$1.9 Trillion American Rescue Plan Provides Specific Provisions for Seniors

By , Ian Hutter, Elder & Disability Law Clinic Student, Spring 2021

On March 11, 2021, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan (ARP) into law.  Most media coverage has focused on vaccine procurement, stimulus payments, and unemployment benefits.  However, the bill also includes provisions aimed at helping aging individuals.  8 out of 10 COVID-19 deaths are individuals over 65.  The Coronavirus pandemic has devastated this demographic more than any other.  As a result, the ARP includes funding for both group and individual benefit programs targeted towards older adults.

While all individuals who earn less than $75,000 and couples earning less than $150,000 are eligible for $1,400 stimulus payments, families with eligible dependents (including adult dependents) are also eligible for the payments.  These income levels are based on ones most recent tax return.  Even if a family does not normally file tax returns, those receiving Social Security and Supplemental Security Income will receive the stimulus check automatically.  The ARP includes funding for more robust testing and vaccination infrastructure while allocating $1.75 billion to surveil new COVID-19 strains.

The bill also provides support services specifically targeted to help older adults.  For example, the Community Supplemental Food Program (a food program for seniors) will remain funded until October 1, 2022.  Another $1.4 billion is allocated to other senior programs including nutrition services, vaccination outreach, social isolation support, and caregiver funding.

The ARP earmarks $500 million to fund reaction teams to quickly respond to future COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes.  An additional $200 million will fund COVID-19 prevention and mitigation efforts in skilled nursing facilities.  The legislation includes higher federal matching funds to state governments, thereby promoting more home-based services for those in need, in order to avoid nursing facilities during the pandemic.  Also, underfunded pension plans will receive federal funding through the Pension Guaranty Corporation to help retirees.  Finally, the ARP removes the age cap for worker tax credit (previously 65).

Overall, the bill will include over $750 million for nutrition programs, $460 million for support service, $145 million for the National Family Caregiver Support Program, and $10 million for the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, all of which are extensions of programs provided for by the Older Americans Act totaling $1.4 billion.

The National Council on Aging and the American Association of Retired Persons both endorsed the bill and view the signing as a great success for older Americans.  The ARP has been hailed as a triumph in a time of uncertainty for the entire country, but seniors can rest assured that the federal government was concerned with the well-being of older generations when crafting the legislation.