COVID-19 Policy Changes and the Safety Net: An Overview of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act

Policy changes related to COVID-19 are happening by the hour at both the federal and state levels. Alluma’s Policy Innovation team is analyzing these changes to identify those that impact the safety-net directly, and is determining how these changes – and those that are to come – can best be implemented by health and social services agencies to provide the greatest benefit for the millions of people who are finding themselves in dire need. Below is a snapshot of one of the first large legislative efforts signed into law, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).

This bill was signed by the President on Wednesday, March 18th and will go into effect no more than 15 days after its signing. It contains a wide array of measures that provide support in three main areas: health care, particularly concerning testing and treatment for COVID-19; food and nutrition (SNAP and WIC); and economic. These measures include:

Free diagnostic testing for COVID-19, with no co-pay, for both Medicaid recipients and privately insured individuals. Treatment related to the virus will also be free with no co-pay for those with Medicaid, but not those with private insurance.

  • States will have the option to provide expedited Medicaid enrollment for newly eligible individuals, for purposes of testing and treatment of the virus
  • (Note that under guidelines by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), obtaining testing and treatment for COVID-19 will not count against “Public Charge” criteria)

Food and nutrition assistance, including:

  • Allowing states to provide greater access to SNAP, and to provide the maximum benefits to current SNAP recipients who currently receive less than the maximum due to their income
  • Suspending work and training requirements for SNAP eligibility
  • $500M for the WIC program
  • Providing $400M to food banks and other emergency food providers

Economic support, including:

  • Emergency paid sick leave available to most full-time workers of both small and large employers
  • Emergency grants to states to process unemployment insurance benefits

While these measures are greatly needed and very welcome, much will depend on how well the states work to implement them. There’s a great deal of work ahead to ensure that everyone who needs help is able to get it – and to get it as quickly as possible. We will be working with agencies to review the many details inherent in the legislation and administrative policies being issued, so that benefit programs can best support the people they’re meant to serve.