WASHINGTON, DC – As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) takes a severe toll on Americans above the age of 65, U.S. Senator Jack Reed is calling on Congress to prioritize additional federal assistance to help seniors stay healthy, connected, and provide them with financial support and access to safer-at-home supportive services.  Senator Reed says the next coronavirus relief bill must include targeted funding to ensure the well-being of senior citizens.  Reed is also urging the Trump Administration to change data collection policy to ensure it accurately reflects the true level of COVID-19 infections and deaths at nursing homes nationwide.

According to newly released data compiled by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, over three-quarters of all COVID-19-related deaths in Rhode Island are linked to nursing homes and assisted living centers.

Senator Reed recently helped secure $34.46 million in federal funding to help Rhode Island nursing homes increase testing capacity, purchase protective equipment for staff, hire more workers, and cover other pandemic-related expenses.  And elements of the Reed-backed Coronavirus Relief for Seniors and People with Disabilities Act (S.3544) were successfully included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (Public Law No. 116-136) to address critical health and economic needs for older adults, people with disabilities, front-line workers, and family caregivers.  Reed is also working to increase funding to help nursing homes promote infection control, cover the cost of treatment for low-income seniors, promote home and community-based services, and protect home health workers.

Adults ages 65 years and older represent two out of every five hospitalizations and close to 80 percent of all U.S. coronavirus deaths reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Seniors and people with underlying health conditions are at heightened risk from COVID-19 and Congress must take action to ensure their health and safety.  We need policy changes and additional resources to protect the physical, mental, and economic health of seniors and those most vulnerable to COVID-19,” said Senator Reed.  “People in congregate care facilities are facing challenging environments and we must protect both vulnerable seniors and those who care for them.”

Reed recently teamed up with U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) to introduce the COVID-19 Recovery for Seniors and People with Disabilities Act (S.3740).  This legislation would:

  • Require the Social Security Administration to halt unnecessary activities like continuing disability reviews and collection of overpayments for seniors and people with disabilities;
  • Remove administrative barriers to accessing disability benefits and health care, and expand eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI);
  • Open a Medicare Part B Special Enrollment Period to easily and quickly enroll more people during the public health emergency;
  • Increase funding for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to educate seniors about coronavirus-related scams; and
  • Provide flexibility for the senior food box program to limit the number of times a senior must leave their home in order to access proper nutrition.

Reed noted that as the country begins to reopen, the nation must not leave seniors behind.

“Seniors have made lasting contributions to our communities and we must prioritize protecting them and helping them through this.  The Trump Administration has to step up and do a better job when it comes to testing, tracing, and containment,” said Senator Reed.  “The federal government must provide additional emergency assistance for seniors and we must all work together as a community to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

Reed also blasted a recent decision by Trump Administration officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency responsible for nursing home oversight, which limits the accuracy of COVID-19 data at nursing homes.  Under new guidelines, the Trump Administration will not require nursing homes to provide data on coronavirus cases and deaths that occurred prior to May 8.

“Limiting the accuracy of federal data doesn’t solve anything.  It just keeps people in the dark and limits the effectiveness of the federal response.  Seniors and those with loved ones in nursing homes and assisted living facilities deserve to have the facts so they can make informed choices.  By making the reporting of key coronavirus-related metrics in nursing homes optional prior to May, the Trump Administration is effectively trying to cover up the true scope of the problem in March and April, and that only makes it more difficult for public health officials to learn the right lessons and develop best practices going forward,” said Reed, who teamed up with Senators Casey and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) last week to introduce the Nursing Home COVID-19 Protection and Prevention Act (S.3768), which, among other things, would instruct HHS to collect and publish data on COVID-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes and intermediate care facilities.

Reed also backed $250 million to assist seniors in the Families First Coronavirus Act (Public Law No: 116-127) as well as several key provisions of the CARES Act to help seniors and retirees, including direct payment of $1,200 to most seniors and relief payments for Social Security beneficiaries and increased flexibility to allow Medicare and Medicaid to cover seniors’ health care costs during the pandemic.  The CARES Act also provided:

  • $480 million for senior nutrition programs - like home-based nutrition delivery services such as Meals on Wheels;
  • $300 million for the Social Security Administration, so it can maintain essential services and quickly process claims for retirement and disability benefits;
  • $200 million for Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) to ensure that seniors can receive the services they need in their homes;
  • $100 million for the National Family Caregiver Support Program to assist caregivers;
  • $50 million for Aging and Disability Resource Centers, so they may better administer long-term services and supports.

The CARES Act also permits individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 or experiencing related economic losses to take penalty-free loans up to $100,000 – double the original amount – from defined contribution plans.  Repayment of existing plan loans is also extended for those affected by the coronavirus.