BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (August 31, 2021)—Congress must pass a massive social programs bill that includes billions in funding for seniors and those with disabilities, leaders in home health and senior services said Tuesday.

“Homecare providers are too short-staffed to send help, adult daycare services too few and far between, and there are waitlists for affordable housing … so millions of families have been trying to fill this gap by stepping in as caregivers,” said Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of Leading Age. “This is the most important moment in decades for older Americans and their families.”

She said that if Congress doesn’t act now to pass the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, the nonprofits and other groups providing senior care will be overwhelmed. The bill sets up a framework for construction of legislation to expand social programs—including around $400 billion worth that will go toward senior care, home- and community- based services, and pay raises for caregivers, among other items.

David Totaro, chief government affairs officer for BAYADA, called the bill a “gamechanger,” especially for home health and homecare providers like his fighting a worsening workforce shortage.

He said that this year, the company has had to deny service to an unprecedented number of new referrals due to staffing problems; it has hit a record 64% in its largest area of coverage, the states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

“First, let’s recognize that our home health aides are the foundation of our health care system. They keep our elderly out of more expensive care settings, saving our elderly and our health care system billions of dollars,” Totaro said. “They shouldn’t be living in poverty.”

The new law would also fund more affordable housing for seniors and others, said Tom Egan, president and CEO of the Foundation for Senior Living, a nonprofit group in Phoenix, Arizona. He said the end of the pandemic eviction moratorium is expected to lead to a dramatic spike in the number of seniors left homeless. Meanwhile, supply chain issues, rising housing prices and building delays mean there are hundreds of people on his group’s waiting list for affordable apartments.

Meanwhile, on the staffing side, Egan said, his organization has about 45 unfilled positions—almost all involved in direct care—out of a total staff of about 375. He said they haven’t been able to fill a caregiver position in months, as they’re competing with remote jobs or less demanding customer service positions.

"This reconciliation bill would be a gamechanger for older adults… but it’s also a dire necessity," Sloan said. "If we as a nation are going to do all we can, we need to pass this bill."