Testimony of Kate Coventry, Senior Policy Analyst at the Public Oversight Hearing on An Equitable End to Safety Net Protections Put in Place During the COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery, DC Council Special Committee on COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery

Co-Chairpersons Allen and White and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Kate Coventry, and I am a senior policy analyst at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. DCFPI is a nonprofit organization that promotes budget choices to reduce economic and racial inequality and build widespread prosperity in the District of Columbia through independent research and thoughtful policy recommendations.

My written testimony includes recommendations on the eviction moratorium, STAY DC, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Interim Disability Assistance, homelessness, and American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding. But for my verbal testimony, I am going to focus on how the District should:

  • ensure DC Healthcare Alliance enrollment and recertification processes are simple and fair by continuing to waive the in-person interview requirement, and removing the 6-month recertification requirement; and,
  • expand non-congregate shelter using federal funding.

The District Should Ensure DC Alliance Enrollment and Recertification Are As Easy As Possible

The DC Healthcare Alliance should have low-barrier application and recertification requirements. This program provides critical health care coverage to residents with low incomes who do not qualify for Medicaid, most of whom are immigrants. The District should be doing all it can to ensure that as many residents as possible have access to insurance and that access is as easy as possible.

Given their shared purpose, the DC Healthcare Alliance and Medicaid program should have identical, low-barrier application and recertification requirements. But the DC Healthcare Alliance requires participants to recertify every 6 months and normally does not allow participants to do this online, while Medicaid only requires annual recertification and allows participants to do so online. This inequitable practice leads to high turnover in the Alliance as residents often join the program but then drop off due to the time-intensive recertification requirements. This churn increases health program costs for DC because it limits access to preventive care, which means participants often are sicker when they re-enroll, and because older and sicker residents are most willing to go through the extra hurdles for maintaining coverage. Healthcare Alliance costs have doubled in four years, even though participation has not grown.[1] Following DCFPI’s recommendations could save the District millions in the long run.

We should not erect higher barriers just because a resident is undocumented or very low income—DC is a welcoming city, and our policies should reflect that value. The District waived the in-person interview requirement for the Alliance during the public health emergency. DC needs to make this improvement permanent and move to annual recertification to reflect our DC values.

The District Should Offer Non-Congregate Shelter to All Who Are At High Risk of COVID

The District should expand Pandemic Emergency Program for Medically Vulnerable People (PEP-V) motel sites to serve all those deemed high risk for COVID-19. These sites act as non-congregate shelter to reduce exposure to COVID-19. The District has discontinued the PEP-V waitlist so it is hard to know the precis need. But after the recent expansion to another motel site, 456 individuals had been referred to PEP-V and have not been placed despite Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that communities provide non-congregate shelter to those “who are at increased risk of severe COVID-19.”[2] Given that he Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay 96 percent of the costs associated with PEP-V sites through September 30th,[3] the District should be able to expand to additional sites with little or no cost.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify, and I’m happy to answer any questions.

[1] Ed Lazere, “No Way to Run a Healthcare Program: DC’s Access Barriers for Immigrants Contribute to Poor Outcomes and Higher Costs,” DC Fiscal Policy Institute, revised March 17, 2019.

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Interim Guidance for Homeless Service Providers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19),” Updated May 17, 2021.

[3] Athiyah Azeem and Kate Santaliz, “Councilmember considers buying hotels to support PEP-V shelter and convert them to housing,” Street Sense, March 11, 2011.