En español | As Congress is poised to begin voting on the latest major piece of legislation to help Americans cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins is supporting increased resources to help facilitate vaccine distribution, assist employed and unemployed workers, strengthen caregiving and long-term care support, and invest in vital nutrition programs.
"The gravity of the present challenge requires both the recently enacted legislation and additional resources and investments to tackle the growing health and financial needs of the American people,” Jenkins says in her letter to leaders of the House of Representatives and Senate. “It also requires solutions to protect the health and safety of those who have been hardest hit or at highest risk through the pandemic."
Jenkins explains in her letter that older Americans account for more than 95 percent of COVID-19 deaths and they are in desperate need of a better process for distributing and administering the vaccines. “We cannot stress enough how difficult this process has been for so many Americans as they have tried to navigate multiple websites, confusing signup systems, understaffed phone lines and confusing categories of prioritization,” she says in her letter. The measure that is expected to be voted on by the House includes $20 billion for vaccine distribution.
AARP is looking for federal and state governments to not only improve the vaccination distribution process but expand how individuals can get a vaccine — from a broader use of pharmacies to mass vaccination centers and mobile clinics. Also needed, Jenkins says, is the development of “new, critical modes of providing in-home vaccination to home-bound individuals.” The letter also urges the federal government to work with states to create 800 phone numbers for people without computer access to use to schedule vaccine appointments.
More AARP priorities
The AARP letter outlines a number of other priorities it says Congress needs to invest in “to protect the health and safety of those who have been hardest hit or at highest risk through the pandemic.” These priorities include:
- Direct financial relief: AARP supports cash payments to individuals who are working, unable to work, unemployed or retired as well as people who care for adult dependents. AARP also supports language in the proposed legislation that ensures people receiving Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Veterans Affairs (VA) payments who do not file federal income tax will continue to automatically receive direct stimulus payments.
- Nursing home and community-based care: AARP supports provisions in the bill that will support staffing needs when there is a COVID outbreak and supports greater infection control. AARP continues to ask for adequate personal protective equipment and COVID-19 tests and backs the funding in the package for testing, contact tracing and state strike teams. Jenkins says in her letter that AARP also backs allocations in the package that will help more people get their care in the community and stay out of nursing homes when they choose to.
- Nutrition programs: AARP supports the extension of the 15 percent increase in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the $750 million in emergency funding so Older Americans Act nutrition services can continue to help seniors remain safe and healthy in their homes.
- Health Care Coverage: AARP supports an expansion of Affordable Care Act (ACA) subsidies to help people afford quality health plans.
- Emergency paid family and sick leave: AARP supports continuation of emergency paid sick and family leave and, in particular, extension of the provision of those benefits to individuals caring for adult loved ones affected by the coronavirus.
- Unemployment benefits: AARP supports the continuation of emergency unemployment benefits, including the extension of additional categories of eligibility such as those working in the gig economy.
- Housing and transportation: AARP supports more funding for emergency rental assistance and eviction prevention as well as emergency transit funding to make sure public transportation systems successfully emerge from the crisis.
- Pension relief: AARP supports federal assistance to protect against cuts to the pension benefits of workers and retirees of seriously underfunded multiemployer pension plans.
Dena Bunis covers Medicare, health care, health policy and Congress. She also writes the “Medicare Made Easy” column for the AARP Bulletin. An award-winning journalist, Bunis spent decades working for metropolitan daily newspapers, including as Washington bureau chief for the Orange County Register and as a health policy and workplace writer for Newsday.