business and tackle crucial legislation during lame duck sessions. The session from mid-November to December could address important proposals for Americans across the lifespan. Grassroots advocacy will be an important factor in determining whether Congress does more than simply extend funding for current programs.

How to Get Involved

Older adults need your voice on these issues! Here’s where you can find more information and next steps to take action:

About Howard Bedlin & Marci Phillips

Howard Bedlin is NCOA's Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy. He is responsible for federal and state legislative advocacy efforts on issues and programs of concern to older adults, which include the Older Americans Act, Medicare, Medicaid, long-term care, income security, and community services programs.

Marci Phillips is NCOA's Director of Public Policy and Advocacy. She oversees advocacy efforts related to budget and appropriations for seniors’ programs, Older Americans Act, economic security and hunger, and elder justice.

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