Patient smiling at home caregiver

LeadingAge is pulling out all of the stops in a bid to get Congress to approve billions of dollars for senior services and caregiver support. On Tuesday, the association, which represents 5,000 senior services, called this the “most important decade” for older Americans and their families. 

“Unless Congress acts now to begin making meaningful changes to strengthen the infrastructure of care and services, the needs of older adults could overwhelm our country’s capacity to provide quality care,” LeadingAge President & CEO Katie Smith Sloan said during a press conference.

Washington lawmakers are two weeks away from assembling a $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package that could include billions of dollars for home-and-community-based services, senior housing and improved wages and benefits for home care workers. 

Senior policy research firm PHI estimates there will be 7.8 million job openings for direct caregivers by the end of the decade, but home care firms argue the shortage of workers has already reached crisis levels. 

David Totaro, government affairs officer for Moorestown, NJ-based Bayada Home Health Care,  said the $400 billion in home-and-community-based services the Biden administration promised the industry last spring is crucial.

Totaro said the industry needs the funding to train and boost wages to caregivers at a time when many are leaving for other industries. He explained that his own company had to turn away half of new referrals last year due to a staffing shortage.

“Today it hasn’t improved at all; in fact it’s gotten a lot worse,” Totaro said. “This year our denied referrals have increased from half of all new cases to a record 64% in the tri-state area — Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey — which is our largest coverage area.”

In addition to $400 billion for HCBS, LeadingAge is also pressing Congress for $7.5 billion for new affordable senior housing under the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Supportive Housing for the Elderly program.

Tom Egan, president and CEO of Phoenix-based Foundation for Senior Living, said the 25 apartment buildings his nonprofit owns currently have up to 400 seniors on waiting lists. He said a decade ago there were fewer than two dozen people on those lists.

“Arizona as a whole develops about 1,500 units of affordable housing on an annual basis,” Egan said. “With the funding in the reconciliation bill, we’ll be able to go to about 6,000 units a year. You keep that up for several years, you are really going to see some big changes. That’s not just in Arizona, but nationally.”

In April, LeadingAge laid out a comprehensive blueprint for the senior economy, calling for massive investment in housing, care and services for the elderly.

This article originally appeared on McKnight's Senior Living