Emergency Funding for COVID-19 Response
The senior population is particularly at-risk to the dangers of the ongoing coronavirus (i.e., COVID-19) crisis. Older adults, individuals with underlying health conditions or compromised immune systems, and healthcare workers are at increased risk for contracting the disease and experiencing its harmful effects. Many seniors who rely on congregate and home-delivered meals have the risk factors that make them among the most vulnerable to this disease. For that reason, addressing this public health threat and helping senior nutrition programs navigate the quickly changing landscape of information and resources on the COVID-19 pandemic is currently one of our top priorities.
Due to the widespread impact of this evolving crisis, the federal government has enacted a series of four emergency relief bills. The legislative packages were needed to provide critical funding and support to individuals, programs and industries impacted by the virus, and have so far included a combined $750 million in emergency supplemental funding for Older Americans Act (OAA) Congregate, Home-delivered, and Native American Nutrition Services. The four emergency relief bills that have become law to date include the:
- Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, P.L. 116-123 | Summary
- Families First Coronavirus Response Act, P.L. 116-127| Summary
- Coronavirus Aide, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, P.L. 116-136 | Summary
- Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, P.L. 116-139 | Summary
Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act: Congress passed this first emergency relief bill on March 5 nearly unanimously in both chambers and it was signed into law by the President (i.e., enacted) the following day. This legislation provided $8.3 billion in federal funding to support activities to help response the COVID-19 crisis, including aid for state and local health agencies, development of vaccine and treatments for the disease, and other emergency funding initiatives for businesses to help ease associated economic burdens.
Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA): The second response package became law on March 18 after passing with broad bipartisan support. The bill includes provisions to protect and expand federal nutrition and food assistance programs – including $240 million in emergency supplemental funding for Older Americans Act (OAA) Congregate and Home-delivered meals and $10 million for Title VI Native American nutrition services. Additionally, FFCRA ensures free coronavirus testing, emergency paid leave from work and funding for health and insurance programs needed to address the health and economic challenges initiated by the pandemic.
Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act: The third and largest bipartisan relief bill to date passed unanimously in both chambers – the Senate first passed the package by a roll call vote (96-0) followed by passage in the House by voice vote – and was signed into law on March 27. The CARES Act provides over $2 trillion in additional emergency funding including $955 million for programs provided through the Administration for Community Living (ACL), with $820 for OAA programs, including $480 million in emergency supplemental funding designated for Title III-C congregate and home-delivered meals and $20 million for Native American nutrition services under Title VI. Other key programs that received emergency funding to continue providing essential services to seniors and low-income families include: $1 billion for the Community Services Block Grants (CSBG); $5 billion for the Community Development Block Grants (CDBG); and $900 million for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
The CARES Act also included several provisions aimed at supporting senior nutrition providers as they adapt their operations to meet the changing landscape and increasing demand for meals. These policies include transfer of funds of up to 100 percent between congregate and home-delivered meal programs, allowing ACL to waive the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) nutrition requirements for OAA meals and the expansion of the homebound eligibility definition to include older adults who are confined to their homes due to COVID-19. The provisions are temporary, defined as through the duration of the public health emergency.
Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act: The fourth COVID-19 response package enacted on April 24 appropriated an additional $484 billion in supplemental emergency funding for programs passed in the earlier packages. Widely considered an “interim” bill, this measure was primarily needed to replenish funds for the Paycheck Protection Program, an emergency loan program for small businesses and nonprofits that was established by the CARES Act in March to help keep employees on payroll during the economic crisis related to COVID-19. The bill also included other disaster relief and emergency grants, as well as additional funding for hospitals and healthcare providers and to scale up COVID-19 testing.
On June 3, Congress passed the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act (H.R. 7010), legislation to amend the PPP to make the program more flexible for small business loan recipients by loosening the current restrictions on how the funds much be used to meet the requirements for forgiveness. Specifically, it extends the timeframe in which the loan must be spent from 8 to 24 weeks and increases the amount of funds that can be spent on non-payroll items, such as rent or utilities, from 25 percent of the loan to 40 percent.
Future Federal Response Packages
Negotiations on additional COVID-19 response legislation were at a standstill and further delayed through the summer months due to spending and partisan disagreements on the scope of the package. Both the House and Senate have released proposals that represent respective starting points for further debate between the two chambers and the White House.
