Our highest priority is keeping Arizonans healthy, safe, and economically secure. We understand that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has severely disrupted the lives of older Arizonans. Normal activities, such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy, may be more difficult, and the care you may receive from programs like Social Security and Medicare is even more important. This page contains helpful information that pertains to older Americans and those who may have underlying health conditions. 

The fastest way to get assistance or information from our office is to email casework@sinema.senate.gov. If you do not have access to email, you can also call our office at 202-224-4521

For more information about how to get care and other health resources, including a coronavirus test, visit the Individual Health Resources on my website. 

---

SENIORS

INFLUENZA (THE FLU)

Getting an influenza (flu) vaccine is more important this year than ever. Both coronavirus and the flu are contagious respiratory illnesses that share many of the same symptoms. All of us need to get our flu shots to reduce the burden on our health care systems and save medical resources for coronavirus patients. Reduce yours and your loved ones’ risk this influenza season by getting your flu shot today!

Please visit the Arizona Department of Health Services website for more information on flu shots and where you can find a flu vaccine provider near you.

  • Seniors should also talk to their doctor about whether a high-dose flu shot for seniors age 65 and older is right for you. 
  • Those with egg allergies should talk to their doctors about alternative options and whether a flu shot is right for them. 
  • Flu vaccines are not recommended for children less than six months old. 
  • People who have a moderate or severe illness with a fever should wait until their symptoms get better before getting a flu shot.

What are the symptoms of the flu?

  • Fever (usually high)
  • Dry cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headache
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Muscle aches
  • Stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, also can occur but are more common in children than adults 

---

If you are seeking services, a great place to start is your local area agency on aging (AAA). These organizations serve older Arizonans and can help connect you to health care, housing, nutrition, and other assistance.

If you are feeling worried, need help but are unsure of where to start, or just have questions, the AAA 24-Hour Senior HELP LINE is always available. Friendly professionals are available to talk, answer questions, and help you connect with local resources. Please call 602-264-HELP (4357), or toll free at 888-783-7500. For the hearing impaired, call 602-241-6110 TTY/TDD.

FEDERAL LEGISLATION

Congress recently passed the bipartisan CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act to help address the coronavirus pandemic. The CARES Act: 

  • Provides $955 million dollars for senior nutrition programs, home and community-based services, support for family caregivers, and oversight and protections for seniors and individuals with disabilities. 
  • Provides $820 million for activities authorized under the Older Americans Act. Many of these activities are run through Arizona’s AAAs.
  • Provides $5 billion in grants to expand community health facilities, food banks, and senior services. 
  • Provides $15.51 billion in additional funding for SNAP to ensure all Americans, including seniors, receive the food they need. To determine if you are eligible for SNAP benefits, visit arizonaselfhelp.org

Protecting Yourself 

Older adults and people with pre-existing medical conditions or compromised immune systems are at a higher risk for contracting the coronavirus and experiencing severe symptoms. It is best to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to remain healthy, even as Arizona reopens. The CDC has said those at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19 are:

  • People aged 65 years and older
  • People who live in a nursing home or long-term care facility
  • People of all ages with underlying medical conditions, particularly if not well controlled, including:
    • Chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
    • Liver disease
    • Chronic kidney disease treated with dialysis
    • Diabetes
    • Severe obesity
    • Immunosuppression from cancer treatment, smoking, bone marrow or organ transplantation, immunodeficiencies, poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, and prolonged use of corticosteroids and other immunity-weakening medications
    • Serious heart conditions
  • For more information on conditions that may make you or loved ones more susceptible to COVID-19, please visit cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-at-higher-risk.html.

If you have a fever, cough, or other symptoms, you might have COVID-19. Most people have a mild illness and are able to recover at home. If you think you may have been exposed to COVID-19, contact your health care provider.

It is entirely possible for individuals to contract the virus, experience no symptoms, and recover without intervention. This means others may expose you to the virus even if they feel healthy. 

There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19, and there is no evidence that the flu shot or the pneumococcal vaccination will provide any protection from the virus. 

The CDC releases the most up-to-date information on how to protect yourself. Here are the best ways to avoid being exposed to the coronavirus and stay healthy: 

  • Stay at home as much as possible, especially if you are older or have underlying health conditions. The virus spreads mainly from person to person. Avoid close contact with others that live outside your home. If possible, stay at least six feet away from other people when outside your home. 
  • Do not gather in groups, and stay out of crowded places at busy times, such as the grocery store or bank. If at all possible, ask younger friends and family if they are willing to run errands for you until the pandemic subsides. 
  • Wash your hands often, avoid touching your face, and make sure to sanitize your belongings and frequently touched surfaces. 
  • Cover your mouth and nose when around others in public. Continue to keep a distance of at least six feet between yourself and others. Covering your mouth and nose is not a substitute for social distancing. To learn to make a quick and easy cloth mask at home, please visit aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2020/making-cloth-face-masks.html.
  • AARP has more helpful tips and additional resources at aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2020/coronavirus-facts.html.

