A bill that could reshape how new workers enter the long-term care workforce is scheduled for a vote in the US House of Representatives this week, according to a spokesperson for House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA).

If passed, HR 6585 — referred to as the Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act — would make work training programs of as short as eight weeks with a minimum of 150 hours of training eligible for the federal aid through the Pell Grant program. Previously, grants were available only to programs with a minimum of 15 weeks and 600 hours of training.

The legislation is a potentially major boon to long-term care, according to providers represented by LeadingAge. The nonprofit association published an open letter to Congress in which its president and CEO, Katie Smith Sloan, called on lawmakers to pass the bill.

“The Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act will substantively increase access for people with low incomes to high-quality, short-term post-secondary education, opening pathways to fulfilling jobs with family-sustaining wages in the field [of] long-term care,” Sloan wrote.

Sloan pointed out that many care workers, such as certified nursing assistants, enter the field through short-term training programs that aren’t eligible for the Pell Grant under current rules. An expansion of the government aid program through the Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act would make such short-term programs more financially viable for the many low-income workers who typically pursue career advancements in skilled nursing. 

Skilled nursing advocates have eyed several pieces of workforce-related legislation during this Congressional session — most lost to political infighting.

Other long-term care leaders also threw their support behind the bill.

“Now, more than ever, we need smart policies like the Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act to bolster the continuous efforts of long-term care providers to rebuild our workforce,” said Clif Porter, senior vice president of government relations at the American Health Care Association. “Our nation’s long term care profession is facing a historic crisis, and the Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act opens new pathways for future care providers to enter the workforce.”

Boosting short-term programs

If passed, the bill would give state workforce boards three main criteria for determining a training program’s eligibility. These include whether the program provides entry to a “high-skill, high-wage, or in-demand industry,” whether it meets the expectations of employers in that industry and whether it satisfies all requirements for any licenses or certifications required by the state.  

A key benchmark for determining a short-term program’s effectiveness will be whether it has a 70% or higher rate for both completion and job placement. Programs also will have to demonstrate that their graduates are able to increase their earnings to at least 150% of what the median 24-35-year-old with a high school diploma would be able to earn in that state. 

The measure would set aside $40 million for 2025, with $30 million earmarked for each of the following four years.

With candidates set to receive anywhere from hundreds of dollars to more than $3,000 based on need and tuition costs, Sloan hopes that the new legislation would open more doors into a long-term care industry plagued by staffing shortages.

“The Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act would provide… a bridge to economic sustainability for generations of Direct Care Workers,” Sloan wrote. “Lowering the required length of training required to access the Pell Grant will open a world of employment opportunities and financial empowerment to low-income Americans while providing a critical pipeline of care providers that are well trained and prepared to meet the needs of older adults and their families without shouldering them with debt that may follow them for years.”