In May, following the enactment of the fourth “interim” COVID-19 response bill and wanting quick action on broad and comprehensive relief legislation, House Democrats introduced a $3 trillion aid package. The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act (H.R. 6800) passed on May 15 (208-199) and included a number of provisions for which we have advocated including additional support for the Aging Network and older adults. Notable policies include $20 million in additional funding for OAA nutrition services; supplemental funding for key block grants and programs that support essential services in the community; an increase in SNAP benefits; dedicated funding for Medicaid Home- and Community-based services (HCBS); and additional provisions that support nonprofits and voter access and safety initiatives for upcoming elections.
Senate Republican leaders released their proposal for the next COVID-19 relief package on July 27 with a series of 8 different bills, collectively called the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act. This roughly $1 trillion proposal provides a more limited round of pandemic relief and excludes federal nutrition programs with no funding for the OAA Title III-C and Title VI Native American Nutrition Programs or expanded benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The HEALS Act does include $75 million for the Administration for Community Living (ACL) to fund services targeted to older Americans and the disability community, $58 million of which is designated for OAA programs such as supportive services and caregiver support. It also includes $118 billion in funding for increased COVID-19 testing, state and local public health funding, and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), among other items; an extension of, and additional funding for, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for certain small businesses; and a second round of economic stimulus checks.
On August 18, Republicans in the Senate released a second relief proposal that includes a lower overall amount of nearly $500 billion in federal emergency funding. This legislation again excludes any resources for nutrition programs.
Due to the wide differences between the House-passed HEROES Act and the Senate proposals, progress on a bipartisan agreement stalled and resulted in both chambers leaving for the August recess without passing relief legislation. However, the urgency to enact the next relief package is high and continues to grow, particularly as a few key protections from the CARES Act – signed into law in March – expired at the end of July, such as pandemic unemployment insurance and certain housing provisions. On top of this, states and localities are struggling to combat the continuing health and economic fallouts from the pandemic, and a variety of federally supported programs are facing an increasing need for more emergency funding.
Congressional leaders have noted that they will reconvene to pass such relief legislation if a deal is reached before their officially scheduled return in September. Yet, with the start of the new fiscal year set to begin on October 1, there is possibility that the next round of COVID relief may be combined with a FY21 spending package that is needed to avert a government shutdown at that time.
For more information on the policies and our advocacy around the COVID-19 response, reference these additional resources below:
For additional information and resources on the Meals on Wheels America’s COVID-19 response, please visit our primary resource page in Member Central or use our public COVID-19 page.
Fiscal Year 2021
As the federal government continues to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, the annual appropriations process is also moving forward for Fiscal Year 2021(FY21). As of July, the House has passed 10 out of its 12 annual spending bills. The Senate has not yet officially considered any of its own appropriations bills.
The House passed their FY21 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor-HHS-Ed) annual appropriations bill on July 31. If enacted, the bill would provide a $20 million increase for the Title III-C OAA Nutrition Program, split evenly between C-1 congregate and C-2 home-delivered nutrition services. The bill was considered along with five other annual appropriations bills as a “minibus” package (H.R. 7617) and passed on vote of 217-197. This followed the passage of an initial “minibus” package (H.R. 7608) that combined four bills spending bills on July 24 and was passed by a vote of (224-189).
With the beginning of the fiscal year around the corner and limited time to reach bipartisan and bicameral agreement on funding levels, there appears to be an increasing likelihood that FY 2021 appropriations work will not be complete by the end of the current fiscal year on September 30. In this event, a continuing resolution (CR) may be needed to keep the government open until next fiscal year’s spending priorities can be finalized.
The table below outlines the current and proposed funding levels for several federal programs that impact Meals on Wheels programs and the Aging Network from both the President’s budget request that was released in February and the House-proposed spending bills. We will continue to keep it updated as additional FY21 funding levels are proposed.
For FY21, Meals on Wheels America is requesting $1,028,753,000 for the OAA Nutrition Program – a $92 million (10 percent) increase above FY20 levels. This request reflects the total funding level for the program included in the OAA reauthorization law – the Supporting Older Americans Act of 2020 (P.L. 116-131) and acknowledges the immense need for services resulting from coronavirus response. We are also asking the House and Senate Appropriations Committees for a minimum 20 percent funding increase for Title VI Native American Nutrition Services.
We will continue to keep you updated on the status of the budget and appropriations process as well as the work we are doing to advocate for strong federal funding to benefit your programs!
For more information about current federal funding efforts, reference these additional resources and statements below: