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Why The American Rescue Plan Is One of the Most Age-Friendly Laws in Years

A breakdown on how it will help older adults in many ways

By Bob Blancato and Meredith Ponder Whitmire

You've probably heard plenty about The American Rescue Plan's COVID-19 relief checks, expanded child care tax credits and unemployment benefit provisions. But what you likely don't know is how age-friendly it is.

Aerial view of Washington D.C. Capitol building at sunset, law, health, Next Avenue
Credit: Andy Feliciotti via Unsplash

In fact, The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 could well be one of the most age-friendly bills in some time.

The law certainly provides important and needed funding for programs normally identified as being for older Americans. However, a closer look at the legislation shows just how positive it is for aging concerns in a variety of areas:

Health Care, Health Costs and Coverage

The new law will help older Americans stay healthy and keep their health care costs down in a few ways.

The $20 billion for improving vaccine administration and testing is important since, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation report, more than 50% of those over 65 have not received their first vaccine and 1 in 6 have tried but could not get appointments.

Also noteworthy: $460 million to let the nation's network of aging services become more involved in vaccine dissemination to older adults.

The law also provides $50 billion for testing and genomic sequencing of coronavirus variants and $10 billion for more personal protective equipment. All of these are especially important to older adults because they've been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19

Also noteworthy: $460 million to let the nation's network of aging services become more involved in vaccine dissemination to older adults. This network will be able to better assist people with transportation, information and referral and administering vaccines to homebound older adults.

The pandemic has forced a new reckoning on health equity and this law provides over $25 billion to promote it, including more than $7 billion for community health centers which will help underserved older adults.

Also, $200 million will be provided to nursing homes for infection control and vaccination uptake support to prevent or mitigate COVID-19 and $10 million will be directed to long-term care ombudsman programs, according to The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long Term Care. (Nursing homes and long-term care facilities have accounted for about 35% of COVID-19 deaths, Mark Miller recently wrote in his Retirement Revised newsletter.)

And there's urgent aid for rural hospitals and rural health care. This will benefit the more than 20% of older adults in rural America, through improved access to critical medical services.

Also, almost 15 million people of all ages have lost their employer-based health insurance during the pandemic, including people in their 50s and early 60s who are not yet eligible for Medicare. The American Rescue Plan Act will subsidize health insurance, regardless of age, for those who buy coverage through the Affordable Care Act Marketplace exchanges.

The Georgetown University Health Policy Institute offers this example: a 65-year-old earning $58,000 will have their Marketplace premiums reduced from $12,900 a year to $4,950.

Marketplace health insurance premiums also are now capped at 8.5% of a person's income.

In addition, the law will subsidize 100% of COBRA premiums through September 30, 2021 for workers who lose their jobs. (COBRA is the federal law mandating employers with 20 or more full-time employees provide employees and their families health coverage for 18 months after an employee loses a job or has work hours reduced; premiums are typically expensive.)


The law's 10 percentage point increased federal match to states offering $12 billion in more home and community-based services under Medicaid for a year will also benefit older adults who are aging in place in their homes rather than in nursing homes or assisted living facilities.

Jobs, Housing, Entrepreneurship, Pensions and Volunteering

According to The New York Times, workers age 65 and over suffered a roughly 11% loss in employment compared to before the pandemic — higher than any other age group. They will be included in the law's extension of pandemic unemployment programs, including the supplemental $300 per week benefit that will last through September 6, 2021. And, of course, many older adults are among the millions receiving $1,400 cash payments from the law.

The housing provisions in the American Rescue Plan Act can be viewed through a generational lens, too. The law provides $21.6 billion in emergency rental assistance, which will aid some struggling older adult renters. Another $5 billion will pay for secure safe, socially distant housing and supportive services for people experiencing homelessness — a growing crisis for older adults.

Another important and historic provision is the $276 million in the law for elder justice funding.

The $10 billion provided for the State Small Business Credit Initiative will assist the growing number of older adults opening businesses and help them expand.

The American Rescue Plan also provides an unprecedented $5.2 billion for disadvantaged farmers, of whom one-quarter are Black, with an average age of 61.

And, as Next Avenue has noted, this new law provides up to $86 billion to pay pension benefits to over a million union workers and retirees whose retirement plans were underfunded or insolvent.

The federal volunteering programs of AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps Seniors (formerly Senior Corps) also received a total of $1 billion in emergency supplemental funding. That should make it easier for older Americans to sign up and offer their time and expertise.

The Older Americans Act and the New Law

The Older Americans Act will get a vital infusion of more than $1.4 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act. This includes $750 million for the Older Americans Act's largest program — nutrition assistance. It has survived not only a wholesale conversion to being an almost entirely home-delivered meal program in the pandemic, but also dramatic increases in demand (as much as 300%) in some areas of the nation.

More than 5.4 million people over 60 participate in the federal government's SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; formerly known as food stamps) and they'll get a 15% increase in their benefits.

This also includes $37 million for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which provides low-income older adults with monthly food boxes.

Another important and historic provision is the $276 million in the law for elder justice funding. This will do many things including: letting Adult Protective Services agencies step up their work in aiding victims of elder abuse and preventing abuse; protecting vulnerable older adults from falling victim to COVID-19 vaccine-related scams and stopping the rash of hate crimes directed against older Asian Americans.

An Intergenerational Law

Ultimately, while programs primarily for older adults fared very well in this landmark law, The American Rescue Plan recognizes that the needs caused by this pandemic affect persons of all ages.

One dramatic example: it will lift millions of all ages out of poverty with its new programs – including the expansion of the child tax credit, which will benefit grandparents raising grandchildren.

Bob Blancato is national coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition, a national advocacy voice supporting elder justice in America, and president of Matz Blancato and Associates. He is a 2016 Next Avenue Influencer in Aging and the 2023 winner of the Generations United Jack Ossofsky Award for Lifetime Achievement in Support of Children, Youth and Older Adults. Read More
Meredith Ponder Whitmire is the senior associate at Matz Blancato and Associates, federal policy and advocacy manager for the National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs and the federal policy and national media coordinator for the Elder Justice Coalition. Read More
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