The CDC website is the best place for accurate and up-to-date information. You can visit the CDC coronavirus webpage at cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html. You may have also seen Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx on television. Both doctors provide smart, accurate information. We encourage you to follow their guidance.

Social Security 

Arizonans who are currently receiving Social Security benefits or Supplemental Security Income will continue receiving their benefits. Arizonans can also sign up to receive benefits by Direct Deposit at ssa.gov/deposit/.

However, at this time, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has suspended face-to-face appointments with the public and closed their local offices in an effort to keep both beneficiaries and their employees safe. SSA will continue to serve Arizonans at ssa.gov/onlineservices and by phone at (800) 772-1213 or (800) 325-0778.

Medicare and Telehealth 

Have questions about Medicare? Reach out to the Arizona Department of Economic Security at des.az.gov/services/older-adults/medicare-assistance. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) oversees Medicare. More information can be found at medicare.gov

Have questions about Arizona’s Medicaid program, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS)? Reach out to AHCCCS at azahcccs.gov/AHCCCS/AboutUs/covid19FAQ.html.

In order to limit physical contact, many doctors are helping patients over the phone or seeing patients with video chat. If you need non-emergency care or have questions, please call your doctor’s office. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has agreed to expand coverage of telehealth services for Arizona seniors and critical behavioral health care organizations. Previously, video telehealth medical services were covered under Medicare, but many audio telehealth services were not. To learn more about telehealth under Medicare, talk to your doctor or visit cms.gov/newsroom/fact-sheets/medicare-telemedicine-health-care-provider-fact-sheet.

Family Caregivers

Family caregivers provide most of the assistance that enables older Arizonans and those with disabilities to live independently in their homes and communities. If you have questions about services to help support family caregivers, visit the Arizona Department of Economic Security at des.az.gov/services/older-adults/family-caregiver-support.

Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS)

Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) provide help with daily activities while allowing many individuals to remain in their own homes or live with their families by reducing the need for institutional care. For more information on Home and Community-Based Services, visit the Arizona Department of Economic Security at des.az.gov/services/older-adults/home-community-based-services.

Nursing Homes

Long-term care facilities, nursing homes, and senior living communities in our state and across the county are especially vulnerable to coronavirus outbreaks. The age of residents living in congregate settings, often with underlying health conditions, make these facilities an extremely high-risk setting. Staff caring for residents at these facilities are also at increased risk due to the nature of their jobs.

If you are a resident or have a loved one in an Arizona senior living facility, are worried about their health and safety, and have not been able to get assistance from the facility, please reach out to my office at casework@sinema.senate.gov.

We also recommend reaching out to the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program housed within Arizona’s local area agencies on aging (AAAs). The primary purpose of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is to identify, investigate, and resolve complaints made by or on behalf of residents of nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and adult foster care homes. 

VISITATION AT CONGREGATE SETTINGS/NURSING HOMES: The Arizona Department of Health Services has released new guidelines and requirements for in-person visits to loved ones in long-term care facilities. These new guidelines apply to facilities that house and care for vulnerable adults and children, including:

  • Nursing care institutions
  • Residential care institutions
  • Nursing-supported developmental disability group homes
  • Intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities (ICF-IIDs)

Compassionate care visitation must be allowed by facilities, regardless of the level of community spread. Other types of visitation may be determined by each county’s level of spread. More information is available HERE.

Facilities may allow indoor visits to loved ones if all of the following conditions are met:

  • The visitor presents the facility a negative COVID test less than 48 hours old.
  • The visitor signs an attestation form that they have isolated in the time between the test was taken and the visit, and is symptom-free. 
  • The facility limits contact as much as possible, including a dedicated visitation space.
  • The facility requires mask-wearing by residents (when safe and appropriate), visitors, and staff.
  • The facility requires hand sanitizing before the visit.
  • The facility maintains a visitor log for infection tracing purposes.
  • The facility institutes enhanced cleaning and sanitation of the facility where the visits occur.

A data dashboard has been created to help facilities and Arizonans better understand if their county has met recommended benchmarks to allow in-person visits. Data on the dashboard will be updated weekly on Thursdays HERE.

Stimulus Payments

Under the CARES Act, all U.S. residents with an adjusted gross income of up to $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for married couples will receive a stimulus check. Individuals will receive up to $1,200 and married couples will receive up to $2,400. 

Americans who only receive Social Security (retirement or disability) or whose income comes entirely from Supplemental Security Income are eligible for stimulus checks. 

