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COVID-Relief Bill Poised for House Passage

A massive $1.9 trillion relief bill championed by the Biden Administration and congressional Democrats is expected to be approved by the House today, likely with few to no Republican votes. The package includes significant funds for the Older Americans Act, a one-year boost to federal contributions to Medicaid HCBS waivers and billions in relief for state and local governments.

As reported in our February 10 Legislative Update, the House package includes all of n4a's top priorities for the next COVID-relief package!

This round of relief funding, like CARES and the December 2020 emergency nutrition funding, is intended to address needs that have risen during the COVID-19 pandemic and is in addition to the regular FY 2021 funding that Congress finalized at the end of the year. One difference, however, is that the funding will be able to be spent over several years, if necessary. The Older Americans Act (OAA) funding levels in the House bill are as follows:
  • $470 million for Supportive Services (Title III B), which will be used for continuing traditional III B services, supporting and facilitating vaccinations for older adults, and additional activities to mitigate the risks of prolonged social isolation and loneliness among older adults
  • $750 million for Congregate and Home-Delivered Nutrition Services (Title III C)
  • $25 million for Native American Nutrition, Supportive and Caregiver Services (Title VI, Parts A and C)
  • $44 million for Evidence-Based Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (Title III D)
  • $145 million for National Family Caregiver Support Program (Title III E)
  • $10 million for Title VII Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program
The $470 million for OAA Title III B is a noteworthy victory, as it reflects n4a's efforts to not only replace the $200 million in CARES Act funding for III B but to double the amount in recognition of AAAs' critical roles in helping older adults get vaccinated around the country.

The further $70 million in III B closely reflects n4a's previous request in mid-2020 for AAAs to address the increased incidence of social isolation and loneliness, which was also part of a bill led by Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) and Rep. David Trone (D-MD) in the 116th Congress (and soon to be re-introduced).

It should be noted that the III B relief funding, however, would not be actually divvyed up at the federal level, thus restricting state and local flexibility. Congress is merely providing the resources necessary to do the additional work of maintaining COVID-increased client capacity, supporting older adults in becoming vaccinated and increasing activities to reduce social isolation and loneliness.

If these House OAA provisions are passed by the Senate in the coming weeks and signed into law, it will be a tremendous win for n4a's years-long advocacy to earn policymakers' increased support for this most flexible pool of funding within OAA that has too often been overshadowed by the more well-known nutrition programs.

Also in the House measure is a one-year increase to the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) for home and community-based services (HCBS) provided under Medicaid. All states would see a boost of 7.35 percentage points in the portion the federal government contributes to their Medicaid HCBS waivers. The additional federal funding can be used for many purposes, including provider retainers, increases in direct care worker wages, enhancing worker benefits, reducing wait lists and much more.

Once the House passes the bill, the Senate will take up the measure in early March. The Senate will not craft its own relief bill but will instead modify the House version as needed to be able to pass the evenly divided Senate. One of the House provisions expected to be dropped by the Senate is the $15/hour federal minimum wage proposal, which has been ruled by the Senate parliamentarian as unallowable under the budget process (budget reconciliation) being used to expedite passage and to require only a simple majority for Senate passage. Using this process allows the 50 Senate Democrats to, with Vice President Kamala Harris' tie-breaking vote, advance the measure without a single Republican vote if need be.

Stay tuned for continued n4a policy updates and calls to action as this legislation advances!

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