The federal COVID 19 Public Health Emergency declared in early March 2020 was announced to have formally ended in May 2023. What is critical for families and individuals who have received specialized COVID-19 benefits or who participate in programs that adjusted their operational rules because of the pandemic, is that three things are happening, all at the same time.
First, in some instances programs will continue operating with no specific actions that need to be taken by program participants or program operators.
Second, some program modifications have already ended and the program has reverted to its form prior to March 2020.
Third, some program modifications have become permanent or will revert to pre-March 2020 standards on a rolling schedule through the rest of 2023.
What follows are examples of these three consequences, key programs impacted and what program participants and beneficiaries may do to lessen any negative impacts to their households.
KEY PROGRAMS impacted by the end of the PHE.
CalFresh and food access programs: The monthly CalFresh Emergency Allotment program ended in May 2023. Recipient households should consider doing a new recertification of their household’s eligibility for CalFresh benefits. Focus on changes in household size; household income, housing expenses especially energy and utility costs; medical expenses if you are over 60 or have a disability; dependent and childcare costs.
CalFresh rules for college and trade school students are shifting resulting in the end of some exemptions for adult students, This information is available in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Cantonese, Armenian and some other languages at https://www.cdss.ca.gov/calfreshcovid19#:~:text=IMPORTANT!,the%20CalFresh%20COVID%2D19%20flexibilities.
Pre-school, elementary and high school students who are part of CalFresh households or who were eligible for free or reduced-price school meals as of September 2019 should have received Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) benefits which were provided as a replacement for access to school-based feeding programs. P-EBT in California was administered through the state Department of Social Services. All funds must be expended (disbursed) by September 30, 2023. Information about accessing unreceived funds will be discussed in the June Newsletter.
Health Care Programs. As of March 2020, the federal government directed states not to discontinue Medi-Caid coverage for the duration of the PHE. This in effect allowed households to continue receiving Medi-Caid coverage even though they had not participated in a recertification or may have been financially ineligible for coverage. This program modification protected older workers, persons with pending disability claims and children. Congress directed states to create plans for unwinding Medi-Caid eligibility in December 2022.
With this head start, the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) has initiated an aggressive public information/education campaign using all media platforms informing Medi-Caid recipients about the rewind process. This effort is welcome and will encourage prompt response to recertification requests which are especially needed considering staffing issues at county welfare offices (discussed) above.
The state has created a Tool Kit to keep Medi-Cal beneficiaries covered if not by Medi-Cal, then some other health care resource including Covered California. See https://www.cdss.ca.gov/calfreshcovid19#:~:text=IMPORTANT!,the%20CalFresh%20COVID%2D19%20flexibilities.
Nota Bene: General considerations. COVID 19 has not been eradicated. You can still get sick. People are still dying. You should continue to take all health-related safety precautions:
— wash your hands frequently including using hand sanitizers
— cover your mouth if you are sneezing or coughing
— if you are feeling sick and especially if you are feverish, stay home and avoid contact with other people until you have seen a qualified medical care provider, taken a COVID test and been advised that you do not have COVID or that you are not sick and contagious.
— carry a disposable mask as there are some environments, for example medical offices, that may require you to use these types of barrier protections.
Availability and accessibility issues. While most public agencies and offices are now open, all may not be providing the same level of accessibility as existed prior to the PHE. Also, many public agencies lost staff during COVID 19 because of retirements and shifts in workloads and scheduling. Patience is greatly appreciated as your case worker may not only be new to you, but also to the agency staff, program being administered or service being provided. Agencies statewide are reporting staff reductions and vacancies that can only be replaced by recruiting, hiring and training qualified new employees.
Keep us posted. CCWRO would like to know about your experiences with the unwind of food and health care services that were enhanced or otherwise adjusted to benefit program participants during the COVID-19 crisis. E-mail us with your comments.