Over the last two years the federal government enacted a number of waiver options, flexibilities and enhanced benefits across public programs to promote health insurance coverage and economic stability during the Covid-19 pandemic. Many safety-net programs, reinforced by targeted assistance and suspended payments have held families together, helped keep them safe and supported their most basic needs.
Many safety-net programs, reinforced by targeted assistance and suspended payments have held families together, helped keep them safe and supported their most basic needs.
Though these enhanced benefits and process flexibilities have been crucial for those struggling throughout the health and economic crises, they were never intended to be permanent. As infection rates and economic activity improve in Ohio and across the country, it is expected that public program eligibility processes will return to pre-pandemic standards, and paused payments resume as scheduled. Many enhanced benefits were tied to the declaration of a federal Public Health Emergency (PHE) by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which has been in place since January 31, 2020. The federal PHE declaration is renewed by HHS in 90-day increments after consideration of infection rates and spread across the country.
Four goals of the Ohio COVID Recovery Coalition
Leaders of Advocates for Ohio’s Future (AOF), a nonpartisan, nonprofit coalition of health and human services policy, research, and provider organizations, began to contemplate the complex process of scaling back or unwinding these Covid flexibilities and waivers in early fall of 2021 as case numbers were steadily declining. Given the number of supports and enhanced benefits tied to the PHE, its eventual expiration has the potential to create a Covid cliff where families who continue to struggle lose access to health care and enhanced Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits while resuming payments on student loan and housing debts over a few months’ time. This significant and sudden loss of basic needs supports will be a major hit to household budgets and lead to confusing and stressful times for families and individuals.
In hopes that 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, AOF convened a new coalition, the Ohio COVID Recovery Coalition to:
- Identify all waivers and flexibilities in place across federal and state policies intended to provide additional assistance during the PHE
- Determine which waivers and flexibilities could or should be made permanent
- Develop recommendations for state agencies and help them connect people with assistance
- Inform recipients of future changes and actions needed to be taken to maintain eligible supports
Three focus areas of the Ohio COVID Recovery Coalition
While keeping in mind that the effects of the PHE unwind across public programs will be felt by similar low to mid-level income families and populations, the Ohio COVID Recovery Coalition formed three working groups to focus conversations, efforts and recommendations separately before reconvening as a full coalition with a broader understanding of the upcoming PHE emergency supports expiration timeline, recommendations to state and county agencies for thorough and thoughtful processes for the unwind and how to broadly and clearly communicate changes and steps recipients can take to continue to receive supports they qualify for. The Ohio COVID Recovery Coalition working groups are co-led by leaders of AOF partner organizations:
- Healthcare, Leadership: Loren Anthes, Center for Community Solutions, Kelly Vyzral, Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio
- Medicaid, Eligibility and Redeterminations, Data matching and using other data systems to maintain coverage, Telehealth, ACA Coverage Policies
- Nutrition, Leadership: Hope Lane, Center for Community Solutions, Joree Novotny, Ohio Association of Foodbanks
- SNAP, Emergency Allotments, P-EBT, Underpayments, Overpayments
- Family Stability & Supports, Leadership: Tara Britton, Center for Community Solutions
- Housing, Utilities, Child care, Benefit Bridge, Student Loan Repayments
Over the next three weeks, the Center for Community Solutions staff co-leads of each respective working group will release a dedicated blog diving further into details of the unwinding policies and practices that span the programs under their working group, share additional resources and highlight steps Ohioans can take to prepare for the PHE expiration and maintain eligible supports as they work to recover from the pandemic.