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Congress Passes The Families First Coronavirus Response Act

March 19, 2020

On March 18th, the President signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) - a legislative package that contains important provisions that could affect people living with MS. The U.S. House of Representatives passed this legislation on March 14th and the U.S. Senate passed this legislation on March 18th. Patients with chronic health conditions are uniquely vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 and the National MS Society will continue to work with Congress on future protections. 

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act included the following provisions which could impact people living with and affected by MS:
  1. Paid sick days and emergency leave for some employees who become infected or have to take care of children who are home because of school closures. 
    • Workers can receive up to 10 paid sick days to address COVID-19, or care for a family member (if they work for a business with fewer than 500 employees). 
    • Workers are now also entitled to take longer-term paid family and medical leave to care for a child whose school or place of care is closed.
    • Employers are reimbursed through a payroll tax credit, which applies to for-profit and non-profit employers.
    • Expires at the end of 2020.
  2. Expansion of no-cost coronavirus testing.
    • Requires coverage or reimbursement to labs and providers for COVID-19 diagnostic testing at no cost to that patient, regardless of health insurance type.  The legislation also makes available provider reimbursement for testing of the uninsured.
  3. Increasing federal support for Medicaid spending to ease financial strain on state budgets during this crisis so they can better address the health needs of their populations.
  4. Provides federal support via emergency grants to states to underwrite unemployment benefits in states where unemployment enrollment spikes.  (For states to be eligible for these grants, the number of unemployment compensation claims must increase by at least 10% over the same quarter in the previous calendar year).
  5. Encourages the use of telemedicine for Medicare population (more detailed information below). 
  6. Suspending work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (also known as food stamps) in order to facilitate social distancing and reflect economic realities during this crisis. 
    • It also allows states to request waivers to provide emergency benefits to existing SNAP beneficiaries up to the maximum monthly allotment ad gives the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) the ability to allow state flexibility managing SNAP caseloads. State waiver requests and responses from USDA will be available online. 
  7. Increasing protections for food security including:
    •  $400 million for The Emergency Food Assistance Program ($300 for food/$100 for storage)
    • $100 million food security assistance for territories
    • $250 million Senior Nutrition program in the Administration for Community Living (ACL)
  8. Increasing protections for child nutrition including:
    • Providing the USDA the authority to issue nationwide school meals waivers by eliminating paperwork for states and helping schools adopt and implement programs more quickly.
    • Allowing all child and adult care centers to operate as non-congregate.
    • Waiving all meal pattern requirements if there is a disruption to the food supply.
    • Allowing states to use SNAP money to give extra to families to school age children who qualify for free or reduced-priced meals (benefits equal to the value of school meals).
    • Increasing access to WIC by providing $500 million extra for the WIC program, allowing them to certify participants without being physically present at WIC clinics, and waiving stocking requirements for WIC.
  9. Providing relief to renters and homeowners. 
    • The Department of Housing and Urban Development will be suspending foreclosures and evictions for mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration until the end of April 2020. 
In addition to the new law, the Administration implemented temporary changes to improve access to telehealth, including: Stay up-to-date on the latest information on COVID-19 from the National MS Society here. We expect additional support and stimulus packages to move through Congress over the next week or two.

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease. MS affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide.

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