May 13, 2020

“CARES” – New legislation to fund RWCA providers in the pandemic

Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program (RWHAP) providers are looking forward to May 15, when they will receive grant awards from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) enabling them to “prevent, prepare and respond” to COVID 19 as it affects RWHAP clients. In late March, Congress allocated $90 million to be distributed to 581 RWCA grantees through the passage of the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act or CARES (Public Law 116-136).  CARES is designed to enable RWCAP providers to pay for their sudden and heavy COVID-related expenses. The grant allows reimbursement of related expenses to be dated back to January 20, as well as throughout the rest of the year.

CARES enables HIV health care services and providers to cope with the costs incurred by the combination of COVID-19 risk and HIV. It addresses a broad array of costs, including technical assistance and workforce training for RWCA personnel on COVID, overtime pay, expanded operating hours and adapting systems to provide safe home-based meals and transportation assistance that meet social distancing requirements.

While DHHS clearly specifies that “all RWHAP COVID-19 awards must be used for services, activities and supplies needed to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on RWHAP clients,” there are still questions as to what will or will not be covered by the Act. DHHS’ “Frequently Asked Questions #CARES” document addresses many of these.

Some states are seeing this emergency funding as a much-needed windfall — not only due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also as a response to the long-term, chronic underfunding they have endured. In 2018, for example, New Mexico’s RWHAP services were provided to only 2100 out of the 3500 eligible state residents living with HIV. Further, 10.5% of the state’s residents have no health insurance at all. U.S. Senator Tom Udal (D-NM), in a recent press conference  said, “I will continue to fight for New Mexicans in subsequent coronavirus funding packages to increase support for critical programs like Ryan White funds that are vital to the health and well-being of our families and communities.”

Almost 2000 miles away, New Jersey Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) voiced similar sentiments. “This funding will ensure our friends, neighbors and loved ones living with HIV/AIDS get the treatment and services they need to survive during this pandemic,” said Senator Menendez. Senator Booker added, “It’s more important than ever that we protect the most vulnerable among us as we continue to battle this public health crisis.”

The Academy has continuously advocated for federal investment and policies to ensure that people with HIV not only have uninterrupted access to their medication, but also the basic ancillary services necessary for optimal health. The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program epitomizes a best practices model of care and it has been critical to the success of lowering the infection rate across the country, while helping people with HIV maintain viral suppression.

With 45% of our Academy membership practicing in Ryan White care settings or receiving funding, we will continue to advocate for the Program’s full funding, including funding for ADAP programs across the country (which are funded through Part B of the RWHAP).

CARES is one just one positive step towards protecting people with HIV during the pandemic, while also supporting those providers that care for them.

View the latest Policy Update here.