The Senate’s $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package includes provisions that will have an impact on rural America.
The Senate approved the bill last night, 96-0. The House is expected to pass the bill Friday. A few political hurdles could emerge as the bill is finalized.
Specific provisions important to rural America include the following:
Funding for Rural Hospitals and Health Care Providers
Billions of dollars were included to support rural hospitals, according to the National Rural Health Association (NHRA). The Senate bill includes $150 million in rural Health Resources and Services Administration grants, temporary relief from devastating sequestration cuts, a 15 percent increase in COVID-19 Medicare Prospective Payment Systems reimbursement rates, and $1 billion for Native American tribes and Indian Health Services funding. Rural providers will also have access to a $562 million small business emergency-relief fund to keep doors open.
More than 120 rural hospitals have closed since 2010. NHRA reports that 450 additional facilities, one-quarter of rural hospitals nationally, are currently facing serious financial challenges.
The bill contains $200 million for boosting telehealth services and devices that help health care providers connect remotely with patients. Funding includes the Rural Health Care Program (part of the Federal Communications Commission). The Healthcare Connect Fund Program, established in 2012, provides support for high-capacity broadband connectivity to some health care providers and encourages the formation of state and regional broadband health care provider networks. Under the Rural Health Care Program, eligible rural health care providers receive a 65% flat discount on an array of communications services including internet access, dark fiber, business data, traditional digital service line (DSL) and private carriage services.
The bill includes $15.5 billion more for SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as “food stamps”) to cover the projected increase in applications and the costs of relief authorized in H.R. 6201, according to Food Research and Action Center (FRAC).
FRAC staff said they are disappointed by the lack of boost to SNAP during this round of stimulus legislation. The anti-hunger policy organization is calling for a 15 percent boost to the SNAP maximum benefit and an increase in the minimum monthly SNAP benefit to $30.
SNAP is important for millions of low-income rural Americans, while also providing economic benefits and job creation for the rural grocers. A dollar in SNAP generates $1.79 in additional economic activity, according to USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS).
Another recent ERS report studied the economic performance of the “economic stimulus” SNAP package passed in 2009’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s additional $40 billion in total SNAP benefits for low-income Americans from 2009 to 2013. ERS found that the increase was enough to give each recipient an extra 13% in benefits. During the peak and immediate aftermath of the Great Recession, nonmetropolitan counties gained one job for every $10,000 in increased snapped redemptions.
The bill includes nearly $24 billion for farmers and ranchers. The Commodity Credit Corporation will receive $14 billion in new borrowing authority. The Trump administration has used the agency to provide trade assistance payments to commodity producers. The package also creates a $9.5 billion emergency fund to support produce growers, dairy farmers, cattle ranchers, local food system infrastructure and farmers markets.
State, County and Local Governments
The bill would provide $150 billion for state and local government services. Eight billion dollars are set aside for local governments currently in financial crisis and barred from deficit spending because of balanced-budget laws. Rural county governments pay for services such as critical care hospitals, search and rescue, police, fire protection, county road maintenance, and construction and prisons.
Cash Payments to Individuals
All Americans with incomes under $75,000 will receive $1,200. Families will also receive $500 per child. Payments will be issued by the Treasury Department through direct deposit and physical checks in the coming weeks.