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Families First Coronavirus Response Act: what you need to know. The new bill provides paid sick leave, free coronavirus testing and more for Americans.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was signed into law on Wednesday, March 18th. It provides paid sick leave, free coronavirus testing, expands food assistance and unemployment benefits for Americans, and requires employers to provide additional protections for healthcare workers. 

The FFCRA is an important first step in addressing the strain the Coronavirus has put on American workers and their families, but it has two major blind spots.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act: What You Need to Know

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) has four main goals:

  1. Addressing the nutritional needs of Americans affected by the Coronavirus.
  2. Addressing the fiscal needs of Americans who are out of work or need to take time off of work because of the Coronavirus. 
  3. Implementing a comprehensive infectious disease exposure control plan to protect healthcare workers.
  4. Providing Coronavirus diagnostic testing at no cost to Americans.

1. Nutrition

The FFRCA provides supplemental funding for nutrition and food assistance programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and nutrition programs that assist the elderly. It also modifies food assistance programs by allowing certain waivers to requirements for school meal programs, suspending the work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program), and allowing states to request waivers to provide certain emergency SNAP benefits.

2. Unemployment and Paid Sick Leave

The FFCRA establishes a federal emergency paid leave benefits program to provide payments to employees taking unpaid leave due to the Coronavirus outbreak. It requires certain employers to provide paid sick leave to employees, expands unemployment benefits and provides grants to states for processing and paying claims.

3. Healthcare Workers

The FFCRA requires the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue an emergency temporary standard that requires certain employers to develop and implement a comprehensive infectious disease exposure control plan to protect health care workers. 

4. Coronavirus Diagnostic Testing at No Cost

The FFCRA establishes requirements for providing coronavirus diagnostic testing at no cost to Americans. It treats personal respiratory protective devices as covered countermeasures that are eligible for certain liability protections and temporarily increases the Medicaid federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP).

Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Drawbacks

Free diagnostic testing for COVID-19 for Americans is great, but there aren’t enough tests available and experts estimate widespread testing won’t be available for weeks, if not months. Until then, only those most at risk will be tested, a decision which the World Health Organization has criticized.  

Furthermore, the FFCRA fails to address the costs of treatment if a patient tests positive for the Coronavirus. People with healthcare coverage through their employer could face out-of-pocket costs exceeding $1,300 for Coronavirus testing and treatment, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Foundation Family. An uninsured woman from Boston who was recently treated for the Coronavirus received bills totaling $34,927Roughly 40 percent of Americans skip medical care they can’t afford, according to research by the Federal Reserve. What happens if someone tests positive for the Coronavirus but doesn’t proceed with treatment they can’t afford?

The FFCRA is a good first step in responding to the Coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., but we have a long way to go when it comes to containing the spread of COVID-19 and addressing the damage it’s done, the full extent of which we can’t yet grasp. 

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