COVID-19 Advocacy Update

HELP: MLP recently contributed to a letter, led by Community Legal Services, sent to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) on March 17, 2020 urging DHS to act on a series of requests that will protect families during this difficult time. This effort was supported by 70 statewide advocates and organizations. Some of the recommendations in the letter include that DHS:

  • Enact a moratorium on all benefit terminations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Request a waiver from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to suspend all terminations of Medical Assistance (Medicaid) for the next three months at least.
  • Instruct County Assistance Office workers to expedite Medical Assistance applications that mention COVID-19 as a reason for the application.
  • Modify verification rules by enrolling individuals based on self-attestation and seeking verification later.
  • Request a waiver to extend Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) certification periods of households whose SNAP certification periods are running out within the next three months.
  • Issue a moratorium on terminations and sanctions related to compliance with RESET or child support cooperation requirements.
  • Extend the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) season until all LIHEAP funds are expended.
  • Increase staff at customer service centers to handle a larger volume of calls.
  • Permit staff to accept self-attestation verification over the phone.

The full list of recommended actions can be read in the letter to DHS.

On March 24, 2020 DHS Secretary Teresa Miller responded the advocates’ requests. While DHS will not immediately be implementing all of the advocates’ recommendations, Secretary Miller many of the recommendations will be acted upon. Among some of the responses include:

  • Request a waiver from CMS to suspend all terminations of MA for the next three months at least, to ensure that needy Pennsylvanians have access to health insurance during this pandemic.
    • DHS will not be closing Medicaid cases except in cases that the person voluntarily withdraws, is no longer a state resident or is deceased in compliance with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
  • Instruct CAO workers to expedite any MA application that mentions COVID-19 as a reason for the MA application.
    • This will be offered through the existing expedited MA process. Individuals can note in the comment section on the COMPASS application or, on paper applications, can note in the section asking about medical conditions that affect their ability to work, the applicant’s relation to COVID-19.
  • Modify verification rules by enrolling individuals based on self-attestation and seeking verification later.
    • DHS has implemented guidance instructing caseworkers to accept self-attestation for all eligibility criteria, excluding verification of citizenship and immigration status when documentation is not available.
  • Require Community HealthChoices MCOs to suspend making any reductions or terminations of Personal Assistance Services for the next 3 months at least.
    • DHS has instructed CHC-MCOs to not make any reductions or terminations of PAS for the next three months.
  • Moratorium on LTSS reassessments by CHC-MCOs except upon participant request or triggering event.
    • DHS has implemented a moratorium on LTSS reassessments except upon participant request or triggering event.
  • Authorize Emergency Medical Assistance for diagnoses of or related to COVID-19.
    • If non-clinical eligibility criteria are met, EMA may be authorized for testing, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19.
  • Request a waiver to extend SNAP certification periods of households whose SNAP certification periods are running out in the next three months so as not to terminate SNAP for these households during this time when many cannot work.
    • This waiver has been requested and approved on 3/24. Pending implementation, we are suspending automated closures for not providing renewal documents or required semiannual reports.
  • Grant good cause for anyone who cannot or does not attend an EARN Center or other RESET activity, while many people are ill or being urged to stay home.
    • DHS has implemented guidance that clients may be granted Good Cause for inability to participate due to the current circumstances.
  • Extend the LIHEAP season until all LIHEAP funds are expended. If needed ask EAW staff to stay on longer than original contracts to accommodate an extended season.
    • DHS is currently evaluating the best possible way to support the needs of the LIHEAP eligible population with the limited federal funds available.
  • Reduce verification demands: Accept self-attestation for verification wherever possible to avoid office visits and transfer of documents between people and extend verification deadlines to enable more time for returning documents.
    • DHS is implementing policy guidance to accomplish this. No benefit cases will be closed due to a failure to provide verification.
  • Suspend all appeal deadlines for at least two month.
    • DHS will issue guidance to delay all hearings and extend the appeal deadline for an additional 60 days. All hearings are being set telephonically.

The full list of responses can be read in the Secretary’s letter to advocates. HELP: MLP will continue to work with advocates, partners, and agencies throughout the coming months to support families’ during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.

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