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Following Push by Senator Collins, HHS Releases New Guidance to Ensure Nutrition Needs of Seniors are Met During Coronavirus Pandemic

Washington, D.C. — Following a letter U.S. Senator Susan Collins, the Chairman of the Aging Committee, sent to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) earlier this week, Secretary Alex Azar issued new guidance that will expand access to Older Americans Act (OAA) senior nutrition programs.  Senator Collins urged Secretary Azar to make these changes in order to meet the needs of millions of seniors during the coronavirus pandemic.


“At a time of heightened demand for nutrition services due to seniors self-isolating during the coronavirus pandemic, flexibility for Area Agencies on Aging was urgently needed,” said Senator Collins.  “This updated guidance will ensure that these organizations can continue to serve older Americans by delivering more meals directly to seniors’ homes and reaching them where they are.”


Senator Collins authored the reauthorization of the OAA, which includes a seven percent across-the-board increase for all OAA programs, including nutrition services.


In her letter on Monday, Senator Collins called on Secretary Azar to use his authorities triggered by the President’s March 13th emergency declaration to direct the Administration for Community Living to issue guidance to:


  1. Grant nutrition transfer authorization giving states the flexibility to transfer funds to home-delivered services, based on their own determination of need, without requiring any waivers from the Assistant Secretary.


  1. Expand the definition of homebound to include older adults who are staying at home or practicing “social distancing” during this emergency.


As requested, Secretary Azar provided the transfer flexibility and expanded the definition of homebound.


The latest guidelines from the CDC recommend that organizations that serve people who are at higher risk of serious COVID-19 illness cancel events for groups of 10 people or more.  This has created significant challenges for Area Agencies on Aging, which have been forced to close congregate meal sites.  In addition, seniors who have been encouraged to self-isolate to protect themselves from the increased risk of fatalities caused by the coronavirus have less access to food.