Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are asking the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to release the remainder of the Provider Relief Fund (PRF) to health care providers—including nursing homes—as they continue to battle COVID-19. No PRF funding has been distributed to the health care sector this year, even as the pandemic lingers.

Last week, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) sent a letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, noting that it has been 11 months since the last PRF distribution was announced:

“The nation is currently experiencing the ‘fourth wave’ of COVID-19 infections, with hospitals and health care providers around the country stretched to breaking points not seen since the earliest days of the pandemic. Some states have asked hospitals to stop elective procedures, others lack health care staffing resources. As many hospitals run out of bed space and staffing resources wear thin, facilities located in COVID-19 hotspots are diverting acute care patients requiring non-COVID-related procedures out of state. Additionally, intensive care unit beds are at capacity in many regions, and nursing home infections have increased once again after a June low …

“It has been 11 months since the last PRF distribution was announced. We believe it is imperative for the Administration to continue to fight the pandemic with all available means, including by swiftly disbursing PRF funds to providers buckling under the weight of surging COVID-19 cases.”

A bipartisan group of more than 40 U.S. senators, led by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), also sent a letter to Secretary Becerra, asking that the funding in the PRF be distributed right away so that health care providers can weather the financial challenges of the pandemic:

“Over the course of the pandemic, Congress has appropriated $178 billion for the Provider Relief Fund as well as an additional $8.5 billion for rural providers. Hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living providers, health clinics, and other health care providers need these funds to help weather the financial difficulties created by the pandemic. In rural areas in particular, the PRF has prevented facilities that struggled before and during the pandemic from falling into bankruptcy or closing entirely …

“On July 19, the Government Accountability Office reported that about 25 percent of Provider Relief Fund appropriations and all of the rural provider funding remained unobligated as of May 31, 2021 … GAO recommended that HHS communicate information about, and facilitate oversight of, the department’s use of COVID-19 relief funds by providing projected time frames for its planned distributions in the spend plans it submits to Congress.

“We fully agree with GAO’s assessment and ask that HHS announce and implement its plans for additional disbursement of provider relief funds. As the health care provider community continues to respond to the challenges posed by the pandemic, this funding should be released without any further delay.”

The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) have stressed to HHS that immediate aid from the PRF is critical, as long term care facilities continue to face a severe economic crisis due to chronic Medicaid underfunding and ongoing pandemic-related costs. As a result, thousands of long term care facilities are on the verge of collapse, with many nursing homes in danger of closing their doors this year, AHCA/NCAL said.