U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)
United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), along with Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Richard J. Blumenthal (D-Conn.), led a letter with 48 other lawmakers to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) urging the agency to provide additional funding to community health centers (CHCs) as they continue to work on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the letter, the lawmakers expressed concern that community health centers were largely excluded from the Provider Relief Fund (PRF) and urged the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to immediately reverse this decision and provide community health centers with the support they need as they provide services and relief to vulnerable communities during this public health crisis. The lawmakers also expressed their belief that Congress should allocate additional funds to health care providers, including community health centers, to help them stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"As the United States experiences a surge in COVID-19 cases and as the economic toll of the pandemic continues to grow, it is imperative these crucial health care providers who treat many of the most vulnerable Americans are provided funds to keep their doors open," the lawmakers wrote. "We urge you to immediately reverse your decision to exclude community health centers from the PRF and provide these institutions with additional financial support as you continue to distribute these funds."
As community health centers continue to play an outsized role in the COVID-19 pandemic, they have suffered a serious financial toll. To date, community health centers have received almost $2 billion from Congress targeted toward pandemic-related testing and treatment, but nothing has been specifically directed to community health centers from the Provider Relief Funds. Substantial declines in inpatient visits have caused significant decreases in revenue for community health centers, threatening their ability to continue to provide care. Each week, 1,500-2,000 community health center sites must close at least temporarily as a result of financial pressures related to the pandemic.
Community health centers are lynchpins of the nation's health care system and provide a wide array of services to chronically underserved areas of the country. They serve nearly 30 million patients, including over 385,000 veterans, over 8.5 million children, and 1.4 million individuals experiencing homelessness, in thousands of rural, urban, and frontier communities across the United States. Of the almost 30 million patients they treat each year, nearly 90% are low-income and 63% are racial or ethnic minorities. Community health centers provide easily-accessible and affordable services, such as dental and behavioral health care to some of the most vulnerable Americans, and also help patients access healthy and affordable foods, housing support, and transportation assistance.
The letter was also signed by Representatives, Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.), Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Susan Wild (D-Penn.), John P. Sarbanes (D-Md.), Gregory W. Meeks (N.Y.) Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Jesús G. "Chuy" García (D-Ill.), Joseph P. Kennedy, III (D-Mass.), Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.), Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.), André Carson (D-Ind.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Steven Cohen (D-Tenn.), Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.), Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.), Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.), Dina Titus (D-Nev.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.), Bill Foster (D-Ill.), Andy Kim (D-N.J.), Cedrick L. Richmond (D-La.), Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.), Gregory W. Meeks (D-N.Y.), Chris Pappas (D-N.H.), Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), Albio Sires (D-N.J.), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-Mo.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.), William R. Keating (D-Mass.), Lori Trahan (D- Mass.), Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D- N.J.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Henry C. "Hank" Johnson Jr. (D-Ga.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.), Chellie Pingree (D-Maine.), and Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (D-Ga.).
Senator Warren has consistently advocated for increased community health center funding and was a leading voice in the Senate in 2017 when Republicans allowed community health centers funding, along with other primary care programs, to expire. In May, Senator Warren wrote a letter to congressional leadership urging them to provide at least $77.3 billion for community health centers in COVID-19 stimulus packages. Senator Warren has also co-sponsored the Health Care Emergency Guarantee Act to make health care accessible to all Americans during the pandemic.