Harrisburg, PA – In preparation for the expiration of the federal COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) and the Major Disaster Declaration (MDD) by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Pennsylvania Department of Aging is recommending that the federal government advocate for certain service and funding flexibilities at the local level, such as meal service programming at senior community centers, to remain in place permanently.
Aging Secretary Robert Torres has written to the U.S. Administration for Community Living (ACL), stating that the flexibilities provided by ACL during the PHE and by FEMA during the MDD have enabled the Department and the Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) to be more effective, efficient, and responsive in their service delivery, and that options such as grab-and-go meals and meal delivery have become key components of PDA's efforts to meet the nutritional needs of seniors.
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of on-site meals and activities at Pennsylvania's 500 state-affiliated senior community centers, PDA and the AAAs developed alternative methods to ensure that older adults who normally visited their senior center for a nutritious daily meal would still be able to receive one. They also worked to support other older adults in need who did not engage with senior centers.
"From March 1, 2020, through June 30, 2022, our department, through the Area Agencies on Aging, served more than 21 million meals to older Pennsylvanians. Many of these meals were made possible due to the flexibilities provided by ACL and FEMA," said Secretary Torres. "What we learned during this time was that these flexibilities are optimal to ensuring that nutritious meals are available and offered to Pennsylvania's growing older adult population, which is among the nation's largest. That's why we are strongly advocating that these optimal practices be kept in place and continue to be funded after the federal emergency declaration ends, whenever that may be."
The Department is specifically requesting that the following flexibilities continue permanently after the expiration of the PHE and MDD:
1. The ability to shift Older American Act (OAA) funding allocations from one category to another, based on local program needs, without requesting a waiver for such reallocations to efficiently fund services where they are really needed.
2. The ability to expand access to nutrition services by permitting meals, such as grab-and-go meals, to be eligible for Nutrition Services Incentive Program (NSIP) funding outside of the congregate setting.
In the letter, Secretary Torres noted the flexibilities empower older adults to decide what is the best environment for them to receive a meal based on their set of circumstances, preference, and comfort level.
"While senior community centers have steadily reopened to in-person programming, many have continued operating in a limited capacity to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19. The meal flexibilities, granted by ACL and FEMA, have allowed senior community centers to continue serving more food-insecure older Pennsylvanians and have been instrumental in expanding outreach to more older adults that may not attend community-based services provided by a senior community center," said Secretary Torres. "Our ability to continue effectively serving older adults, after the end of the PHE and the MDD, makes it critical that the federal government give serious and hopefully favorable consideration to our recommendations, and work with Congress to take timely action."
Learn more about other programs offered by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging here.
A full version of the letter is available online.
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