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March 19, 2020

The Federal Response to COVID-19

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is rapidly spreading to communities across the United States. Patients with chronic or complex medical conditions, their caregivers and families are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and the subsequent health crises and financial hardship.

In the wake of a global pandemic, we have been advocating for policymakers to leverage every mechanism they can to ensure that affordable, quality health care and safety net supports are equitably available to those who need them.

We also want to keep you informed about steps that Congress and policymakers are taking during this public health emergency to protect the health and well-being of patients and families nationwide. As of today (March 19) Congress has passed two bills in response:

· The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2020 (H.R. 6074), the first emergency funding bill, signed by the president on March 6

  •  Ramped up response infrastructure by providing over $8 billion in funding to federal, state and local agencies to support response efforts:
  • Developing, manufacturing, procuring vaccines and other medical supplies.
  • Grants for state, local and tribal public health organizations
  • Loans for small businesses
  • Other emergency preparedness activities
  • Temporarily waives Medicare telehealth restrictions so that now Medicare beneficiaries can safely see their doctor without having to travel to a facility and risk exposure to COVID-19.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201), strong bipartisan legislation that addresses families’ health, economic and food securit, was passed by the Senate on Wednesday March 18.

  • It provides paid sick leave, expands coronavirus testing at no charge to people, expands food assistance and unemployment benefits and requires employers to better protect health care workers. Specifically, it:
    • Provides no-cost coronavirus testing for all patients, regardless of insurance type or status, including $1 billion for testing of uninsured patients.
    • Establishes a federal emergency paid leave benefits program to provide payments to employees taking unpaid leave due to the coronavirus outbreak,
    • Expands unemployment benefits and provide grants to states for processing and paying claims,
    • Requires employers to provide paid sick leave to employees
    • Increases federal support for Medicaid spending to ease financial strain on state budgets during this crisis.
    • Provides supplemental funding for the SNAP, senior nutrition programs, and food banks to meet increased eligibility and demand.
    • Suspends work requirements for SNAP benefits and restrictions on school meal programs

Looking forward, the economic implications of this public health emergency will affect every sector of the U.S. economy. The next phase of response and third bill will focus on the broad economic stabilization.

The President has called for a $1 trillion coronavirus stimulus package including payments to individuals based on income and family size and support for specific industries such as airlines. 

Senate Democrats have called for additional spending on medical and hospital supplies and safety net services such as unemployment, Medicaid, SNAP, student loans and policy changes related to housing, unemployment, education and prisons.


By Nicole Braccio, policy director