Congress passed the American Rescue Plan (ARP) in March, the sixth COVID-19 relief package that largely tracks President Biden’s initial $1.9 trillion proposal. The ARP extends unemployment insurance benefits and provides direct $1,400 stimulus payments to qualifying Americans, but it also makes a number of important health policy-related changes. Rural health care funding was included to help communities, hospitals, and health clinics respond to the pandemic and support local efforts to increase vaccine confidence and community uptake.
We are getting lots of questions seeking more detail on the nearly $1 billion for this rural COVID-19 response. First, the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) will be the federal agency charged with administering these funds. Second, the funds are not yet available and will be distributed through separate processes. Below are high-level overviews of these opportunities with links the HRSA program pages for each.
- HRSA‘s Small Rural Hospital Improvement Program (SHIP) for approximately 1,730 small rural hospitals – those with fewer than 50 beds – and Critical Access Hospitals on COVID-19 testing and mitigation. This is federal pass-through funding to the states. SHIP state grantees will use the funding to support all eligible rural hospitals, up to $230,000 per hospital, and is expected to be available around July 1, 2021. The period of performance is July 1, 2021 – December 31, 2022.
- For Iowa, rural hospitals have until May 28th to either accept or refuse these funds using this link: https://www.cognitoforms.com/IowaDepartmentOfPublicHealth1/SHIPAmericanRescuePlanActSupplementalFundingRequest?v2
Funded activities include testing education, establishment of alternate testing sites, test result processing, arranging for the processing of test results, and engaging in other activities within the CDC Community Mitigation Framework to address COVID-19 in rural communities. This funding may not be used to purchase, disseminate, or administer COVID-19 vaccines, but can be used for community vaccine education. Click here for a list of example activities. It should also be noted that reporting requirements accompany this funding. Electronic reporting will include the number of tests administered and the use of funds by program category. If applicable, reporting will be required for minor alteration and renovation projects as well as a tangible equipment list.
- HRSA’s Rural Health Clinic COVID-19 Testing and Mitigation Program will provide $460 million to more than 4,600 rural health clinics (RHCs) across the country. HRSA will provide up to $100,000 per RHC-certified clinic site. RHCs that have met the requirements for the RHC COVID-19 Testing Program will receive a one-time allocation automatically deposited in the bank account of the corresponding TIN organization in June 2021. RHCs will not have to apply for payments for this program.
- HRSA’s Rural Health Clinic Vaccine Confidence (RHCVC) Program will make nearly $100 million available in grants to eligible RHCs nationwide to address health equity gaps by offering support and resources to medically underserved rural communities where COVID-19 vaccine uptake lags in comparison to more populated areas. As a grant program, there will be an associated application process to receive the funds. HRSA will fund all eligible RHCs that apply.