January 18, 2019 Federal Policy Update




Implications For Older Adults as Partial Federal Shutdown Drags On

Housing, Transportation and Nutrition Services at Risk Absent Solution

As Congress and the White House approach the fifth week of a stalemate on FY 2019 funding over the President’s demand for $5.7 billion for a border wall, nine federal departments and numerous agencies remain shuttered, and more than 800,000 federal workers and government contractors are either furloughed or working without pay. The partial federal shutdown does not affect funding for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—including the Administration for Community Living (ACL) that administers Older Americans Act and other Administration on Aging (AOA) programs—the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS), the Social Security Administration (SSA), and most other agencies that directly provide services and benefits to older adults. Those agencies and others were a part of the FY 2019 federal funding bill that was signed into law in September 2018 which finalized 75 percent of federal discretionary funding.

However, some critical supportive programs that serve older adults are housed within agencies that are closed due to the funding standoff. As the shutdown drags on, there may be implications for older adults and caregivers in communities across the country. For example, critical senior housing programs within the Department of Housing and Urban Development, senior transportation programs and some nutritional services may be in jeopardy if the federal funding gap extends for additional weeks or months. We encourage AAAs and Title VI programs to let your Members of Congress and n4a know if older adults and caregivers that you serve are affected by the shutdown.    
 
How the Partial Government Shutdown Could Affect Older Adults
 
Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
 
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced this month that it would be unable to renew up to 1,150 rental assistance contracts with landlords who provide housing to approximately 40,000 low-income families, which includes nearly 21,000 units for Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly. HUD anticipates that the majority of property owners have enough reserves to provide housing for several months, and we are not anticipating widespread risks of eviction for vulnerable residents. However, if the shutdown continues for many more weeks or even months, contracts that provide ongoing operating subsidies to the nation’s nearly 6,700 Section 202 communities are at risk of not being renewed. With more than 95 percent of HUD staff currently furloughed, it’s been incredibly difficult to get additional information about this possibility.
 
Additionally, there is no federal funding flowing for Service Coordinators working within Section 202 and other low-income housing facilities. There are nearly 5,000 service coordinators working in HUD properties nationwide. During the shutdown, grants cannot be drawn down to fund efforts to connect older adults, people with disabilities and low-income families living in affordable housing communities to supportive services and other community resources.
 
The federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, also administered through HUD, provides supplemental support for senior services, including home-delivered meals, in some states. CDBG projects and grants will not be federally funded during the shutdown, and states will have to either bridge funding or cut services.
 
Please let your Members of Congress know if you are hearing from older adults in your community whose housing status or access to supportive services is at risk.
 
Nutrition Programs and Other Services
 
The Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to more than 40 million people nationwide, including nearly five million people age 60 and older. The agency announced that it would fund the SNAP program through February, but in many communities SNAP recipients may receive their February allocations early and will therefore need to budget carefully during the month of February. The USDA has not indicated any contingency plans for SNAP benefits should the shutdown extend into March.
 
Other nutrition programs including the USDA-administered Commodity Supplemental Nutrition Program, which provides nutritious foods to low-income older adults, are not receiving funding during the federal funding lapse. Most states have indicated that they can continue services into February. It is unclear what may happen after that point.
 
Other federal programs administered by affected agencies that may have implications for older adults include consumer protection programs within the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, elder justice programs under the Department of Justice, and transportation services funded through the Department of Transportation. No specific service reductions have been announced for any of these programs, but we expect that will change should the government remain partially closed into March.
 
What Happens Next?
 
There is no obvious resolution in sight. The House has taken ten separate votes on bills to fund currently closed federal agencies—at the spending levels agreed to last fall by the then-Republican-led House. Since none of those measures includes the $5.7 border wall appropriation desired by the President, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said that he will not bring to the Senate floor these or other bills the President will not sign. While there is speculation that Congress has the votes to override a Presidential veto (which requires a two-thirds majority) and re-open shuttered agencies, without the Senate Majority Leader’s permission to move to a vote, the situation remains at a stalemate.
 
What Can You Do?
 
It is critical that federal lawmakers understand how this partial shutdown affects all their constituents—both those who are directly affected by furlough and those who are subject to secondary ramifications as federal funding for many community programs is paused.
 
Members of Congress are requesting stories about how the shutdown is affecting people across the age and income spectrum. If you are hearing stories from older adults and caregivers you serve who are suffering as a result of this five-week lapse in federal funding, reach out to inform your Representatives and Senators (U.S. Capitol Switchboard: 202.224.3121; email: https://www.house.gov/representatives and www.senate.gov). n4a also wants to know what you are hearing, so please keep us informed about what’s going on in your community!  
 
We also encourage you to join n4a and local aging advocates at the 25th Annual n4a Aging Policy Briefing & Capitol Hill Day, March 5-6 in Washington, DC to connect with your lawmakers and their staff directly. n4a recently released the draft agenda for the event. We look forward to updating attendees on the latest developments in federal budget, funding and other critical health and aging policy issues, so register today!
 
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This Legislative Update is an n4a membership benefit for AAAs and Title VIs. For more information about these and other federal aging policy issues, please contact n4a’s policy team: Amy Gotwals (agotwals@n4a.org) and Autumn Campbell (acampbell@n4a.org), 202.872.0888.

View this Legislative Update as a PDF.