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What Congress Should Do for Low-Income Older Adults

Last month, Congress passed a bill with additional funding for small businesses and hospitals, but Democratic requests for new resources for state and local governments and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food benefits were not included. With Congress discussing a new round of relief legislation, people concerned about the wellbeing of older adults hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic have an opportunity to get needed reforms included in the bill.

State budgets desperately need assistance from the federal government to avoid deep service cuts that could further harm the economy. Moody’s Investors, a top nonpartisan credit-rating service, recently reported that most states cannot cover projected tax revenue losses with available cash and that, in order to avoid budget cuts, more direct assistance will be necessary. Although the bipartisan National Governors Association (NGA) has requested $500 billion in extra state funding, the White House and many Republican members of Congress have expressed reservations about providing additional funding. Older adults would undoubtedly suffer if state and local services were cut.

Medicaid funding solves many problems

These state budget problems are directly connected to the historic spike in unemployment, which also triggered a rise in Medicaid enrollment. Medicaid is the federal-state health insurance program for low-income Americans, including older adults and people with disabilities in need of long-term care. NCOA supports increasing federal Medicaid matching funds, and targeted resources for Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS). HCBS has been proven to keep people out of nursing homes, which is vital at a time when these institutions have remarkably high rates of COVID-19 infection and death.

Medicaid pays for almost two-thirds of long-term care needs for older adults and people with disabilities, and is the primary source of coverage for HCBS. Even before COVID-19 became a crisis, nearly 820,000 people were on HCBS waiting lists and the average wait time was 39 months. Unfortunately, HCBS is regularly targeted for cuts, since it is the largest category of optional services in Medicaid.  Nursing homes need additional resources to address COVID-19, including additional testing, transparency, infection control, and protective equipment for workers. However, keeping people out of nursing homes by improving access to care at home would save lives and money.

You can help!

We have three areas of concern, including HCBS, you can talk to your members of Congress about:

Use the templates we created to craft a personalized message. Tell your members of Congress the next legislative package must include these reforms if the country is going to effectively protect older adults, caregivers, and the health care workers in long-term care facilities. If you use social media, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn so you can share our advocacy to your networks, too. We will keep a close eye on the negotiations in Congress and post updates as we get them.

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Howard Bedlin

About Howard Bedlin

Howard Bedlin is NCOA's Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy. He is responsible for all of NCOA’s 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.

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