The coronavirus pandemic is especially threatening to seniors and people with disabilities, who are at far greater risk of contracting COVID-19 and requiring hospitalization.

Seniors have been told to stay home as much as possible to protect their health and safety but the government has so far not done enough to make sure they can actually follow that advice. Whether someone lives in their own home or a long-term care facility, we need to take steps to keep these vulnerable populations healthy and safe.

Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyDemocrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus Democratic senators call on domestic airlines to issue cash refunds for travelers Coronavirus stimulus package shouldn't leave out older Americans MORE (D-Pa.) and Rep. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellOvernight Energy: Trump rolls back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards | Controversial Keystone XL construction to proceed | Pressure mounts to close national parks amid pandemic Critics blast Trump mileage rollback, citing environment and health concerns Coronavirus stimulus package shouldn't leave out older Americans MORE (D-Mich.) have introduced a bill, the Coronavirus Relief for Seniors and People with Disabilities Act, S. 3544 and H.R. 6305, to make sure both seniors and people with disabilities are protected. This bill cannot wait, and must be included in the stimulus package being debated this week.


The bill increases funding for nursing home inspections at a time when safety is more important than ever. Prior to the first coronavirus infection in a nursing home, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ nursing home inspection program was already operating at a $44.8 million deficit. The bill increases funding for nursing home surveys and inspections to ensure all recommended infection control measures are in place.

It also ensures that low-income seniors and people with disabilities, who are particularly vulnerable to this virus, can get medical treatment. People with incomes at or below $19,000 a year and with limited savings will be automatically enrolled into the Medicare Savings Program. This would cover their Medicare premiums and cost-sharing, saving them at least $145 per month.

The legislation will expand funding home and community-based health care services. States would be able to increase staffing and reduce the waiting lists for home care services. The home care workforce will also be protected with sick leave to keep them healthy during the crisis.

Finally, this bill will help ensure that seniors don’t go hungry during the crisis by getting meals at home. With seniors being asked to practice social distancing, senior centers which provided meals have shuttered. This legislation provides increased funding for programs like Meals-on-Wheels so seniors and individuals with disabilities can receive three meals a day, seven days a week at their home.

Studies suggest the severity of coronavirus rises with age. In Italy, the average age of those dying is 80, according to a study by the Italian national institute of health. In China, people 70 and older accounted for just 12 percent of all infections but more than half of all deaths, according to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Many residents in nursing homes have underlying respiratory issues that increase the likelihood of facing an elevated risk if they contract the virus.

It is critical to reduce the number of older Americans exposed to the coronavirus, and that means giving them support so they can follow the experts’ advice to stay home. Casey and Dingell’s bill must be included in the next stimulus so that older Americans can do that safely.

Richard Fiesta is the executive director at the Alliance for Retired Americans. He has extensive experience in both the legislative and executive branches of government.