A bipartisan group of more than 40 U.S. senators signed a letter sent to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra, asking the department to release funding from the Provider Relief Fund to health care providers, including nursing homes and assisted living communities. The letter was led by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). In the letter, the senators wrote:

“Over the course of the pandemic, Congress has appropriated $178 billion for the Provider Relief Fund [PRF] 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 [GAO] 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/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) also sent a letter to Secretary Becerra earlier this month to make the same request. No resources have been distributed to health care providers yet this year.

Additional federal funding cannot come soon enough, the association said. Long term care facilities are facing a severe economic crisis due to chronic Medicaid underfunding and the ongoing costs associated with fighting COVID-19. Unfortunately, the pandemic is not over, and dedicating extensive resources on personal protective equipment (PPE), testing, and staffing will remain constant for the foreseeable future, the letter said.

“In 2020, nursing homes spent an estimated $30 billion on PPE and additional staffing alone, and these additional costs are expected to continue in 2021 as the Delta variant continues to spread across the country,” the AHCA/NCAL letter said.