There’s No Time Like the Present to #UnitefortheUnderserved

While recent Congressional action has come in fits, spurts, and delays, key funding for critical programs such as the National Health Service Corps, Teaching Health Centers, and the Health Centers Program is slowly progressing. Read on to find the latest Congressional updates, learn about the ACU’s ongoing policy and advocacy work, and discover how you can take action to support the underserved.

A Funding Cliff Narrowly Avoided, Slow Progress Continues in Protecting NHSC Funding

Federal Appropriations: the nation narrowly avoided a government shutdown just in time for the change in the federal fiscal year on October 1st. Congress passed and the President signed a short-term continuing resolution (CR) that will fund the government and all federally funded programs at existing funding levels through December 11th, 2020. In addition to continued discretionary funding, the CR included mandatory funding for “health extender” programs such as the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) and the Teaching Health Center, Health Center, and Special Diabetes programs. Prior to this CR, mandatory funding for the NHSC ($310m) and all health extender programs would have expired on November 30th, sending them over a devastating funding cliff at the worst possible time.

This short-term extension will allow Congress to evaluate longer term strategy and resources coming out of the November election. The ACU continues to advocate for long-term, stable, and increased funding for the NHSC and other health extender programs. Stay tuned for updates as the appropriations process continues and be prepared to sound off in support of continued funding for all programs essential to care for the underserved.

Stimulus Funding: while negotiations on a new COVID-19 stimulus package have stalled, we’re pleased to share that the Heroes Act recently passed by the House included $1 billion in funds to support Health Workforce programs, including the NHSC and Nurse Corps. The inclusion of this funding in the $2.2 trillion House bill is a critical step forward in eventually securing supplemental funding for the NHSC via a stimulus bill: this as an important win and a testament to the power of advocacy. Now, as legislative negotiations continue, our advocacy will focus on keeping proposed NHSC funding intact (rather than adding to a package some feel is already too costly). Also of note, the Heroes Act also included $7.6 billion for Health Centers to expand capacity to provide testing, triage, and care for COVID 19 care.

While stimulus developments fluctuate daily, it is increasingly likely that additional stimulus funds will be delayed until after the election. Negotiations remain at a standstill, with the size and timeline of the funding package both fiercely contested. The ACU continues to work with Congressional champions, key committee members, and staff to advocate for immediate supplemental funding for the NHSC in any new stimulus package. Stay tuned for updates and calls to action to raise your voice in support of NHSC funding and the vital role it plays in placing clinicians in underserved communities.

Civic Engagement: Let’s Empower Our Patients & Get Out the Vote!

The November election is now less than 30 days away! As advocates for the underserved, it has never been more important than now for us to encourage our communities and patients to civically engage. Get started by asking your patients and community if they are registered to vote and have a plan to vote safely. Assisting patients with safe—and possibly early— voting plans is an easy way to empower them to have a voice in the issues that directly impact their lives. Sometimes simply “asking the question” of whether they are or would like to register to vote—and if they plan to do so—can provide an entry point to their civic engagement. Check out VotER, one of the ACU’s key civic engagement partners, for more information and resources to support voter registration. Additionally, other organizations such as the League of Women Voters and Vote 411 can further assist your efforts.

Remember: all civic engagement activities done at/by a 501c3 non-profit, as well as by its staff and representatives, must be entirely non-partisan and cannot advise patients on or endorse electoral candidates. Have questions or need assistance to support your civic engagement work? Please contact Amanda Pears Kelly.

Our Response to the HPSA RFI

In case you missed it, earlier this year the Health Resources & Services Administration released a Request for Information (RFI) regarding Health Profession Shortage Area (HPSA) scoring criteria to understand and potentially revise current HPSA designation criteria. As ACU advocates are aware, HPSA scoring significantly impacts programs like the NHSC and the ability of health centers and others caring for the underserved to leverage NHSC support. Working with members of our leadership, members, and partners, the ACU responded to the RFI with recommendations to improve scoring criteria and enable greater access to care and resources for the underserved.