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Where We Are and What to Expect: Congress Passes Additional $484 Billion Relief Package for COVID-19 Response

Where We Are and What to Expect: Congress Passes Additional $484 Billion Relief Package for COVID-19 Response

Written by: Megan Greig, NACHC Federal Affairs

The Latest Action in Congress: While Congress won’t officially reconvene until early May, the Congressional recess was briefly interrupted last week when lawmakers voted to pass H.R. 266, the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act. Congress passed this measure to provide further assistance to businesses and organizations on the front lines of the COVID-19 response. In addition, this act includes funding for a national testing plan for the virus. Although this package provides support in much-needed areas, it is being referred to as an “interim relief package,” rather than a full stimulus bill. Congress is looking to craft another stimulus package expected to be more comprehensive and include significantly more financial relief sometime next month.

The Senate passed the bill on Tuesday, April 21, 2020, with the House of Representatives following suit two days later. The president signed it into law the following day. Of particular interest to health centers, this interim funding bill includes:

  • $310 billion in additional funding for the SBA Paycheck Protection Program, for which all health centers with fewer than 500 employees are eligible, including Look-Alikes;
  • $75 billion in additional funding for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund to support providers experiencing revenue loss as a result of COVID-19. This funding is in addition to the $100 billion previously authorized and currently being finalized for distribution by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS); and,
  • $25 billion to support national COVID-19 testing efforts, including $600 million reserved for Community Health Centers, which can be used for a variety of resources beyond immediate testing needs, including staffing and personal protective equipment (PPE).

 
What’s happened to date in Congress? In March, Congress passed three full emergency stimulus packages. This new interim bill is more limited in scope (though still robust in terms of the total amount of funding), leading many to refer to it as sort of a “half package” or “3.5” bill even though it represents the fourth legislative response from Congress since the beginning of the crisis.

While the first two bills were mainly focused on employment and economic relief, the third emergency stimulus package, also known as the CARES Act, included several provisions to provide additional funding and support for health centers, including $1.32 billion in emergency federal health center grant funding and a six-month extension of level mandatory funding, moving the deadline to renew funding from May 22 to November 30, 2020. Click here to read NACHC’s breakdown of the bill’s provisions for Community Health Centers, and click here to read our last blog post on how those provisions will affect health centers in the coming months.

Of note, we want to specifically highlight one provision in the CARES Act that continues to raise questions and draw concerns: the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund, sometimes referred to as the “provider relief fund”. Initially a $100 billion fund through the CARES Act and increased to $175 billion through the recently passed interim funding bill discussed above, this fund is designed to provide grants to health care providers to offset revenue losses as a result of COVID-19. To date, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has released two batches of this funding summarized here (batch 1) and here (batch 2). We are working to better understand how the funding from the second batch is reaching health centers in order to determine what additional support might still be needed. In the meantime, you may find answers to some of your questions in this FAQ document from HHS.

What’s Ahead? At the time of writing, the Senate is expected to reconvene on Monday, May 4, 2020, while the House recently announced they will not return next week, and it is not certain when they plan to return to DC. Questions remain as to how the Senate, and eventually the House, will look and function, with many modifications to how Congress now conducts business expected. Top of the list for many lawmakers will be another comprehensive COVID-19 response bill. Currently referred to as “CARES 2”, health center advocates are hoping it will contain additional emergency health center grant funding, infrastructure support, and a long-overdue solution to ongoing mandatory funding challenges. We expect to see action on this potential next bill starting in the House sometime in the first two weeks of May.

As lawmakers approach negotiations for this next emergency stimulus package, many of our Congressional champions are working together to raise the profile of significant issues and priorities for health centers. Below is a list of some of the recent letters circulated by Members of Congress in support of additional funding and flexibility for health centers:

 
An up-to-date list of recent Congressional efforts in support of health centers, including the status of these letters and their signature counts, can be found on the COVID-19 toolkit page of the HCAdvocacy site. If your Member of Congress has gone the extra mile in support of health centers during this crisis and you don’t see it listed here, please email federalaffairs@nachc.org to let us know!

New Resource: Finally, if you are looking for additional resources to use in conversations with your Members of Congress, we would like to point you toward NACHC’s latest infographic, National Findings on Health Centers’ Response to COVID-19. This resource utilizes data from HRSA’s weekly survey of health centers to highlight critical information about their needs and progress throughout the pandemic. The infographic will be regularly updated to reflect the latest data from the survey as it is released.

We’ll keep you posted on the next steps for health center funding in the coming weeks. In the meantime, we encourage you to stay in close contact with your Senators and Representatives to let them know how vital health center funding and stability are in this challenging time. We are so appreciative of all of the hard work you do, and we cannot thank you enough for your commitment to our health center family. Stay safe!

Helpful Resources: