By Haley Nicholson and Margaret Wile
Congress passed and the president signed into law the second piece of COVID-19 relief legislation, HR 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Congress has already set its sights on passing a third COVID-19 relief package.
This new law includes several Health and Human Services (HHS) provisions related to public health, health care costs and coverage and nutrition assistance. The bill will provide resources to state and local partners across several critical areas, and communities that will be receiving additional funding and flexibilities for HHS programs.
Public Health Provisions
- $64 million to the Indian Health Service for items and services related to COVID-19.
- Allows HHS to provide liability protection for certain emergency response products, including masks.
- As more retail outlets and businesses close during this public health emergency, states will need additional resources and flexibilities to provide meals to more Americans, especially vulnerable populations, in a timely manner while adhering to safe delivery methods.
Food and Nutritional Funding
- $250 million was appropriated for HHS programs for elderly Americans. State matching requirements don’t apply to these funds. Funding included:
- $160 million for home-delivered nutrition services.
- $80 million for congregate nutrition services that provide food in group settings, such as adult day care centers and meal sites.
- $10 million for nutrition services for Native Americans.
- Funding to support children and families, including:
- $500 million in emergency funding for the Women’s Infants and Children (WIC) program.
- $400 million for the Commodity Assistance Program for The Emergency Food Assistance.
Food and Nutritional Waivers for Programs Such As SNAP
The legislation provides additional Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) aid to children and families when a child’s school is closed for at least five days due to COVID-19 public health emergency.
Under this provision, children who are eligible for free or reduced school lunch meals will be eligible for additional benefits that would be the equal value of the school lunch meals. It also waives current federal work requirements for SNAP eligibility and further allows states that have made a COVID-19 emergency declaration to request emergency funding for food aid and support to expand SNAP participation. This will not increase the amount a family or individual can receive in a month but allows for more individuals and families to be provided SNAP benefits.
Finally, the legislation allows the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to waive certain requirements for additional food programs to ensure meals and supplies are being provided safely to combat spreading COVID-19.
This will include the following USDA programs: The National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program, Summer Food Service Program and WIC.
Health Coverage and Services
As more tests become available for COVID-19, a growing concern for some patients has been the costs. HR 6201 addresses some of this by providing $1.2 billion to cover testing costs. The bill also requires all commercial insurance to cover testing and diagnosis for COVID-19 with no cost-sharing to the patient.
This provision will affect laboratory testing coverage services for those enrolled under federal health plans including for urgent care center and emergency room visits. To learn more about what other health insurance plans and their carriers are covering, visit the America’s Health Insurance Plans website.
The legislation also address access to COVID-19 care for state Medicaid programs by allowing:
- States to be eligible for a 6.2% increase in their federal medical assistance percentages (FMAP), this applies to regular FMAP and not for expanded Medicaid rates under the Affordable Care Act.
- No cost-sharing for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Plan enrollees and a 100% FMAP to cover the costs.
- Increased Medicaid funding to U.S. territories for all medical services for the next two fiscal years.
One of the most vulnerable populations to COVID-19 is the elderly. The bill responds by waiving any cost-sharing for seniors enrolled under Medicare Part B and Medicare Advantage plans and makes new technical improvements to Medicare telehealth authority. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has also provided additional resources on existing and new resources states can use during this time.
This bill is one of many ways Congress and the administration have worked together to provide states and local communities with the resources they need during this unprecedented time. For additional information, states can access ongoing resources from NCSL including daily updates across agencies.
Haley Nicholson is senior policy director and Margaret Wile is policy director in NCSL's Health and Human Service Program in NCSL's State-Federal Relations Division.