Families First Coronavirus Response Act

In a time that no one has seen before, coronavirus has changed the way society operates from the federal to local levels. While the virus impacts different infrastructures and the economy, Ohio must be aware of the impact it will have upon our youngest children and families. In response to the pandemic, on March 18th, 2020 the Families First Coronavirus Response Act was signed into law. This is the second piece of legislation Congress has enacted as a response to the current pandemic.[1] The Families First Act covers a broad range of programs that impact children and families, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Women, Infants and Children’s Programs (WIC), school lunch, family and medical leave, unemployment insurance, emergency paid sick leave, and Medicaid.[2] The following is a summary of some of the key provisions and how they help protect some of state’s most vulnerable citizens:


Nutrition With the voluntary and mandated closures of many programs and facilities, many kids will not have access to healthy and nutritious meals during the pandemic. Families First acknowledges the importance of nutrition to a child’s physical and cognitive development in a few ways:


  • Childcare, pre-kindergarten, and Head Start programs that participate in CACFP can distribute “grab and go” meals to families during closures. When programs distribute meals, they must do it in a group setting.

  • States also have the ability to waive the requirement for families to enroll in-person in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and request waivers for other administrative requirements.[3]

By expanding WIC requirements and allowing programs to distribute healthy meals, the Families First Act will help ensure families are able to keep food on the table without feeling the burden of having to provide more meals during the pandemic.


Paid Leave

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Families First also provides some employees with paid leave and other supports. Additional benefits were created to support emergency workers during this time. Eighty hours (about two weeks) of job protected paid sick leave will be allocated for full-time employees. Part-time employees are also provided paid sick leave based upon the number of average hours they work over a two-week period of time. For employers with existing paid leave policies, this leave time is addition to any leave already provided. An employer cannot require their employees to use time they already accrued before using this emergency leave.[4]

To view more on the requirements and eligibility of paid sick leave please visit: Families First Fact Sheet.


Medicaid

As vulnerable children and families try to navigate health care during the crisis, many of them will experience the loss of their health insurance as their employment status changes. Families First has mandated three policy changes to direct how Medicaid can support states and these families.[4]


  • A retroactive 6.2% increase in the federal Medicaid matching rate (FMAP) which will allow additional Medicaid funding to flow into states;

  • States will now be required to cover COVID-19 testing for Medicaid and CHIP recipients free of charge (eliminating the ability for cost-sharing);

  • A new option for states to extend Medicaid coverage for testing to uninsured individuals at federal expense, but this only applies to the covering the cost of the test and not the treatment.

Most significantly, the increase in the FMAP will allow states to retroactively cover all Medicaid expenses dated back to January 1, 2020. In a world where Medicaid spending is already too low, extending funding back to January will help in covering costs in Ohio. However, there are stipulations in place to make sure families are continued to be supported during this national emergency. In order to receive this increase in funding, states are prohibited from:


  • Implementing any eligibility standards, methodologies, or procedures that are more restrictive than those in effect on January 1, 2020;

  • Imposing new or increased premiums on beneficiaries that exceed the amount in effect as of January 1, 2020;

  • Disenrolling anyone who is enrolled as of March 18 or who newly enrolls during the public health emergency period for any reason (unless the individual no longer resides in the state or voluntarily disenrolls); and,

  • Failing to cover, without cost-sharing, testing services and treatment for COVID-19.[5]


Fortunately, the freeze on disenrollment greatly benefits pregnant woman in Ohio receiving Medicaid benefits. Normally, coverage for mothers is discontinued after 60 days post-partum. Under the new rule temporary rule that prohibits disenrollment, mothers will continue to stay enrolled past the 60 day cut-off and finally be able to continue to receive the services they need and deserve. These investments made in Families First takes the first step in ensuring short-term relief for Ohio’s most vulnerable children and families. However, we know that there is more work to be done to make sure that we continue to support families during and after the pandemic is over. Groundwork will continue to monitor state and federal policies impacting young children and their families as we all work to overcome this interesting time in our lives.


Sources

[1] CLASP, "Families First Fact Sheet." (March 2020)

[2] Georgetown University Health Policy Institute Center for Children and Families, "The Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Medicaid and CHIP Provisions Explained." (March 2020)

[3] CLASP, "Ensuring Young Children Have Healthy Meals During the Coronavirus Pandemic." (March 2020)

[4] CLASP, "Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Implications for Workers Affected by COVID-19."

[5] Georgetown University Health Policy Institute Center for Children and Families, "How Would the Families First Coronavirus Response Act Help States Protect People and Public Health." (March 2020)

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