Community health centers brace for cutbacks as they await funding extension from Congress

Community health centers are tightening their belts over uncertainty about future federal funding. 

Legislation that authorizes funding for these centers expired on Sept. 30, and while a bill that would extend funding for two years has passed in the House, there has been limited movement on the issue in the Senate. The Community Health Center Fund amounts to nearly 70% of federal funding for these centers. 

Uncertainty about the future has led some health centers to institute hiring freezes and others have had trouble recruiting and retaining employees, according to an article from The Hill. 

"The uncertainty is so challenging for our members," Rose Duhan, CEO of the Community Health Care Association of New York State, told the publication. "Not having the certainty of what's going to happen less than a month from now is just very difficult to do any type of planning." 

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A quarter of community health centers have new grant periods that begin on Jan. 1, and 17% have grant periods that begin on Feb. 1, according to the article.

Community health centers have bipartisan support even though action on a funding bill has been slow. They serve about 27 million of the most vulnerable Americans in more than 9,500 locations and are the main source of primary care for many people in underserved areas. 

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If Congress isn't able to reach a deal to extend the fund, about 2,800 centers could close and 50,000 people would lose their jobs, said Shelly Ten Napel, CEO of the Community HealthCare Association of the Dakotas, in a column for InForum. 

"Health centers need action now. Our patients need action now. We can no longer afford the mounting uncertainty created by this funding cliff," Ten Napel said. "We need predictable funding to be able to recruit providers, secure bank loans, plan for future growth and continue to provide quality, affordable care to all Dakotans." 

California in particular could be hurt by Congress's inaction, according to an article from Southern California Public Radio, and poor residents will bear the brunt of the costs. The state is home to more than 1,200 clinics that treated 6.2 million patients last year. 

"This is a massive cut that will impact every health center in communities across California," Carmela Castellano-Garcia, CEO of the California Primary Care Association, told the publication.