How Congress Can Act Now in Response to COVID-19 to Save and Improve Lives

Food bank

By Nora OBrien-Suric, PhD
President, the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York

People throughout our community are facing serious health and economic challenges due to the impact of COVID-19. This impact is severe and will continue for the months and, likely, years ahead. We appreciate the previous and ongoing efforts of our elected officials to help struggling families, nonprofit organizations, and unemployed workers during this crisis, but more help is needed, and quickly.

As president of the Health Foundation, I am calling on our representatives in Congress to support the following actions that will protect and expand urgently needed services during this current crisis and also ensure the long-term health and well-being of the people we serve. 

More Federal Relief Funding
States and localities are in need of substantial additional federal relief
in order to maintain support for public health and safety programs, education, and other essential services that will have to be dramatically reduced due to the economic downturn and loss of tax revenues.

Increased Funding For SNAP and Food Programs
The federal government needs to boost benefits to essential safety net programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to better equip Americans to feed their families. Additional funding should also be provided to food pantries, food banks and other community-based organizations that operate these critical services. Presently, one in seven households receive assistance under SNAP, and our current crisis has resulted in a tremendous increase in reliance on food pantries and food banks.

Additional Funding for FQHCs
Additional federal resources should be directed to federally qualified health centers as they work to meet the extraordinary health needs of the community.
FQHCs provide critically important health care services to the most vulnerable members of our community, regardless of health coverage status or the ability to pay. Underfunding these critical medical services will not only have a negative impact on the health of many people, but also could weaken efforts to control the spread of COVID-19.

Increase Funding Percentages Through FMAP and Protect MOE Requirements
We urge our elected officials to expand, extend, and increase funding percentages for federal Medicaid matching payments to states under the Families First Federal Medical Assistance Program (FMAP).
One in seven New Yorkers relies on Medicaid for health care coverage. Without additional funding, older adults and people with disabilities will be adversely affected, especially those who rely on essential home and community-based services. We support a minimum 12 percent increase in federal matching funds to states to support Medicaid. Additionally, any increases in FMAP funding should preserve maintenance of effort (MOE) requirements to restrict states from raising Medicaid eligibility guidelines or terminating coverage for certain services during this public health emergency.

Increase Funding for Older Americans Act Programs
We are calling for supplemental funding for services and programs through the Older Americans Act, with no local match requirement. These services for older adults and caregivers are needed now more than ever. Supplemental funding would help pay for the increased need for services such as home delivered meals, in-home contact and support, and food delivery.

Protect the Affordable Care Act
In the midst of the biggest health crisis of our lifetime, now is the time to expand health benefits and safety net services, not reduce them. Overturning the ACA would have an even greater impact on states like New York, where a significant number of residents have gained coverage thanks to the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid eligibility.

Support Universal Health Care
The COVID-19 crisis has made it clear: we need universal health care to ensure every person in our community receives the health services they need and deserve. Expanding health coverage will help address inequities in our health care system, improve outcomes and ensure we are better prepared to handle public health emergencies like this one. While there are many paths toward achieving universal health care, we implore our elected officials to consider and support efforts that will help get everyone covered.

More than ever, this crisis has illustrated how important it is for us to engage in bipartisan, cross-sector efforts that improve and protect the health of the people we serve. We look forward to continuing to collaborate to help meet the immediate and long-term needs of the people of western and central New York, through this crisis and beyond.