ATLANTA – Georgia’s nursing homes are looking for a share of the $4.8 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds headed to the Peach State.

The Georgia Health Care Association submitted a request Monday for $347 million from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Congress passed last spring for nursing homes, citing a significant decline in nursing home occupancy during the pandemic.

Statewide, nursing home occupancy fell from 84.5% in December 2019 to 69.6% last February before rebounding slightly to 72.2% last month. However, 27.7% of nursing homes have occupancies at or below 64%.

“These reductions in occupancy have resulted in a devastating loss of revenue,” said Tony Marshall, the association’s president and CEO. “Long-term care providers have a critical need for additional financial resources to continue to remain viable to meet the needs of vulnerable Georgians during this period of recovery.”

Marshall said nursing homes’ bottom lines also are being threatened by rising costs associated with enhanced infection prevention protocols, reporting mandates and retaining an adequate workforce.

“The name of the federal law that provided this funding has ‘rescue’ in its title, and that’s an accurate depiction of what we need,” he said. “This sector is among our hardest hit, and its services help our most vulnerable citizens.”

Gov. Brian Kemp has assembled three committees of Georgia lawmakers, state agency heads and other state officials to sift through applications for the federal relief funding.

Two of the committees are considering infrastructure needs including broadband connectivity improvements and water and sewer projects. The third is focusing on offsetting the pandemic’s economic impacts, an appropriate fit for the nursing homes’ request.

Applications for the federal money will close Aug. 31, and grant winners are due to be announced the week of Oct. 18.