Meal options and other flexibilities for seniors set to continue after federal pandemic emergency ends


Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – In preparation for the expiration of the Federal Public Health Emergency COVID-19 (PHE) and Major Disaster Declaration (MDD) from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Pennsylvania Department of Aging recommends that the federal government advocate for certain local-level service and funding flexibilities, such as programming meal services at community centers for seniors, to remain in place permanently.

Aging Secretary Robert Torres wrote to the U.S. Administration for Community Life (ACL), stating that the flexibilities provided by the ACL during PHE and by FEMA during MDD have allowed the department and regional agencies on aging (AAA) to be more effective. , efficient and responsive in delivering their services, and that options such as takeout and meal delivery have become key elements of PDA’s efforts to meet the nutritional needs of seniors.

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of on-site dining and activities at all 500 Pennsylvania-affiliated senior community centers, PDA and AAA developed alternative methods to ensure that seniors who normally visited their senior center for a nutritious daily meal to still be able to receive one. They have also worked to support other seniors in need who have not committed to senior centers.

“From March 1, 2020 through June 30, 2022, our department, through the regional agencies on aging, served more than 21 million meals to older Pennsylvanians. Many of these meals were made possible through flexibilities provided by the ACL and FEMA,” Secretary Torres said. “What we’ve learned during this time is that these flexibilities are optimal for ensuring nutritious meals are available and delivered to Pennsylvania’s older adult population, which is among the largest in the nation. That’s why We strongly advocate that these best practices be maintained in place and continue to be funded after the end of the federal emergency declaration, when that may be.

The Department specifically requests that the following flexibilities continue permanently after the expiration of the PHE and MDD:

1. The ability to move Older American Act (OAA) funding allocations from one category to another, based on local program needs, without requesting a waiver for these reallocations in order to effectively fund services where they are really needed.

2. The possibility of expanding access to nutrition services by allowing meals, such as take-out meals, to be eligible for Nutrition Services Incentive Program (NSIP) funding outside of the congregate setting.

In the letter, Secretary Torres noted that the flexibilities allow seniors to decide what is the best environment to receive a meal based on their circumstances, preferences and comfort level.

“While seniors’ community centers have steadily reopened to in-person programming, many have continued to operate in limited capacity to mitigate the risk of the spread of COVID-19. Meal flexibilities, granted by the ACL and the FEMA, have enabled community centers for seniors to continue to serve more older Pennsylvanians with food insecurity and have been instrumental in expanding reach to more older adults who may not attend services services provided by a community center for seniors,” said Secretary Torres. “Our ability to continue to serve seniors effectively, after the end of PHE and MDD, makes it essential that the federal government give serious attention and, hopefully supportive of our recommendations, and working with Congress to take action in a timely manner.”

Learn more about other programs offered by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging here.

A full version of the letter is available online.

MEDIA CONTACT: Karen Gray, Jack Eilber, [email protected]


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