Families First Coronavirus Response Act to Provide Georgians with Initial Wave of Assistance

Late in the evening on March 18, President Trump signed H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The measure touches a broad array of issues from health care to food assistance to paid leave. The goal of the legislation is to address and ultimately stem the spread of coronavirus by unleashing resources aimed at prevention, preparation and response. This initial wave of federal action can serve as an important down payment to support Georgia’s efforts to combat and prevent the spread of COVID-19, and help families make ends meet during this unprecedented public health emergency.

FFCRA Includes Provisions to Expand Access to Critical Health Services

First and foremost, the FFCRA makes some major investments to support state Medicaid programs by pumping nearly $36 billion into state programs nationwide. As a result of a 6.2 percentage point increase to each state’s Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) rate, or the rate at which federal funding matches state funding for Medicaid, Georgia will receive upwards of $700 million through this initial stimulus.[1]

Discussions are already underway to further increase that rate in forthcoming stimulus packages currently being debated in Congress.

In addition to an infusion of new dollars, the FFCRA also requires states to implement a strong maintenance of effort, meaning that they cannot decrease their current investment or implement restrictive policies or take away coverage. This requirement is critically important and is designed to protect coverage during a public health emergency, barring states from canceling coverage unless the individual ends the coverage or moves to another state. The provision also means that, in the face of an uncertain economy and rising unemployment, work reporting requirements cannot be enforced as a condition for maintaining coverage through the period deemed a public health emergency. For information on how the state can leverage the increased FMAP rate and other new federal funds, see “Fighting COVID-19 in Georgia with Medicaid and New Funding.”

Another provision included in the act is particularly important to Georgia given our high uninsured rate. The act provides mechanisms for COVID-19 testing specifically for those who are uninsured through a $1 billion health care fund via the National Disaster Medical System. This fund will pay for tests for anyone who is eligible for testing and is uninsured and not covered by Medicaid, PeachCare, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace or any other individual or group health plan.

FFCRA Improves Flexibility for Safety Net Programs

More than one-third of Georgia’s workers are in retail, food service and administrative support positions.[2] These occupations are notorious for low wages, unpredictable schedules and lack of employer-sponsored benefits such as health care and paid sick days. These workers depend on the safety net in times of crisis, especially in recession, when they face layoffs or major reductions in work hours.

The FFCRA also makes major changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) in an effort to meet the likely increase in need that will soon be seen across the country. The act suspends all work requirements for the duration of the pandemic. It includes a provision to expand emergency food benefits to affected families, including additional benefits to replace school meals for eligible children. It also allows flexibility on the “issuance methods and reporting requirements” that should permit the state to accept virtual signatures and other remote access solutions. This is a critical change that Georgia must enact statewide to both prevent the spread of the virus and streamline access to benefits in the face of office closures and increasing remote work scenarios.

Many of the provisions of the act provide states broad authority to supplement and modify their SNAP programs. GBPI is a proud member of the Food Stamp Work Group, working alongside food banks, community organizations and others who recently submitted a list of recommendations to ensure no Georgian goes hungry during this period. Some of the recommendations include:

  • Extending SNAP benefits for all current recipients through June 2020 to stabilize family income and increase access for new SNAP applications
  • Waiving signature requirements
  • Reinstating eligibility as broadly as possible
  • Minimizing all verification and accepting self-attestation wherever possible
  • Applying the streamlined procedures to all cases currently under consideration for renewal
  • Encouraging the state to rapidly and comprehensively promote access to SNAP via the DFCS website, by adding contact information for community organizations that can assist with screenings and assuring complete applications are submitted with all relevant documentation

The act also addresses the critical role of WIC by providing broad authority to states to ensure that benefits remain accessible. Similar to the flexibility and innovation being used to provide school meals to children while schools are closed, the flexibility allows states to ensure that WIC benefit receipt is not contingent on in-person visits to clinics, enables child care providers to supply meals even if the facility is closed and allocates $500 million in additional funding to the program.

Unemployment insurance is also addressed by the act. The Families First Act provides $1 billion in state grants to cover the processing and payment of unemployment insurance. Even in the nascent stages of the economic effects of this crisis, unemployment insurance will be a lifeline. Currently Georgia only provides 14 weeks of unemployment insurance. The state also has laws on the books that prevent school workers under private contract, including bus drivers and lunch workers, from collecting unemployment insurance benefits during school breaks. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported a nearly 400 percent spike in unemployment claims the week of March 16. Swift action from the governor to extend the period Georgians can claim unemployment insurance coupled with legislative action to make the benefits widely available will ensure we can maximize the program’s potential to help families in a time of economic uncertainty.

Finally, the FFCRA begins to address the critical need for federal emergency paid-leave benefits for some employees. The act requires employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide two weeks’ worth of paid sick leave if employees are unable to work because they are subject to quarantine or isolation, are experiencing symptoms of COVID–19, are caring for someone who is in quarantine or isolation and/or have children in schools that have closed. However, there is no requirement to provide any such benefits to employers with more than 500 people, leaving a huge number of workers without an option. Further, half of the state’s workers—2.3 million—work in companies with more than 500 employees.[3]

While much more will be done in the coming weeks to stem the spread of the coronavirus, the Families First Act serves as a significant first step to ensuring Georgia will have access to more resources to bolster public health infrastructure and increase access to coverage, help families make ends meet and ensure no Georgian goes hungry during this unprecedented public health emergency. In order to best support Georgians, Governor Kemp must take swift action to take full advantage of the flexibility and resources allocated by the Families First Coronavirus Prevention Act.

Endotes

[1] Sullivan, J. (2020 March, 12). Medicaid funding boost for states can’t wait. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. https://www.cbpp.org/blog/medicaid-funding-boost-for-states-cant-wait]

[2] U.S. Census Bureau. 2020. Quarterly Workforce Indicators (1990-2019). Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau, Longitudinal-Employer Household Dynamics Program. accessed on March 18, 2020 at https://qwiexplorer.ces.census.gov.

[3] U.S. Census Bureau. 2020. Quarterly Workforce Indicators (1990-2019). Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau, Longitudinal-Employer Household Dynamics Program. accessed on March 18, 2020 at https://qwiexplorer.ces.census.gov.

 

Support GBPI Today

The Georgia Budget & Policy Institute is a 501(c)3 organization. We depend on the support of donors like you. Your contribution makes the work that we do possible.
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on print

Related Posts

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to our Newsletter