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AARP's Historic Advocacy Accomplishments for 2021

We fought for stimulus checks, vaccine support for nursing homes, additional SNAP benefits and much more

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Although the calendar has turned to 2022, Americans are still benefiting from AARP’s advocacy efforts in the historic yet challenging year of 2021. COVID-19, economic disruptions, safety in long-term care, hunger relief and internet access were among the many problems we sought to address, in keeping with AARP’s mission to make life better for all.

Last year also brought reminders that when a measure is approved, our work is often just beginning. In this short space, I cannot begin to describe all the issues our team took on in Washington and all 50 state capitals. But I can tell you we achieved an array of wins for the public that we seek to build on going forward.

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2021 Advocacy Highlights

In reviewing AARP’s advocacy in 2021, certain highlights jump out.

  • Critical financial relief AARP championed stimulus checks and pushed Treasury to make automatic deposits for as many eligible people in as many programs as possible. We advocated successfully for higher subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.
  • COVID-19 vaccines AARP lobbied federal and state officials to make older adults a priority in vaccine distribution. We pushed to get vaccines into nursing homes. And we pressed nursing homes to require vaccinations of residents and staff, a move that prompted the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to require vaccination of nursing home staff.  
  • Supporting family caregivers Whether through our work on paid leave or increasing access to home- and community-based services, we had success in almost every state to support caregivers and their families. AARP also provided key leadership in raising the profile of caregivers through the Credit for Caring Act at the federal level and securing additional supporters in Congress and in the advocacy community.
  • Food and nutrition for the hungry Our lobbyists secured additional funding for nutrition services, such as Meals on Wheels and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program. They helped win a revision in SNAP benefits that brought additional aid to all 42 million SNAP participants, including 8.7 million households with someone age 50 or older. It was the largest permanent increase in the program’s history and contributed to the monthly cap for one-person households increasing to $250, up from $204.
  • Online connections for low-income families We helped create a program of temporary assistance for the many households that cannot afford high-speed internet service. AARP also advocated for additional aid, notably $65 billion in the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to make permanent the program that is now bringing high-speed internet service in reach of all Americans. ​
  • Crucial housing support for renters and homeowners AARP pushed hard to protect individuals who risked displacement from their homes. Our efforts led to an additional $27.4 billion in rental assistance and nearly $10 billion to help struggling homeowners avoid eviction.

Just the beginning

And yet, we accomplished so much more. The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan became law in March, an extraordinary package of relief we strongly advocated. AARP then worked with federal, state and local officials to ensure that the money flowed into the hands of those who needed it. When concerns arose about delays, we came forward, helping speed distribution of funds for home- and community-based services, vaccinations, long-term care facilities, housing, transportation, and emergency food benefits.

AARP worked hard to ensure that automatic stimulus payments of $1,400 ($2,800 for joint filers) included individuals receiving Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, Social Security Disability Insurance and veterans’ benefits. Separately, we led a fight to provide additional support payments to families of adult dependents, who were omitted from the definition of "dependent" in earlier pandemic relief bills.

AARP also ensured that residents of U.S. territories were eligible. We met repeatedly with the Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration (SSA) to address a delay in distributing rebates to Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, Veterans Affairs and Railroad Retirement beneficiaries.

Broadband provides another example of our vigilance after a measure has been approved.

In late 2020, Congress approved a $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund to help people afford internet service during the pandemic, through a special discount program of $50 a month. For the discount to be effective, however, eligible households had to know about it, so AARP successfully developed and executed a roll-out strategy to maximize participation.

We consulted with the Federal Communications Commission, brought together our own in-house experts, created a call-to-action web page that received 184,000 views and targeted specific communities, including Native Americans, with an informational video. Due to these and other of our efforts, more than 7.8 million people enrolled for discounts — 40 percent of whom were 50 or older.

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Nancy LeaMond
Jared Soares

While the emergency broadband initiative was always intended to be temporary, our efforts helped create a bigger victory. In November, Congress replaced the limited plan with a $14 billion, long-term Affordable Connectivity Program.

AARP: The fierce defender

There were also occasions last year when AARP had to marshal its lobbying resources to resist proposals that would be harmful to older adults. Our opposition helped persuade SSA to withdraw its plan to change the frequency of disability reviews in a way that would have jeopardized benefits for many. Separately, we opposed a proposed change that would have eliminated nutrition benefits for 3.1 million Americans and disproportionately affect older households in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. After hearing the concerns of AARP and others, the Department of Agriculture withdrew the plan.

Stepping stones

Some of last year’s victories were stepping stones on the way to larger goals that we continue to strive for. Consider the challenge of prescription drug prices, which are a painful burden to consumers. Outside of Washington, D.C., we pushed successfully for 26 laws in 16 states affecting areas such as drug-price transparency (North Dakota, Texas, Maine, Nevada), out-of-pocket spending caps (Kentucky, Oregon, Rhode Island, Oklahoma), and the creation of drug affordability boards (Colorado, Oregon). Although Congress has yet to approve legislation that would put the brakes on drug costs, House members last year voted in favor of reforms that ​would cap out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs and finally allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

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In 2021, AARP also fought to improve conditions in nursing homes and kept up the fight for older Americans to have high-quality, affordable options for care in all settings, especially at home. In one little noticed success, we helped persuade the Biden administration to update visitation guidelines so more families could visit loved ones in nursing homes during the pandemic. AARP states offices like AARP Colorado worked to ensure nursing homes were not let off the hook for poor patient care.

Beyond that, we were pleased that the Credit for Caring Act, which would provide tax breaks for eligible family caregivers, was included in reconciliation provisions that passed the House Ways and Means Committee. Family caregivers need financial support, and this legislation gained a growing, bipartisan list of cosponsors in both chambers.

Focused on the future

For all of last year’s accomplishments, we are laser-focused on the future. Longstanding AARP goals — containment of drug prices, the expansion of subsidies under the Affordable Care Act that are helping people with access to affordable health insurance, and a major funding increase for home-and community-based services — are now pending in Build Back Better (BBB) legislation. Furthermore, while the path forward remains less clear on BBB provisions that would create a hearing benefit in Medicare and provide up to four weeks of paid leave for workers who need time to attend to caregiving or medical issues, we will continue to push for these meaningful reforms.

These and other measures reflect our long-term advocacy priorities to enhance health and economic security. Achieving them will benefit not only AARP’s vast membership (nearly 38 million) but families across America.

For more information, here is a comprehensive list of AARP’s 2021 advocacy accomplishments.

Nancy LeaMond is AARP's chief advocacy and engagement officer.

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