DENVER — The effort to alter long-term care workforce policies is waiting on pins and needles for Nov. 8 Congress election results.

When a different party gains a majority in either chamber of Congress, not only do important committee and subcommittee leaders change, so also do the staff who are the key touchpoints for advocates and lobbyists, noted Linda Couch, vice president of housing for LeadingAge. She offered workforce strategy insights at a workforce policy update session Wednesday at the LeadingAge Annual Meeting and Expo. 

LeadingAge’s Aging Services Workforce Campaign has been active among lawmakers and their staff members since July, raising awareness of long-term care staffing needs.

Many people may realize committee leaders change and the number of party members on each committee changes if a political party flips control of it. But many do not fully grasp that with new control also comes the added ability to determine what bills receive attention and get voted on. This is where committee staff play such a crucial role, speakers pointed out Wednesday.

“When we go to the (Capitol) Hill, we’re meeting with staffers. We’re not meeting with members of Congress typically,” Couch explained. “The staff on the committees will get shook up quite a bit when the parties change. For example, in one of the subcommittees of the House Appropriations Committee, they have eight staff on the Democrats side, the majority side. If they lose the House, they’ll be down to one staffer.”

When a change comes

Many national observers have been projecting that at least the House, and possibly the Senate, will flip to Republican control after mid-terms. Regardless of which party holds sway, the advocates speaking Wednesday stressed they will continue pushing for five main goals: 

•  To get aging-services workers a living wage

•  To win incentives that retain and attract employees

•  To expand employee training and advancement opportunities

•  To establish and expand an international pipeline of trained long-term care workers;

•  To secure more long-term care financing

LeadingAge CEO Katie Smith Sloan told McKnight’s Monday that immigration policy solutions are near the top of the list of fixes for long-term care staffing shortages. LeadingAge senior vice president of public policy/advocacy Ruth Katz said Wednesday her organization will “double down” on its efforts to influence immigration policy.

“We have a workforce in which 25% to 30% were born in other countries and are here completely legally and it’s working well for us,” she said. “But we don’t have enough human beings in the United States to fill the jobs we have available, particularly in long-term care, so immigration is where we need to go.”

Lobbying for any tweaks to immigration has been touchy, given the Democrats’ and Republicans’ differing views on many policies. But one bill currently in both Houses of Congress  – the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act – skirts that obstacle, said LeadingAge Director of Workforce and Technology Andrea Price-Carter.

The bill would direct 40,000 unused visas to healthcare professionals, with 25,000 going to nurses.

“This proposal is really seen as non-controversial,” Price-Carter said. “It has bipartisan support. Last month, there was a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee that was looking at healthcare workforce and the opportunities for foreign workers to help with the crisis and this was one of the proposals that was discussed. So we’re keeping our fingers crossed.”

Employee retention credits available

While providers wait for staffing relief from the government, they can get financial relief in the form of the IRS’s Employee Retention Credits, which fall under the CARES Act. Employers who pay Social Security wages can take advantage of this credit and have until 2023-2024 to file amended returns after researching whether they’re eligible and then doing the work to separate the wages that are eligible.

“There’s a significant amount of money on the table here, potentially,” said Dee Pekruhn, director of life plan communities services and policy for LeadingAge. “You could see a substantial influx of cash.” 

The ERC applies only to 2020 and 2021, and eligibility requirement for employers include their size, passage of one of two tests that gauge either an organization’s decline in gross receipts or extent of operational shutdown due to COVID-19. Also for review are the amount of wages that qualify for the ERC; the changes based on full-time or part-time; the size of employer; and whether the organization used Provider Relief Funds and/or the Paycheck Protection Program.
Pekruhn advised providers to check out the LeadingAge page on ERC, and to consult with a tax professional familiar with the sector.