Sarbanes Calls for Increased Federal Funding for Community Health Centers to Help Mitigate Coronavirus Crisis

Congressman John Sarbanes (D-Md.) joined hundreds of lawmakers today in calling on House and Senate leaders to boost federal funding for Community Health Centers and other vital community level health programs as part of the comprehensive federal response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In two letters – one led by Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.), Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and another led by Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.) – Congressman Sarbanes urged Congressional negotiators to shore up funding for Community Health Centers and other local health providers that offer critical services for millions of Americans, including many underserved populations and communities of color.

“As we face one of the most challenging and widespread public health crises of our lifetimes, we must ensure that vital institutions like Community Health Centers have robust resources to continue providing lifesaving care,” said Congressman Sarbanes. “As my colleagues and I continue to assemble a comprehensive package to address the coronavirus pandemic, we will fight tirelessly to deliver federal funding to community health care providers, who are on the frontlines of this public health emergency.”

See below for the letter led by Congresswoman Pressley, Congressman David, Senator Sanders and Senator Warren.

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March 20, 2020

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Minority Leader McCarthy, Majority Leader McConnell, and Minority Leader Schumer:

            We write in the midst of this global public health pandemic, as the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (“COVID-19”) is rapidly spreading through communities across America, to ask you to take urgent action, without delay, in reauthorizing critically needed funding for our nation’s community health centers (CHCs). Community Health Centers are at the frontlines of this crisis, providing medical care and testing for over 29 million low-income people. It is of utmost importance that CHCs receive the long-term and robust resources necessary to meet the needs of our nation’s most vulnerable communities, especially as they work to test and care for patients during this unprecedented public health crisis.

            We have been encouraged by the House adoption of $10 billion in program and capital improvement funds for CHCs as part of H.R. 3, the Elijah Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act as well as recently appropriated funding for CHC’s included in the emergency supplemental package that was passed and signed into law on March 6th. However, given the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak, we cannot afford to wait until May to reauthorize CHC funding. CHCs, facing increasingly dire financial and operating margins, have recently called for $3.2 billion in emergency aid to keep their doors open and weather this crisis. We must ensure that CHCs can adequately operate with peace of mind about their financial stability in the days and weeks to come. It is for that reason that we respectfully request that, in addition to further emergency funds, any reauthorization include the highest levels of funding, consistent with or surpassing those outlined in H.R. 1943/S.962, the Community Health Center and Primary Care Workforce Expansion Act, which is cosponsored by over 100 House Democrats. We also urge you to ensure that these funds are distributed to CHCs as soon as possible.

            Last October, 88 lawmakers sent a letter requesting long-term and robust funding levels for our nation’s CHCs, as well as support for the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) and the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education (THCGME) programs. It is our hope that you will work with us to secure the long-term vitality of these programs. 

            As you know, CHCs provide essential preventive and primary medical, vision, dental and mental health care and low-cost prescription drugs to millions of patients on a sliding-fee scale in every state and territory in America – many of whom would not receive health care otherwise. CHCs disproportionately serve communities of color, with African Americans making up more than one in five CHC patients. Additionally, CHCs serve as hubs of economic activity in thousands of communities across the country, saving our health care system more than $24 billion per year and providing hundreds of thousands of good jobs.

            Despite the vital role CHCs have played in tackling the biggest public health challenges of our time, CHCs have remained chronically underfunded. Proposals that would freeze funding for these programs pose a substantial risk to the millions of patients that depend on CHCs for their health care, particularly during a public health outbreak as severe as COVID-19, and could leave more than 3 million people without access to quality and affordable providers and 44,000 clinicians and staff without jobs. It is crucial that any deal to reauthorize CHCs, at a minimum, include annual funding increases as outlined in H.R. 1943/S. 962 in order to expand services, rather than cut them.

            Furthermore, increased funding over five years consistent with or surpassing H.R. 1943/S. 962 will not only allow health centers to keep up with a growing and increasingly aging population and skyrocketing medical costs, but also provide health centers with the stability they need to train and recruit providers. Increased funding will allow our nation’s CHCs to provide continuous health services for all who need it.

            It is for these reasons that we reiterate our urgent request that Congressional leaders reaffirm their commitment to these vital programs – as the House did through passing H.R. 3 – by incorporating a reauthorization that fully funds the Community Health Center Fund for five years with 10-percent annual increases in the third COVID-19 response package. We also reemphasize the importance of providing strong funding that supports and expands the NHSC and THCGME programs. Together, the CHC, NHSC and THCGME programs are the foundation of primary and preventive health care across this country.

            We look forward to working together to fulfill our longstanding and shared commitment to protecting and expanding health care for American families, ensuring the long-term stability needed for CHCs to deal with this crisis and mitigating any harm caused by this global health pandemic.

            Thank you for your attention to this matter.   


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See below for the letter led by Congresswoman Barragán.

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March 20, 2020

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Leader McCarthy, Leader McConnell and Leader Schumer:

            The undersigned Members of Congress write to urgently request that you provide additional critically needed resources to support the nation’s community health center infrastructure during the COVID-19 crisis. As an example, California’s community health centers provide health care services to 1 in 3 Medicaid recipients and 1 in 6 Californians. Health centers are on the frontlines of this crisis, and are a critical component of our nation’s response to containing and controlling the spread of COVID-19. Now more than ever, they must have the resources and support they need to serve their patients and communities, and help relieve the burden on our emergency rooms and hospitals.

            Health centers are struggling with a number of challenges during this crisis.

            Health centers do not have sufficient testing supplies, and they are experiencing delays from vendors and labs.

            Health centers cannot obtain enough personal protective equipment. While some regions have systems and structures in place to distribute supplies – backlogs, severe shortages and logistical challenges persist. Health centers are scouring online vendors and other non-traditional sources to try to procure the supplies they need.

            Health centers’ call centers are overwhelmed with inquiries from both patients and non-patients seeking answers to questions, reassurance, and asking for testing. The increased call volume comes as health centers are trying to protect their own staff by implementing social distancing measures, relocating staff, implementing remote work policies, and contending with staff facing childcare challenges due to school closures.

            Health centers are setting up exterior screening areas and in some cases isolation areas, to protect staff and other patients from those who may be infected with the coronavirus.

            Critically, clinics are experiencing declining Medicaid revenue at the exact same time they are making significant unbudgeted outlays for emergency equipment and supplies. Health centers’ normal Medicaid visit numbers are declining as patients stay home and the centers curtail non-urgent services. For example, health centers in California are reporting visits decreasing 50 percent. This translates into a loss of $34.5 million in Medicaid revenue each week during this crisis. This is not sustainable.

            Our nation’s health centers are working tirelessly to support the COVID-19 response, limit the spread of the virus and support their staff, patients and communities. As this crisis intensifies, the health care system will be depending on community health centers to help reduce the burden on hospitals and emergency rooms. Health centers should not be worried about financial stability and how they are going to keep their doors open, their lights on, and their staff employed during this crisis.

            We thank you for the $100 million already allocated to health centers in the bipartisan package passed earlier this month, but providing additional robust emergency funding and securing the long-term financial stability of health centers must continue to be a top priority as additional stimulus packages are developed and negotiated.