Update on the Health Center Funding Cliff
We are less than three weeks away from the November 21 deadline for Congress to reauthorize funding for critical health center programs. Congress averted a government shutdown by passing a continuing resolution that President Trump signed on September 27. The short-term spending bill also included a two-month funding extension for the Community Health Center Fund, the National Health Service Corps, and the Teaching Health Centers Program. Although this provides a temporary respite, health centers are still facing the prospect of another funding cliff if Congress doesn't take action before November 21.
How did we get here?
Community health centers receive federal funding through both mandatory funding, via the Community Health Center Fund, and discretionary funding, which has to be appropriated by Congress each year. In 2019, mandatory funding totaled $4.0 billion, while discretionary funding reached $1.63 billion. The Community Health Center Fund was last reauthorized in February 2018 and was set to expire on September 30, which marked the end of the 2019 fiscal year. The annual health center appropriation was also set to expire at the end of the fiscal year, which set health centers up for another funding cliff.
When Congress passed the continuing resolution, it decided to take the additional step of providing extenders for key health center programs. However, Congress still needs to pass legislation that would provide long-term, stable funding for health centers. Legislation to provide multi-year funding for health center programs passed out of committee in both the House and Senate, but has yet to make it before the full House or Senate for a vote. The house bill, H.R. 2328, would provide four years of level funding for the Community Health Center Fund, the National Health Service Corps, and the Teaching Health Centers. The Senate version, S. 1895, would provide five years of level funding.The legislation has been bogged down by other provisions that are unrelated to health center funding, which Congress continues to debate.
What happens next?
With so few legislative days left before November 21, the pressure is on Congress to develop a solution that keeps the government open and health centers funded beyond the next couple of months. It appears that Congress may attempt to pass another continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown, but it's too premature to know whether a health center programs funding extension will be included in the next short-term spending bill. Until then, health centers still need you to take action and let your Members of Congress know why they should invest in the future of health centers.