Late in the evening on Friday, May 15th, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 6800 – otherwise known as the HEROES Act of 2020 – a $3 trillion COVID-19 relief package. The legislation is said to be a statement of priorities for Democratic lawmakers in the House, represented in large part by the final vote on its passage, which was mostly along party lines with only one Republican voting in favor of the bill. While the bill’s passing sets the stage for the next step of the federal government’s pandemic relief response, there is a general understanding that a fourth package will likely look different by the time it reaches the president’s desk. For his part, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated that it will be some time before his chamber takes any major action towards the development of a fourth COVID-19 package.
The bill’s inclusion of additional resources for Community Health Centers underscores that health centers, and related critical programs, remain a priority for lawmakers. While long-term health center funding was not included in the bill, there are several provisions which offer additional resources and programs for health centers to continue serving their communities in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the HEROES Act, as introduced, will not become law, we will continue to advocate that any final COVID-19 supplemental legislation includes the provisions important to health centers as well as the need for long-term, stable funding.
Here’s a look at some of the major aspects of the bill which will affect health centers:
$7.6 Billion in Emergency Funding for Health Centers
In addition to the previously provided emergency funds, H.R. 6800 would provide $7.6 billion “to remain available until September 30, 2025, for necessary expenses to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus… including maintenance or expansion of health center and system capacity and staffing levels.” This funding may further be used for equipment and supplies for mobile testing, which – along with required medical resources – includes the purchase and maintenance of vehicles for mobile testing and the hiring and training of additional staff.
This funding, which is also available to health center look-alikes, is in line with the ask that health center advocates have made of Members of Congress over the past few months and will be essential to helping health centers achieve stability and recover from losses due to COVID-19.
Two Options for Fully Forgivable Loans for Health Centers With Over 500 Employees
The bill also increases access to federal loan programs for health centers with over 500 employees who were previously left out of certain loan opportunities. The coverage offered by these two programs creates circumstances under which a fully forgivable federal loan should be available to any health center, regardless of size.
Changes to the PPP Program: Eligibility for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is extended to all nonprofits, regardless of size – this inclusion allows health centers with over 500 employees to apply for PPP loans after being previously ineligible for those resources. 25% of funds in the PPP will be set aside for nonprofits, and a maximum of 12.5% of the 25% will be available to those nonprofits with over 500 employees.
Main Street Loans: The HEROES Act also makes available fully-forgivable “Main Street Loans” from the Federal Reserve to nonprofit organizations which “predominantly serve low-income communities” and are ineligible for PPP loans.
Additional Funding for the Provider Relief Fund
The legislation would add $100 billion to the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund for the Provider Relief Fund to provide grants to health care institutions on the front lines of the crisis, including hospitals, public entities, not-for-profit entities and Medicare and Medicaid enrolled suppliers and institutional providers. As with the previous legislation which established this fund, health centers and look-alikes are among the providers declared eligible for these resources. This money is intended to help providers cover the unreimbursed health care related expenses or lost revenues attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It should also be noted that specific terms and conditions were added to the Provider Fund in the HEROES Act, creating a new grant application process which limits the total amount a provider could receive in any quarter from the Provider Fund. These limits are based on several factors, including the counting of any funds already received from the Provider Fund and forgivable loans from the PPP.
Funding for Testing and Contact Tracing
The bill provides for a $75 billion increase in funds for testing, contact tracing and other necessary activities in the process of monitoring and suppressing COVID-19.
Increases in the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP)
Finally, the bill increases the Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage (FMAP) by 14% starting July 1, 2020 and going until June 30, 2021. After June 30, 2021, the FMAP bump would return to 6.2 %, the current enhanced rate under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, until the last day of the calendar quarter during which the public health emergency ends.
In addition to the programs and provisions specified above, there are several other provisions which are of interest to health centers’ COVID-19 efforts, including an updated COVID-19 Testing strategy plan, the establishment of no-cost sharing for COVID- 19 treatment, additional assistance to state, local, tribal and territory governments, additional funding for broadband and the Rural Health Care Program of the FCC, funding for important health and social services programs, and more. Click here for a break down of some of the major health related provisions in the bill.
The First Step and Need for Continued Advocacy
The release and passing of H.R. 6800 marks the first step in the next stage of the federal government’s pandemic response. This legislation serves as yet another affirmation of the work health centers have done and will continue to do in support of their local communities in the face of this public health crisis. Congress has made clear that health centers are an essential part of the nation’s public health system. But we must still remind our lawmakers of the importance of and need for, long-term, stable and reliable funding for the health center program.
We are so grateful for the relentless spirit and dedication of the health center movement and all of our advocates who put in hard work on a daily basis to raise the profile of this essential work. This increased federal support and prioritization would not have been possible without your voices. As this process progresses, we will continue to keep you updated and stand at the ready to help with any questions at email@example.com.