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With the number of cases of COVID-19 dropping rapidly in our area, in the Commonwealth and around the Nation, the reality of the post COVID-19 world is first and foremost in our minds in the legislature.
The way in which the pandemic was dealt with has caused numerous lingering effects that senior care facilities, health care professionals, seniors themselves, their families and our government must deal with.
First, the unemployment incentives of at first $600 additional per week benefit and, most recently, at $300 per week benefit through the end of September has caused many workers to remain on the sidelines and not return to work despite being safe to do so. The initial funding was extremely helpful while the pandemic economic shutdown started but many have questioned the continued emphasis on stimulus at the expense of worker shortages, deficits, and national debt levels which also must eventually be dealt with.
The elimination of the “looking for work” requirement to get unemployment has exacerbated the problem such that employers all over Lebanon, Dauphin and Lancaster counties are reporting massive labor shortages and, concurrently, increasing wages.
One health care provider made the comment to me recently that “these programs are killing our industry and our ability to provide care.” His concerns are serious and must be addressed.
The shortage of qualified staff, as well as the increased costs of that staff, are forcing the facility managers of senior care organizations to try to come to grips with the increasing difficulties they are facing. We are seeing evidence of signing bonuses in some locations, referral fees being paid in isolated cases, and significantly higher wages almost across the board. The impact of these shortages and increased costs will almost certainly translate to higher monthly fees for many of our seniors.
In the Legislature, we are attempting to see what latitude government stimulus funding sources can have to reduce these costs as well as to increase the available pool of workers. Fellow House members sent out co-sponsorship memos to restore the “looking for work requirement” as well as eliminate the reliance on the supplemental $300 per week unemployment benefit before the end of September. I am a co-sponsor on both initiatives.
The restoration of the original intent of unemployment legislation to pre-COVID-19 will be critical if we hope to prevent massive inflation in the coming years. The impact of inflation on those with fixed incomes is severe.
As budget discussions continue the impact on the psychological impact on senior and students alike as well as on caregivers is not lost on us as we plan for additional funding requirements to deal with the multitude of mental health issues that have surfaced during the pandemic.
Many middle-aged family members reported significant deterioration in their elderly parent’s health over the past 12 months which is in addition to the impact that they have noticed with their own children.
Reopening our economy in every respect, which is underway, is critical to mitigate these problems. Funding for counseling care is also essential.
These “sandwich” caregivers, those who are caring for elderly parents while still raising their own children, are particularly hard hit by the means in which the pandemic was handled. Great care must be taken to ensure that increased spending at the state level does NOT cause a need to raise taxes on these critical members of our community who, quite candidly, have handled the crisis with dignity and almost in silence. They need to know that the legislature is taking great pains to ensure that your problems are alleviated and not compounded.
Costs of senior programs in Pennsylvania have increased to $9.4 billion in the 2019-20 budget up $1.2 billion from the prior year. We expect costs to increase at a rate of $700 million per year for the foreseeable future. Please note that these costs do NOT reflect over $2 billion in other costs for Medicare and Medicaid that benefit seniors as well.
The impact of inadequate Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement rates became painfully clear during this pandemic. Those financial issues impacted staff pay, hazardous duty for staff during the pandemic, high turnover and staff shortages. Families and government at all levels need to address the escalating issues now.
We have a long way to go in the post pandemic world and I promise to keep you posted on our progress. As always, I also welcome your advice, perspectives and concerns.
Frank Ryan, CPA, Col USMCR (Ret) represents the 101st District in the PA House of Representatives. He is a retired Marine Reserve Colonel, a CPA and specializes in corporate restructuring. He serves as Vice Chair of the PSERS Pension Board and its Chair of the Audit/Compliance Committee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.