February 11, 2021

Gillibrand Leads Senate Colleagues In Call To Deliver More Than $1 Billion In Funding To Help Older Adults During The COVID-19 Crisis, Including Millions To Bolster Nutrition Services And Support Vaccination Efforts In Next Coronavirus Relief Package

As Pandemic Rages, Additional Resources Are Needed To Support Vaccination And Outreach To Hard To Reach Older Americans, And Ensure OAA Programs Can Meet Increased Demand For Senior Nutrition And Community Based Programs

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, member of the Special Committee on Aging, is leading Senate colleagues in a call for the inclusion of $1.4 billion in funding for Older Americans Act (OAA) programs, including $750 million in funding for the OAA Nutrition Services and $480 million to support providers’ efforts to vaccinate older adults in the next coronavirus relief package. Older, low-income Americans are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and many more have become newly homebound without access to food outside the home. Additionally, many older adults have lost access to existing emergency feeding programs in senior centers and other congregate feeding programs that have been closed during the pandemic. While previous relief packages took important steps to support OAA programs, the growing COVID-19 crisis coupled with the health and economic disparities for low-income older adults requires additional resources to meet the unprecedented need.  

“As Congress considers additional relief in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we urge you to prioritize nutrition programs and vaccine support for homebound and socially isolated older adults,” said the senators. “Specifically, we request that the next COVID-19 relief package include $1.4 billion in funding for Older Americans Act (OAA) programs, including $750 million for OAA Title III-C Nutrition Services, which critically support the delivery of nutritious meals to older adults throughout the country.”

The senators continued, “Additionally, OAA service providers have been longstanding, trusted sources of information and referrals for older adults and their caregivers. This network and the partnerships that exist are critically important as state and local COVID-19 vaccine efforts are underway and vulnerable older adults need assistance navigating systems to secure vaccinations. While Aging Network providers have taken on this additional work that will remain vital until our vaccination goals are reached, they have done so without the support of extra federal resources. In the absence of such targeted supplemental funding, specifically designating $480 million for OAA Title III-B Supportive Services, providers will not be able to continue offering the level of assistance needed to achieve the widespread vaccination of older adults.  

The letter is signed by U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Tina Smith (D-MN), Mazie Hirono (D-HI) Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jack Reed (D-RI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Joe Manchin (D-WV). 

According to the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a), 93% of Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) have reported serving more clients since the pandemic began, and 69% of AAAs saw an increase in demand for their supportive services. In addition, Meals on Wheels programs are serving an average of 59% more meals in November 2020 compared to March 1, 2020. 

The need for emergency relief funding for nutrition programs for older adults is a priority for leading food security for older adult groups. The senators’ letter is supported by Meals on Wheels America, the National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs (NANASP), and National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a): 

“We are incredibly grateful for Senator Gillibrand's leadership and the Senators who joined her in this urgent request for additional emergency funding to combat senior hunger and assist homebound and isolated older adults with vaccine access. The demand for Meals on Wheels has never been greater, with nearly nine out of ten local programs reporting unmet need in their communities and three out of four worried they will lose financial means to continue to serve the additional clients taken on during the pandemic. It is essential that we provide life-sustaining support to this most vulnerable population and those on the frontlines delivering meals and so much more.” - Ellie Hollander, President and CEO of Meals on Wheels America

The National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs commends Sen. Gillibrand for her distinct leadership in working to secure additional emergency funding for the Older Americans Act, particularly the senior nutrition program. From the Adirondacks to Albany County, from the Bronx to Buffalo, we run the risk of the demand for senior meals outstripping their funding in the coming weeks. A new infusion of $750 million will go a long way to keeping these meals going to some of our most vulnerable older adults.” - Bob Blancato, Executive Director of NANASP 

“Millions of older adults served by Area Agencies on Aging and their community partners, as well as Title VI Native American Aging Programs, will be able to retain the critical Older Americans Act services and supports they now receive to help them remain safe, healthy and as independent as possible in their homes and communities. Senator Gillibrand and colleagues’ call for this emergency funding will also ensure that our members can provide the wrap-around, hands-on assistance these older adults will require in order to get vaccinated against COVID-19. We urge the Senate to include these urgent requests in the next COVID-relief package.” –Sandy Markwood, CEO of n4a 

Full text of the letter can be found here and below. 

 

Dear Chair Murray, Ranking Member Burr, Chairman Sanders, and Ranking Member Graham:

As Congress considers additional relief in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we urge you to prioritize nutrition programs and vaccine support for homebound and socially isolated older adults. Specifically, we request that the next COVID-19 relief package include $1.4 billion in funding for Older Americans Act (OAA) programs, including $750 million for OAA Title III-C Nutrition Services, which critically support the delivery of nutritious meals to older adults throughout the country.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to disproportionately impact older adults. With the closure of congregate meal sites, the steep increase in newly homebound older adults, and the need for targeted vaccination dissemination efforts, there is now a higher demand for OAA Programs, such as home-delivered meals and other community-based supportive services. According to the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a), 93 percent of Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) have reported serving more clients since the pandemic began, and 69 percent of AAAs saw an increase in demand for their supportive services. In addition, 91 percent of Meals on Wheels America members report serving more home-delivered meals than they were before the pandemic, with the average program serving 59 percent more meals in November 2020 compared to March 1, 2020. Virtually all programs have seen the cost of providing services increase, including food, labor, safety supplies, and 29 percent say they would need to double their home-delivered nutrition budgets to meet the existing need in their communities. According to a January n4a survey, a majority of AAAs have expanded nutrition and supportive services by more than 50 percent, with a significant number seeing much higher increases. Of other programs seeing significant growth by AAAs, the most common nationwide are social isolation prevention and mitigation programs; grocery provision and shopping services; in-home supportive services; and information and referral support. 

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Consolidated Appropriations Act were important steps in responding to the increased demand for OAA programs, but additional funding is needed to continue providing vital services to seniors across the country. Even prior to the pandemic, an estimated 5.3 million (more than 7 percent) older adults experienced food insecurity and more than 17.4 million (24 percent) lived alone, putting them at greater risk of being socially isolated and/or lonely. In addition, COVID-19 has also magnified existing disparities for low-income older adults, which underscores the need for funding and programming to be appropriately targeted to those with the greatest need. Ensuring nutrition and supportive services reach communities of color, including those with disproportionately high infection and death rates, is extremely important as we work to address COVID-19 related racial and economic disparities. 

Additionally, OAA service providers have been longstanding, trusted sources of information and referrals for older adults and their caregivers. This network and the partnerships that exist are critically important as state and local COVID-19 vaccine efforts are underway and vulnerable older adults need assistance navigating systems to secure vaccinations. While Aging Network providers have taken on this additional work that will remain vital until our vaccination goals are reached, they have done so without the support of extra federal resources. In the absence of such targeted supplemental funding, specifically designating $480 million for OAA Title III-B Supportive Services, providers will not be able to continue offering the level of assistance needed to achieve the widespread vaccination of older adults.  

Many older adults remain unable to safely access congregate meals and engage in other social activities outside of the home during this time. We urge you to build on Congress’ past support for senior meal delivery by including $1.444 billion in funding for OAA programs, including $750 million for OAA Title III-C Nutrition Services, in the next COVID-19 relief bill for senior nutrition and other targeted efforts to address social isolation. We also urge you to prioritize emergency resources for vaccination support and outreach to the hard-to-reach older adults, as well as sufficient supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) needed for OAA service providers, older adults, and their caregivers.

Sincerely,