On July 22, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced it will be disbursing more than $1.6 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funding to support testing and mitigation measures in high-risk congregate settings, with the goal of preventing the spread of COVID-19 and halting potential outbreaks. This investment is a part of the Biden Administration’s National Testing strategy, a subset of the National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness.
The funding would be used to detect, diagnose, trace, and monitor infections and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in congregate settings, which house people in close proximity, making social distancing and other mitigation protocols particularly challenging. Congregate facilities such as homeless shelters, treatment and recovery facilities, domestic violence shelters, and jails are often county-owned and operated and continue to be at the highest risk for COVID-19 infections and outbreaks across the country.
The funding will primarily be distributed through block grants and existing formulary grant mechanisms across several HHS and other federal agencies. Distribution allocations are summarized below:
- $100 million for Mental Health and Substance Use Providers: This funding will be made available through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and will provide supplemental funding to both the substance abuse prevention and treatment (SAPT) and community mental health services block grant (MHBG) state grantees for rapid onsite COVID-19 testing and for facilitating access to testing services. The funds can be used to provide behavioral health services to staff and other members of the COVID-related workforce, for training and technical assistance on implementing rapid onsite COVID-19 testing, supporting mobile health units (particularly in medically underserved areas) and expanding local workforce programs to integrate COVID-19 response efforts with behavioral health services. As a note, counties are not direct recipients of SAPT or MHBG grants and will have to receive a sub-allocation from the state.
- $80 million for Homeless Shelters, Group Homes and Encampments: This funding will be made available through HHS, in partnership with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). State and some large county health departments will be the primary recipient of these awards and will use this funding to hire workers to coordinate resources, develop strategies and support existing community partners to prevent infectious disease transmission in these settings. State health departments will also use this funding to procure COVID-19 tests and other mitigation supplies such as handwashing stations, hand sanitizer and masks for people experiencing homelessness and for those living in congregate settings.
- Funding for Federal, State and Local Prison Populations: Approximately $169 million in funding will be made available through HHS, in partnership with the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Federal Bureau of Prisons and will support routine testing and surveillance for outbreak and non-outbreak situations based on public health recommendations. This funding will also be used to support ongoing vaccination efforts and pandemic-related hospital costs. HHS also announced that CDC, in partnership with DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs, is distributing $700 million to 64 state and local jurisdictions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in confinement facilities, including prisons, jails, and juvenile confinement facilities. These funds will allow facilities to implement COVID-19 diagnostic and screening programs as well as other infection control practices for inmates, detainees, staff and visitors.
- $550 million to Local Domestic Violence Shelters for Survivors of Domestic and Dating Violence: This funding will be made available through the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and will be administered through the Family Violence Prevention and Services Program (FVPSA). The funding can be used to support state and tribal programs for detecting, diagnosing, and mitigating infections for adults, children, and youth experiencing domestic violence and dating violence. This funding will also support cultural competency training and technical assistance for implementing rapid onsite COVID-19 testing and facilitating access to mobile health unit services for adult and youth victims of family violence, domestic violence, or dating violence and their dependents. The FVPSA administers formula grants to states and territories, who then sub-allocate funding to local public, private, non-profit and faith-based organizations.
NACo will continue to monitor and report on these and other related funding releases of relevance to counties for programs authorized under the American Rescue Plan Act.