On March 19th, the U.S. Senate passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201), a first step in responding to the coronavirus pandemic. The act provides some important protections Kentuckians will need in the upcoming weeks and months, including:
- Free testing for COVID-19 whether accessed at a provider, urgent treatment center, or hospital emergency department;
- Emergency paid leave for some workers–up to 14 days–if they are directly impacted by COVID-19, are caring for a family member directly impacted, or caring for a child due to school or daycare closures;
- Increased funding for Medicaid through an enhanced federal match rate;
- Expansion of access to unemployment insurance,
- Additional food aid for low-income families, including more funding for The Emergency Food Aid Program (TEFAP), The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and
- Suspension of work reporting requirements in the SNAP program.
We commend lawmakers for taking bipartisan action to pass H.R. 6201, a critical first step in shoring up our safety-net by providing access to health care and economic relief to Kentuckians.
This initial relief package is the first of many steps Congress must take to protect our health and economic well-being during this pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted weaknesses in Kentucky’s safety-net that have been ignored for far too long. Our public health workforce has been shrinking for more than a decade while hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians are living paycheck to paycheck without job security, health insurance, paid sick leave, or an affordable home.
More is needed to:
- Guarantee paid leave to all workers.
- Adequately fund hospitals, health centers, and other providers caring for uninsured or underinsured Kentuckians.
- Provide a special enrollment period for individuals shopping on the Federal Marketplace.
- Increase funding for health departments to fight COVID-19 and be better prepared for future pandemics.
- Provide direct financial support to lower-income Kentuckians who do not have the resources to weather an economic downturn.
- Protect Kentuckians from profiteering, price gouging, product scams and false cures.
- End the Public Charge Rule that discourages refugees and immigrants from seeking health care, food assistance, and other necessary services.
- Prevent evictions to allow for social distancing by suspending rent, mortgage, and utility payment penalties.
- Increase access to emergency shelters for people experiencing homelessness or fleeing domestic violence and provide medical respite care for those who are ill or frail.
Kentucky’s recent history makes it difficult to combat the negative impacts of COVID-19 and the measures necessary to slow its spread. Our health systems have perhaps been hit the hardest. Public health agencies across the state have endured budget cut after budget cut for the past ten years as well as increased pension obligations, reducing staff by one third over that time period. Declining Medicaid participation has led to increases in the uninsured rates of both adults and children in Kentucky. Most of this decline is the result of increased bureaucratic paperwork than increases in income.
In the last two years, new policies in SNAP have cut 30,000 people and their families out of needed benefits, and former drug felons who have served their sentences–up to 23 years ago–continue to be banned from SNAP. Kentucky’s abundance of low-wage jobs, high housing costs even in our rural communities, and a lack of uniform, statewide planning for those reentering society after incarceration make families unstable even in the best of economies. The policy choices that led to these circumstances have left Kentucky ill-prepared to respond as quickly as we might hope.
But Kentucky isn’t alone in this circumstance, and that’s why a strong national response is needed to directly serve the people most impacted by this global pandemic. After this has passed, it is our hope national and state leaders recognize that a strong safety net will help Kentucky and the rest of the nation be prepared for and proactively respond to events like the one we’re seeing today.
As always, KVH will continue to closely monitor the state and federal response to COVID-19. Watch for additional updates and calls-to-action as new response packages are on the table.