Secretary Carson: Let's Learn from COVID-19 to do Better for Older Adults

Regulation | April 23, 2020 | by Linda Couch

“I hope one of the things we take away from this pandemic are better measures for taking care of our elderly people on a permanent basis,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson, April 23, 2020

“I hope one of the things we take away from this pandemic are better measures for taking care of our elderly people on a permanent basis,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson, April 23, 2020

On April 23, LeadingAge was able to raise the issue of HUD-assisted older adults impacted by the coronavirus on a HUD call that featured updates from White House Coronavirus Task Force leader Vice President Pence, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, and FHA Commissioner / Assistant Secretary for Housing Brian Montgomery. Although the three questions allowed by participants came at the end of the call, this article summarizes LeadingAge’s question and the response provided upfront as it sheds some welcome insight into the importance of senior issues in the eyes of HUD.

One of three call participants to be able to ask a question, LeadingAge thanked the officials for the call and said, “My question is around the more than 1.2 million seniors who live in HUD-assisted communities. As you know, these tenants have extremely low incomes and have more chronic conditions than their unassisted senior counterparts. My question is, what efforts is HUD explicitly focusing on for its assisted seniors. You mentioned PPE at the beginning of the call; 202, Section 8, 202/Section 8 communities are screaming out for PPE, for help in getting more services to seniors who are really doing their best to stay home. We really appreciate all the work of the Office of Housing and just want to hear a little bit about what you’re doing focused on older adults?”

Secretary Carson responded, “We are very pleased that the CARES Act gave us an extra $50 million to spend on that particular issue and we’re in the process of allocating that. We are in communications with all of our housing providers, particularly the ones dealing with senior housing, and have information on our website that’s very extensive in terms of PPE and in terms of all the other services and supports systems that are necessary because you have to recognize that the elderly are extremely vulnerable, not just to coronavirus to but to a whole host of things. I hope one of the things we take away from this pandemic are better measures for taking care of our elderly people on a permanent basis.”

“We appreciate the work of the stakeholders, including from LeadingAge and others in getting the funds we needed including the $10 million extra for Service Coordinators [in the CARES Act]. We continue to monitor those situations, working closely with our stakeholders and welcome any further input that you and others have,” Commissioner Montgomery added.

HUD Secretary Ben Carson opened the April 23 call by thanking callers for their partnership and resilience. “We will get through this if we work together,” the Secretary said.

We want to ensure that all Americans continue to enjoy fair and equal access to housing.

Secretary Carson introduced Vice President Pence, the leader of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. The Vice President has placed the safety of the American people as his top priority, Secretary Carson said, and he has mobilized dispersal of personal protective equipment to millions of healthcare professionals.

Vice President Pence thanked Secretary Carson for his outstanding team at HUD and for all the efforts they have made to address the coronavirus. Vice President Pence also thanked the call’s participants, saying, “Because of your efforts, the American people, and leadership, we are making real progress on slowing the spread of the virus.”

Vice President Pence noted that the fastest way to reach the day where we can reopen the country is to put the virus in the past, and he offered the President’s “30-days-to-slow-the-spread” as a tool for all to follow.

The country is making sure resources are brought to bear to meet this moment, Vice President Pence said, and remarked on the more than $12 billion for HUD made available by the CARES Act, as well as the Act’s 120 eviction moratorium.

Addressing the coronavirus’s disproportionate impact on minority households is a Task Force’s priority, Vice President Pence said, and that the White House’s Opportunity and Revitalization Council, chaired by Secretary Carson, would shift its work to surging coronavirus resources to where data are showing the needs are most pressing.

“We all recognize the great hardship this has place don American families,” Vice President Pence said, “and we grieve the loss of more than 47,000 Americans.” The economic and emotional impact has immense costs, the Vice President said, and this is why the President has issued guidelines on opening up America.

“I encourage you to give voice to the phased approach for opening up America,” Vice President Pence told call participants. The phased approach is all based on science and data, and it can be used by states as roadmap to reopening, as well as counties, the Vice President said.

Before turning the call back to Secretary Carson, Vice President Pence thanked call participants for being champions of underserved communities.

“I’ve taken those decades of experience in the medical operating room into the operational mindset at HUD. While housing needs are always in my direct line of sight at HUD, the importance of keeping people healthy and safe has never really left my wider view. At the end of the day, everything comes secondary to a person’s health,” Secretary Carson said.

Secretary Carson outlined some of the efforts HUD has taken to address the coronavirus in its new operational reality with certain impacts and costs that are unknowable at this point. “This really has not stopped our department from taking key emergency measures to provide support and relief wherever it is needed,” Secretary Carson said.

“The last thing we want is for anyone to lose their home unnecessarily as we continue to fight this invisible enemy,” Secretary Carson said.

“This is a temporary situation, this is going to go away, and what we need to do is provide the support to maintain all of the infrastructure that exists that allows quality life in our country, and we will do that,” Secretary Carson said.

Secretary Carson mentioned how Community Development Block Grants Disaster Recovery funds can be repurposed and that an additional $5 billion for CDBG was provided by the CARES Act.” Secretary Carson noted that a lot of CARES Act funds has already been allocated to funded programs (the CARES Act’s $1 billion for Project-Based Rental Assistance and $50 million for the Section 202 program, including $10 for Service Coordinators) has yet to be allocated). HUD is also working to get new funding for Fair Housing Initiatives Program via a Notice of Funds Availability, a process questioned by a representative from the National Fair Housing Alliance who was able to ask one of the call’s three questions from participants. NFHA would rather see the FHIP funds dispersed to existing FHIP grantees rather than be delayed because of a new, competitive NOFA process HUD is establishing. Secretary Carson said he would consider NFHA’s concerns.

Secretary Carson introduced Commissioner Montgomery who reviewed various single family forbearance policies and flexibilities, mentioned the new CARES Act funds for multifamily programs like PBRA, Section 202, and Section 811, and again reminded participant about the 120 day eviction moratorium for FHA-insured multifamily mortgages as well as HUD-assisted housing. Commissioner Montgomery said that remaining CARES Act funds will be released as soon as possible from HUD.

Commissioner Montgomery thanked call participants for all they are doing.

 A recording of the call should be available shortly; LeadingAge will share it.