Amid Coronavirus Surge: Merkley, Wyden, Bipartisan Colleagues Press Department of Health and Human Services to Speed Up Distribution of Critical Funds

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden are working alongside a bipartisan group of 40 senators in pressing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to distribute funds remaining in the Provider Relief Fund (PRF) and other health care programs, in order to assist communities—particularly those in rural areas with fewer resources—in the fight against the latest COVID-19 surge.

“Regrettably, the PRF funding distribution process has been uneven. Shifting guidance, difficulties in reconciling tax information, the absence of a formal appeals process, and other technical problems have plagued the program,” the senators wrote in their letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “Some providers are still waiting for funding from PRF distributions that were announced last year. Furthermore, plans for additional PRF distributions have been opaque. Financial losses occurring between the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 have not been adequately considered. In addition, some provider types, such as senior care facilities, have been underrepresented in previous rounds of funding.”

“On July 19, the Government Accountability Office reported that about 25 percent of Provider Relief Fund appropriations and all of the rural provider funding remained unobligated as of May 31, 2021. GAO found that ‘the most current spend plans generally do not include time frames for obligating the remaining funds, which is useful information for oversight and informing future funding decisions by Congress.’ GAO recommended that HHS communicate information about, and facilitate oversight of, the department’s use of COVID-19 relief funds by providing projected time frames for its planned distributions in the spend plans it submits to Congress,” they continued.

The letter comes as parts of Oregon have run out of intensive care beds.

“As Oregon’s health care system struggles under the weight of the delta outbreak, these dollars will help hospitals as they work to provide the best patient care to all who count on them,” said Becky Hultberg, President and CEO of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems (OAHHS). “We encourage the quick release of these funds and ask that they come with maximum flexibility to have the biggest possible impact.”

In addition to Merkley and Wyden, the letter was co-signed by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Susan Collins (R-ME), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Thomas Carper (D-DE), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Jon Tester (D-MT), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Tina Smith (D-MN), Thom Tillis (R-NC), John Boozman (R-AR), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Rob Portman (R-OH), Christopher Coons (D-DE), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Bill Hagerty (R-TN), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Todd Young (R-IN), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), John Hoeven (R-ND), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Angus King (I-ME), John Barrasso (R-WY), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Steve Daines (R-MT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), James Lankford (R-OK), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), John Cornyn (R-TX), Tommy Tuberville (R-AL),  Robert Casey (D-PA), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Bernard Sanders (I-VT).

Full text of the letter is available here and follows below.