Individuals who receive Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, or are veterans receiving Compensation and Pension payments from the VA do not need to take any action to receive their rebate checks. Please note that, if you have been claimed as a dependent by another taxpayer (for example, your adult child), you are not eligible for a rebate payment. 

For more information on how your stimulus payment may be delivered, please visit our Direct Payments page at sinema.senate.gov/corona/payments.

If you have not received your stimulus check, please email our office at casework@sinema.senate.gov or call (602) 598-7327

Scams Related to COVID-19

Given that seniors are among the most susceptible to contracting COVID-19, bad actors have used heightened public fears to target seniors. Be on high alert for any scams. Do not give your personal and financial information to anyone if you suspect any foul play. Instead, reach out to family or friends to do more research. 

Senator Sinema has partnered with the Arizona attorney general to provide seniors with helpful resources in case they are victims of bad actors. You can see those resources here.

In recent weeks, there have been a number of reports of criminals and bad actors trying to steal your direct stimulus payment. If you believe you have been subject to a scam, you may report it with the IRS https://www.irs.gov/privacy-disclosure/report-phishing. You may also file a consumer complaint with the Arizona Attorney General’s office https://www.azag.gov/complaints/consumer

There have also been some reports of nursing homes or assisted living facilities intercepting residents’ direct payment checks. If you believe this has happened to you or a loved one, you are encouraged to file a complaint with the Arizona Department of Health Services at 602-542-1000

Retirement Savings 

As you know, this pandemic has negatively affected our economy and led to volatility in the stock market. The economy may cause your IRA and 401(k) balances to drop. 

The average IRA balance fell to $98,900 in the first quarter of 2020. The average 401(k) balance fell to $91,400 during the first quarter of 2020. Retirees living on a fixed income may experience especially difficult economic circumstances. 

If you can still afford to make contributions, keep funding your 401(k) or IRA. You may also consider dipping into a savings account or emergency fund rather than withdrawing from a depleted retirement or investment account until the economy improves and the market stabilizes. 

The CARES Act includes several provisions that cover retirement accounts and may provide some financial relief to those saving for retirement: 

  • If you have experienced financial hardship related to the coronavirus, you can waive the 10 percent penalty for withdrawing money from IRAs, 401(k)s and 403(b)s. The 10 percent waiver only covers withdrawals up to $100,000. If you need to withdraw money for required minimum distributions or living expenses, we encourage you to take out only the minimum necessary. 
  • Taxes on the withdrawals can currently be paid over the course of three years after the withdrawal. The repayments will not be counted toward the annual contribution limits.
  • Individuals can delay making payments on retirement account loans due between March 27 and December 31, 2020. 

For official IRS guidance on retirement plans under the CARES Act, visit irs.gov/newsroom/coronavirus-related-relief-for-retirement-plans-and-iras-questions-and-answers

Legal Assistance:

Arizona's Legal Assistance Program was established under the federal Older Americans Act to offer information, advice, assistance, and advocacy to persons 60 years of age and older. Some legal services include:

  • Creation of wills
  • Help with guardianship
  • Crafting advanced directives, which are a way to express your health care or financial decisions should you become ill or unable to communicate. Advanced directives can inform health care providers of your preferences regarding health care procedures and treatments. They also allow an individual granted a financial power of attorney authority to act on your behalf in financial matters should you become unable to communicate. For advanced directive documents and information, visit the Arizona attorney general's website.

For more information on Arizona’s Legal Assistance Program, please visit des.az.gov/services/older-adults/legal-services-assistance.

Food Assistance 

Getting to the grocery and other food stores is more difficult during the coronavirus pandemic. 

For a list of food banks and other places to go for emergency food assistance in each Arizona county, please visit sinema.senate.gov/sites/default/files/2020-03/Food%20BanksResources.pdf

Formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, SNAP is a federal program that combats hunger across the nation by providing critical assistance to low-income families. You may determine if you are eligible for SNAP benefits by visiting arizonaselfhelp.org.

Meals on Wheels offers nutritious meals to seniors throughout the nation. A comprehensive list of Area Agencies on Aging, which provide services to seniors including Meals on Wheels and other home meal delivery programs, can be found at des.az.gov/services/older-adults/area-agency-on-aging-locations

The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) is a federal program that provides low-income seniors aged 60+ with food assistance. More information on the program in Arizona can be found at des.az.gov/services/basic-needs/food-assistance/az-commodity-senior-food-program. Additional federal resources can be found at fns.usda.gov/disaster/pandemic

---

Federal coronavirus-response legislation: click HERE.

Specific actions Kyrsten is taking on behalf of Arizona: click HERE.

Visit our main resources page: sinema.senate.gov/corona.