$1.2B Senior Housing Relief Bill Introduced in Senate

Legislation | July 02, 2020 | by Linda Couch

On July 2, Senator Robert Menendez and 14 Senate co-sponsors introduced the Emergency Housing Assistance for Older Adults Act. The bill is the Senate companion to HR 6873, which was introduced by Representative Katie Porter and House Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters in May. LeadingAge is working to include the bills’ $1.2 billion in Congress’s next COVID-19 relief bill, which is expect to come together for enactment in late July.

On July 2, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and 14 Senate co-sponsors introduced the Emergency Housing Assistance for Older Adults Act. The bill is the Senate companion to HR 6873, which was introduced by Representative Katie Porter and House Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters in May. LeadingAge is working to include the bills’ $1.2 billion in Congress’s next COVID-19 relief bill, which is expect to come together for enactment in late July.

“As the coronavirus pandemic continues to take its toll on our communities and families, it has had a relentless, devastating impact on our nation’s seniors, especially elderly Americans living in facilities that struggled with lack of protection, staff and resources,” said Senator Menendez in his July 2 press release. “Congress has an obligation to help our most vulnerable during this crisis and that means making sure our federally-assisted senior housing facilities have the necessary resources to effectively protect and ensure residents remain safe, healthy and have access to key services during the COVID crisis.”

The bill is co-sponsored by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

In a statement released by Senator Menendez, Senator Klobuchar said, “All Americans deserve safety and dignity in their senior years. The moral test of any nation is how it treats its most vulnerable citizens—and that has never been more important than right now during this crisis. This legislation will help improve senior housing facilities and protect our seniors’ health as well as their mental, emotional, and financial well-being.”

“Recent reports show that more than 40 percent of COVID-19 deaths have occurred in nursing homes and long-term care settings. This is unacceptable – and underscores the complete negligence of President Trump in managing this crisis and coordinating a comprehensive response. We must take action. This legislation is a key step forward in ensuring federally-backed housing for older Americans have the resources they need, and we’ll be pushing for its passage immediately,” said Senator Van Hollen said, also within Senator Menendez’s press release.

“As older adults face the worst pandemic in a century, it’s time for federal leadership. That’s why LeadingAge is thrilled to support Senator Menendez’s Emergency Housing Assistance for Older Adults bill, which needs to be part of Congress’s next COVID-19 package. Affordable senior housing communities across the country are struggling to meet COVID-19 expenses and meet the of more than 700,000 very low income older adult residents.” Katie Smith Sloan, President and CEO of LeadingAge, said upon the bill’s introduction.

B'nai B'rith International joined others in supporting the bill. “This legislation provides critical funding for senior properties to better meet challenges associated with the virus, including the ability to purchase more personal protective equipment, expand service coordination and WiFi accessibility,” Mark Olshan, Ph.D. associate executive vice president of LeadingAge member B'nai B'rith International and director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services, said.

Resident Services and Unbudgeted Costs

The bills would provide $845 million for the Section 202 Housing for the Elderly and Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance programs to pay for cleaning and disinfecting, staff support, personal protective equipment, and costs for addressing critical needs that have arisen solely because of COVID, including grocery and meal delivery, security, and covering the cost of units that may have to be vacant for a bit longer than usual because of the pandemic.

Successful Service Coordination

The bills would also provide $300 million to support and expand HUD’s successful Service Coordinator program, and make clear, as Congress authorized in 2011, that Section 811 Housing for Persons with Disabilities communities are eligible for HUD Service Coordinator funding. Only half of HUD-assisted senior housing communities have a Service Coordinator, staff whose value to residents aging in community has become only more obvious during the pandemic.

Bridging the Connectivity Gap

The bills also support $50 million for the installation and service fees for wireless internet in HUD-assisted senior housing communities. The lack of internet throughout most Section 202 Housing for the Elderly and Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance has significantly hindered residents’ ability to access telehealth services, safely learn about opportunities and programs within their own communities, overcome language barriers, and combat the negative physical and mental health effects of social isolation.

Integrated Wellness and Housing Support

Finally, the bills provide $7 million for a one-year extension of HUD’s 40-site Integrated Wellness in Supportive Housing demonstration. Extension of the IWISH demonstration, set to sunset on September 30, 2020, is needed as soon as possible so the demonstration-funded Wellness Nurses and Service Coordinators can continue their critical work.

In a sign on letter organized by LeadingAge, dozens of national organization are urging Senate and House members to include the provisions of the Emergency Housing Assistance for Older Adults Act in the next COVID-19 relief package. AARP has also endorsed the legislation.