On March 20, 2020, no one could have predicted how COVID-19 was going to impact our country. But in the ensuing three years, virtually everything about our lives has felt the difference. The impacts have also been palpable across most, if not all, of the countless ways in which local, state and federal governments interact with and provide crucial support to the public; impacts that were especially pronounced as agencies and programs have faced unprecedented and sustained surges in needs and demands.
On May 11, the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) will officially end. And with it so, too, will a range of special pandemic-driven program and administrative flexibilities. Of particular note, Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) eligibility determinations will resume after nearly three years during which annual recertifications were suspended, requiring states to re-certify their entire caseload in a compressed time frame to ensure that only those eligible receive benefits. Some 91 million Americans have to re-certify their eligibility and it is estimated that as many as 15 million will lose their eligibility.
This massive effort will create a tsunami of applications and demands for support that could easily overwhelm the system, and the redetermination process itself can be daunting and complex. And it’s not just health insurance. Other vital assistance programs, from food stamps to unemployment insurance, face similar challenges. Indeed, while tens of millions of Americans could lose access to Medicaid if they do not re-certify, millions of other Americans are still waiting in line for the unemployment relief they should have received long ago, due to delays by the states to process their applications. In fact, the Department of Labor estimates that there are nearly $8 billion in unprocessed unemployment claims yet to be processed or adjudicated.
Given the scope and complexity of the challenges brought on by the end of the public health emergency, one thing is clear: meeting them responsibly and fairly requires that the necessary resources be available. That’s where Congress comes in.
Across the country, state and local governments face historic labor shortfalls that greatly exacerbate the challenge. That is why during the pandemic, special workforce flexibilities were authorized for some programs to help states deal with the massive surges in need; 41 of 50 states took advantage of them and their ability to cope with those surges was markedly better than those that did not.
Even before the end of the PHE, those flexibilities also come to an end, even as the challenges and demands of the pandemic and its aftermath remain. That’s why state officials have been adamant about the need to extend and expand those flexibilities.
And that’s why legislation will soon be introduced to do just that. Congress must pass it quickly; the end of the PHE and the pandemic flexibilities is upon us; there is no time to wait.
We know the flexibilities work. We know the need is great and the private sector can help. And we have a perfect opportunity to not only learn from, but also build upon, what works. Call your member of Congress today. Tell them to act now.
Stan Soloway is chairman of the Center for Accountability, Modernization and Innovation (CAMI) and a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration.
John Faso is a former member of Congress and a senior advisor to CAMI.