Bridging the COVID Cliff: preparing for the Public Health Emergency Unwind, watch webinar

The flexibility and expansions that kept many households afloat during the pandemic will end when the federal Public Health Emergency (PHE) expires, perhaps as soon as July, causing a COVID Cliff. Families still fighting to gain stability will face the end of enhanced Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, the redetermination of the full Medicaid caseload for the first time in over two years, resumed federal student loan payments, and more. 

The goal of the Coalition is to facilitate a thoughtful process and coordinated communications effort between state officials, county jobs and family services agencies and community organizations to help prepare both systems and recipients for the eventual PHE unwind.

To prepare for the many changes prompted by the end of the PHE, Advocates for Ohio’s Future convened a new coalition, the Ohio COVID Recovery Coalition. The goal of the Coalition is to facilitate a thoughtful process and coordinated communications effort between state officials, county jobs and family services agencies and community organizations to help prepare both systems and recipients for the eventual PHE unwind, and the subsequent end of emergency flexibilities and program expansions. On April 25, a webinar convening experts on each of the three Coalition focus areas—Nutrition, Healthcare, and Family Stability and Supports—laid out the facts, challenges, and recommendations. 

WATCH THE WEBINAR: Nutrition, Healthcare, and Family Stability and Supports

April 25 webinar recording: Ohio COVID Recovery Coalition PHE Unwind

Slide deck: Graphs, links, and contact information  

Timeline: Pandemic Emergency Support Expiration

May 16, 2022: Expected 60-day notice of non-renewal of federal PHE from Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Ohio Department of Medicaid begins eligibility redetermination activities.  

June 1, 2022: Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) benefits for K-12 students expire for 2021-2022 school year.  

June 30, 2022: National child nutrition waivers expire on June 30, 2022, without congressional and administrative action. This includes summer meals, out-of-school meals, grab-and-go and meals. 

July 1, 2022: OhioRISE, Ohio Medicaid’s program for multi-system youth, goes live  

July 15, 2022: Expected end of federal PHE by HHS, or 90-day extension through October 13. This impacts Medicaid redetermination, changes household SNAP allotments and ends expanded SNAP eligibility SNAP for college students, and ends telehealth and telemedicine waivers for some Medicaid and Medicare services.  

August 31, 2022: Federal student loan payments resume, along with, collections on defaulted loans, and interest accrual.  

October-December: Remaining Ohio Medicaid Next Generation program transitions implemented on staggered basis. 

Source: AOF Pandemic Emergency Supports Expiration Timeline 

Contextualizing the PHE Unwind

In the lead-up to the webinar discussion, speakers introduced the impacts on each of their areas of expertise and the three focus areas of the Coalition. During March and April, each respective working group released blogs, analyzing details of the policies and practices and highlighting steps Ohioans can take to prepare for the PHE expiration and to maintain eligible supports as they work to recover from the pandemic.  

Taking steps to address the SNAP Benefit Cliff 

With COVID-19 infection rates steadily declining, the end of the federal PHE is looming. And while the end of this unprecedented pandemic is undoubtedly a good thing, after more than two years, pandemic supports have become integral in the lives of many low-income families, many of which were struggling long before the pandemic. Since many of the programs are directly tied to the federal PHE declaration, when the PHE, and thus the temporary emergency supports ends, it will create a significant benefit cliff. The extra benefits are currently anticipated to end abruptly rather than phasing out.

SNAP households will see an average of $80 in benefits per person per month. Statewide, Ohio families will lose $120 million in food purchasing power per month. Families with children and older adults will see the deepest cuts to their SNAP benefits. 

Source: Hope Lane, Public Health Emergency Unwind, Nutrition 

Avoiding a Medicaid enrollment catastrophe 

Of all the activities of the Recovery Coalition, the issue of enrollment has received the most attention. When looking at enrollment since March 2020, the total caseload for the program increased by nearly 550,000. Out of this group, over 141,000 are parents, about 134,000 are children, and nearly 255,000 are working-age adults.  

As a public health safety measure, the PHE prevents states from unnecessarily disenrolling beneficiaries as a condition of accepting enhanced federal funds. This coverage maintenance has created a lifeline for families experiencing the economic fallout of the pandemic, ensuring individuals had access to treatments, vaccinations, and tests during the pandemic. However, once the PHE ends, so does this protection, meaning millions of Ohioans’ coverage is at risk. 

Source: Loren Anthes, Unwinding the Public health Emergency: Medicaid 

Payment delinquencies expected to increase when student loan payments resume 

Studies throughout the course of the pandemic, including a recent study from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, show that if/when payments resume there will be a rise in payment delinquencies. This is an important consideration in the midst of many other pandemic related supports are expiring concurrently, stretching household budgets even thinner.  

Source: Tara Britton, Public Health Emergency Unwind: What’s going on with student loans? 

Updates: Student loan repayment paused again, until at least August 31