Overview of Omnibus and Coronavirus Relief Bill’s Workforce, Telehealth and Senior Nutrition Provisions

Legislation | December 22, 2020 | by Andrea Price-Carter

The Omnibus and Coronavirus Relief Bill provides critical priorities that address the health care workforce, such as a workforce entry-level training for health care occupations, and a child-care grant program that can be utilized by essential workers.

On December 21, Congress passed legislation that included an Omnibus Spending Bill, which allocates funding for the 12 fiscal year 2021 appropriations bills. The spending package also contains a $900 billion emergency coronavirus relief package to protect the lives of the American people.  The approximately 6,000 page bill, The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (Omnibus and Coronavirus Relief Bill) directly or indirectly impacts most every part of the aging services continuum. The bill provides about $300 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, money to support vaccine distribution and administration, a small amount of additional Provider Relief Fund funding, plus some key policy changes to the program.  While there were many additional areas of importance that we like, some of the LeadingAge COVID-19 priorities were not addressed. 

The Omnibus and Coronavirus Relief Bill also provides critical priorities that address the health care workforce, such as a workforce entry-level training for health care occupations, and a child-care grant program that can be utilized by essential workers. The bill also includes telehealth expansions, and funding for the Administration for Community Living to administer Older Americans Act authorized services. The following provides a high-level overview of these provisions:

  • The Health Profession Opportunity Grant (HPOG), administered through the Health Resources Services Administration, received an additional $3.6 million to support technical assistance and other administrative costs related to the program through the end of fiscal year 2021, and for costs related to evaluation and reporting through the end of fiscal year 2022. HPOG demonstration grants provide education, training, supportive services and career coaching to low-income individuals who are pursuing entry-level training for health care occupations. CNAs and home health aides can train under the program, as well as mid-level health care professions. LeadingAge successfully advocated for SNFs and nonprofit organizations to be eligible entities to administer the HPOG projects during this session of Congress.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services will invest $10 billion in a new Child Care Stabilization Fund grants program to help provide grants for child care providers that are currently open or temporarily closed due to COVID-19, and assist families of essential workers (such as health care sector employees) determined to be essential during the pandemic. 
  • Providers could use stabilization grants for a variety of purposes, including personnel costs; sanitization and cleaning; personal protective equipment; fixed costs, including mortgage obligations, rent, utilities and insurance; and modifications to child care services as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. LeadingAge advocated for legislation that would “recapture” immigrant visas for nurses and physicians to help strengthen the healthcare workforce and improve healthcare access for Americans during the COVID-19 crisis.  These provisions were not included.
  • The Conrad 30 Waiver Program, which allows J-1 foreign medical graduates to apply for a waiver of the 2-year foreign residence requirement upon completion of the if they serve in underserved areas, has been extended until September 30, 2021.
  • The Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of Labor, has also been given the authority to increase the number of H-2B temporary immigration visas that may be issued in fiscal year 2021, if it is determines that the needs of American businesses cannot be satisfied with United States workers who are willing, qualified, and able to perform temporary nonagricultural labor. H-2B visas are used to fill temporary nonagricultural jobs. The provision addresses the June 2020 White House immigration restrictions that barred most types of specialty visas, including H-2B nonagricultural work visas. LeadingAge has previously advocated for allowing temporary worker programs to be amended to allow employers to bring temporary health and LTSS workers to the U.S.
  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been allocated with an additional $250 million for its COVID-19 Telehealth Program authorized under the CARES Act. It also puts in place new transparency obligations for the program surrounding the FCC’s review of applications, and directs the Commission to ensure, to the extent feasible, that all states benefit from the program. The program provides support for eligible health care providers responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by funding their telecommunication services, information services, and devices necessary to provide critical connected care services. The program can continue to help LeadingAge members with skilled nursing facilities with funds to provide telehealth services to residents and fund monitoring devices that are already connected and able to automatically share data.
  • CMS is provided with the expanded access to telehealth services in Medicare to allow beneficiaries to receive mental health services via telehealth, including from the beneficiary’s home. To be eligible to receive these services via telehealth, the beneficiary must have been seen in person at least once by the physician or non-physician practitioner during the six-month period prior to the first telehealth service, with additional face-to-face requirements determined by the Secretary.
  • The Administration on Community Living was allocated $952 million in funding for senior nutrition programs in FY 2021, an increase of $15 million above the FY 2020 enacted level. ACL will continue its commitment to extend waivers that provide needed flexibility to state units on aging to ensure that older adults’ nutritional needs can continue to be met safely during the pandemic. The CARES Act relaxed the definition of “homebound” to allow quarantined individuals the ability to receive home-delivered meals.