Aging Services: Where We Stand as the 116th Congress Begins

Legislation | December 28, 2018 | by Barbara Gay

The lame duck 115th Congress passed some measures of interest to aging services providers, but several other issues, especially senior housing funding for 2019, remain to be resolved by the 116th Congress that begins on January 3, 2019.

Measures finalized by the lame duck 115th Congress included the Agricultural Improvement Act (farm bill), signed into law on December 20, which contains provisions legalizing hemp and its derivatives, including cannabidiol. The new law will help to resolve some of the conflict between state laws allowing use of some forms of cannabis and federal law which did not. Aging services providers sometimes have been caught in the middle of this disagreement between state and federal law.

In addition, the lame duck Congress passed the Building Our Largest Dementia Infrastructure for Alzheimer's (BOLD) Act. The new law authorizes grants to states and tribal organizations to educate policymakers, the public, and health care professionals on Alzheimer's disease and other dementias and to support best practices for early detection, support for caregivers, care planning, reduction of health disparities, and other measures to address dementia and its effects. LeadingAge supported this legislation.

However, the lame duck Congress was not able to finalize 2019 funding for several federal agencies, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Negotiations between the Trump Administration and the congressional leadership over 2019 appropriations bills not yet enacted broke down over the issue of funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. January 2, 2019 is the last day of the 115th Congress; with no resolution of this issue in sight, the spending standoff is carrying over into the 116th Congress that begins on January 3.

The incoming House leadership has drafted legislation to fund federal agencies whose appropriations are still unresolved. This measure contains many of the provisions congressional appropriators already had negotiated for HUD programs, including $678 million for Section 202 housing, and other provisions for which we have advocated.  

In addition, the draft legislation would extend two other aging services programs that expired at the end of 2018; Money Follows the Person and protection against impoverishment for spouses of individuals whose home- and community-based services and supports are covered by Medicaid.

This bill will be introduced January 3 and we expect the House to pass it relatively quickly. Its passage by the Senate and enactment into law could be complicated by the same issue that held up a resolution of the spending legislation last month, the amount of funding allowed for a border wall. Negotiations between the new congressional leadership and the Trump Administration on that issue continue.