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PVA Provision on Aid and Attendance Included in Latest COVID Response Package

On May 15, the House passed an 1800-page, $3 trillion package to further address the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The “Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act’’ or ‘‘HEROES Act” (H.R. 6800) includes several provisions that address the needs of veterans and people with disabilities. The bill is primarily a messaging bill from the House majority of items that they would like included in the next pandemic response bill.
Included in the legislation was a PVA proposal to temporarily raise rates of VA Special Monthly Compensation (SMC)/Aid and Attendance (A&A) benefits to offset higher home care costs being reported by some members due to the pandemic. Increased costs are being reported due to providers’ expenses related to the provision of personal protective equipment such as gloves and masks or having to replace an aide on short notice. If Congress includes this provision in a final package, rates for A&A could be temporarily increased by as much as 25 percent to help veterans alleviate these costs.
Other provisions in the bill include VA debt collection relief, extension of deadlines for VA claims and appeals, and streamlined VA payments to community providers for emergency care claims during the pandemic. The legislation would also provide additional stimulus checks and make dependents 17 and older eligible.
Certain VA employees would become eligible for hazard pay due to caring for COVID-19 patients. VA health care providers would also be assured access to paid sick leave if they are exposed to or are diagnosed with the virus.
The legislation also includes several provisions of interest to the broader disability community:
  • Section 811 ‘‘Housing for Persons with Disabilities’’—$200 million would be provided to maintain operations for such housing, for providing supportive services, and for taking other necessary actions to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, including actions to self-isolate, quarantine, or to provide other coronavirus infection control services as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
  • Home and Community Based Services—Medicaid would receive increased federal support and the Secretary for Health and Humans Services (HHS) would be directed to evaluate the implementation and outcomes of these services.
  • Testing Strategies–-HHS would have to update the COVID–19 strategic testing strategy identifying ways in which social distancing efforts, when determined appropriate by public health officials, can be undertaken in a manner that optimizes the health and safety of people and reduces disparities (including disparities related to race, ethnicity, sex, age, disability status, socioeconomic status, and geographic location) in the prevalence of, incidence of, and health outcomes with respect to, COVID–19. Such strategy must include specific plans to ensure accessibility of testing to people with disabilities, older individuals, and individuals with underlying health conditions or weakened immune systems.
  • Data Collection—CDC would award grants to state, local, and territorial health departments to support the modernization of data collection methods to increase data related to health inequities, such as racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, sex, gender, and disability disparities.
  • Emergency Leave—leave provisions contained in the previously passage COVID-19 package would be extended to caregivers of seniors or adults with disabilities.
  • Voting Accessibility—states would be directed to ensure that all absentee ballots and related voting materials in elections for federal office are accessible to individuals with disabilities in a manner that provides the same opportunity for access and participation (including with privacy and independence) as for other voters.
Meanwhile, PVA continues to advocate for issues not included in the House legislation. These issues include extending eligibility for the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA) program to adult children up to age 26.

President Signs Latest COVID-19 Relief Bill

On April 24, President Trump signed H.R. 266, the “Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act” into law. The $484 billion relief bill replenished the depleted Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and provided much needed aid to the country’s hospitals amid the coronavirus outbreak. The bill, which was also referred to as “Stimulus 3.5,” allocates $310 billion toward the PPP, $10 billion for Emergency Economic Injury Disaster grants, and an additional $50 billion for the Disaster Loans Program Account. The remaining $114 billion goes toward hospitals and health agencies for the reimbursement of COVID-19 related expenses to replace lost revenue or cover necessary expenses to research, develop, validate, manufacture, purchase, administer, and expand capacity for COVID-19 tests. VA did not ask for, nor will it receive, any funds from this measure. VA received nearly $20 billion in funding in the $2 trillion-dollar COVID relief bill passed in late March.

Economic Impact Payments for Veterans on VA Benefits

On April 17, VA announced it is working directly with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and U.S. Treasury Department to ensure delivery of “Economic Impact Payments” to veterans and survivors who receive Compensation and Pension (C&P) benefit payments from VA without additional paperwork or IRS filings. The “Economic Impact Payments” will be issued automatically to recipients of non-taxable VA benefits who did not file annual income tax returns for 2018 or 2019. For veterans who did not file a tax return in 2018 or 2019 and have dependents under the age of 17, they need to submit their dependent information to the IRS’s portal prior to May 5 in order to qualify for the additional $500 per child payment. For more information on CARES Act ‘Economic Impact Payments,’ visit: https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/economic-impact-payments-what-you-need-to-know.