The COVID-19 pandemic affected older adults and individuals with disabilities, especially more disproportionately than other demographic groups. As a result, many agencies and organizations that provide support reduced or curtailed their services in order to protect employees and volunteers from possible exposure to COVID-19 and to prevent the spread of the illness to individuals they served. Without warning, access to essential service quickly became unavailable. Families who provided care for their loved ones had to cease their support to keep them safe, leaving older adults isolated and without necessities including food, personal care and transportation. Food insecurity among older adults increased, as well as mental health issues such as depression and suicide. In response to these increased needs, numerous federal relief and rescue funds were started in Spring of 2020 and will continue to assist with recovery efforts.
These important programs include:
- Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) – CARES funding provides services through the Older Americans Act (OAA) and extends programming that is flexible to meet additional needs. These funds have been allocated to all nine counties for allowable services to individuals who are 60 and over. Covered services include nutrition (both home-delivered meals and congregate meals), in-home aides, transportation, senior centers and adult daycare. Aging service providers have welcomed the flexibility to purchase needed protective equipment, technology, vehicles, equipment for programs and improvements to space and buildings to promote safety and social distancing. CARES funding has been extended and will be usable through the upcoming fiscal year. CARES funds were also awarded to Family Caregiver Support Programs and the Long-term Care Ombudsman Program.
- 2021 Supplemental 5-HDC5 Nutrition Funds – Signed into law on December 27, 2020, the Consolidated Appropriations Act provides supplemental funding for Senior Nutrition Programs to assist in responding to the COVID pandemic. These funds are limited to allowable OAA services for nutrition, which includes both home-delivered meals and congregate meals. However, the creativity and flexibility that the CARES funding allows when combined with Supplemental-5 funds, allows nutrition programs to also purchase protective equipment and program equipment including freezers and delivery equipment. The funding period is July 1, 2021 through September 30, 2022.
- American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) – Also available to continue the work of the Older Americans Act services and supports, ARPA funding begins July 1, 2021. As with the other COVID-19 recovery funds, ARPA allocations can be used for all nutrition services and a variety of supportive services including senior centers, in-home aide services and transportation. Support will also be available to Disease Prevention and Health Promotion activities, Ombudsman services and Family Caregiver Support Services. ARPA funds are intended to focus on combatting social isolation, building infrastructure and investments in technological equipment and solutions. These funds can be expended until September 30, 2024.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Administration for Community Living (ACL) Vaccination Funds – These funds have been awarded to Area Agencies on Aging for the purpose of helping with vaccination efforts among vulnerable and at-risk older adults. Activities will include dissemination of credible information, community education and outreach and assistance with services needed for vaccination, including transportation, signing up for appointments and other technical assistance to older adults, their caregivers and community partners, as needed.
Despite the many challenges to both service providers and service recipients during the pandemic, Centralina Area Agency on Aging (AAA) is committed to supporting programs and systems that promote independence, dignity and the rights of older adults, individuals with disabilities and their families.
Centralina AAA’s Aging Director Linda Miller explains, “AAAs have long played a critical role in helping develop home and community services throughout our region. So, Centralina AAA was well-positioned to quickly identify unmet needs and help strategize solutions. The additional funding from federal relief programs will allow needed services and supports to continue, expand and evolve.”
Looking ahead to Fiscal Year 2022, the Area Agency will continue these efforts, while helping to ensure that recovery funds are fully maximized to serve as many older adults and individuals with disabilities as possible.