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As the Coronavirus cases continue to mount both in Illinois and across the nation, the pandemic is shining a light on chinks in our nation’s system for responding to the needs of older adults. AgeGuide advocates to not only provide immediate relief to older adults as they enter month six of this pandemic, but also to effect long-term policy change that will support all of us in aging at home and in the community with maximum health, independence, and well-being.
Long-term Care Facilities, which account for 44% of the deaths due to COVID-19 in the state, need adequate PPE and proper infectious disease control protocols to stem the rate of infections. In addition, we’re advocating for technology to help residents stay connected to loved ones and service providers since facilities are still closed to visitors except for scheduled outdoor visits.
Social Isolation is as dangerous a threat to health as the virus. AgeGuide and our funded providers have been creative in providing virtual programs and resources to keep older adults engaged and connected while they shelter at home. State allocations from the federal Cares Act have been critical to supporting these efforts.
The Illinois Family Caregiver Act (H.B. 5775 & S.B. 3446) has become increasingly critical during this crisis since many families are isolated at home without the support of in-home care providers or adult day centers to relieve the pressures of caregiving. There has also been an uptick in the number of caregivers as some families moved to pull loved ones out of long-term care facilities in order to keep them safe. Illinois is one of the few states that doesn’t have specific funding for caregiver supports.
In the Illinois FY21 state budget, Older Americans Act programs received level funding support which is great news in the current strained fiscal climate.
In the last five months, Congress passed trillions of dollars of emergency relief funding to address the pandemic. Much of that spending was for programs that are normally funded through federal appropriations. To date, these bills directed more than $1 billion to core Older Americans Act programs, but these temporary relief measures are insufficient to address the scale and scope of the ongoing crisis. AgeGuide continues to advocate for critical Aging Network priorities to be included in the next round of COVID-19 relief legislation while at the same time, regular legislative action is needed—including full-year funding for the federal Older Americans Act and other aging programs.
As detailed previously, the House passed their economic relief bill, called the HEROES Act, in May. This bill contained $3 trillion in funding for numerous relief efforts including significant support for older adults.
At the end of July, Senate Republicans unveiled their relief bill, the HEALS Act (Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools Act) which proposes a more modest $1 trillion in aid for the following:
Missing from this bill is any specific support for older adult programs. The liability relief proposal is particularly problematic as it could effectively provide cover to nursing homes that do not protect patients’ health or implement effective infectious disease control measures, putting countless older adult lives at risk.
Federal Funding for FY 2021 Aging Programs
Congressional action on full-year FY21 federal funding bills has been hung up in the Senate. At the end of July, House lawmakers passed the annual spending measure for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and other related agencies, which includes Older Americans Act and other social support programs. In total, the Labor/HHS bill includes $196.5 billion for FY21, a modest $2.4 billion above the FY20 level. Progress on the FY21 federal budget in the Senate is stymied by partisan disputes over the level and contents of the next COVID-19 relief bill.
As of publication of this report, there is deep partisan disagreement over passage of a stimulus package. It remains to be seen if Congress can pass a full package before the August recess. In addition, lawmakers have significant work to do if they are going to pass any annual funding measures before the current fiscal year ends on September 30. Given the current political realities, it is very unlikely that Congress will finalize their budget bills by that date, thus resulting in the need to pass temporary measures (continuing resolutions), to fund the government at current FY20 levels through at least the election.
Stay tuned to AgeGuide for the latest details about state and federal legislation on older adult services and advocacy messages for lawmakers!
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