Capitol Correspondence - 12.15.20

States Eye Medicaid Role in Housing as Evictions Loom During Pandemic

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While this Politico Pro article focuses on the broader eviction challenges facing the general population, we believe it is still relevant to our members given that the people with disabilities whom they support are even more likely to have difficulty finding and keeping housing than peers without disabilities.

“The looming expiration of the federal moratorium on evictions at the end of this month threatens to send tens of millions from their homes and into unstable living situations, potentially exacerbating a pandemic already in its most dangerous stretch.

Lacking federal guidance or new funds, some states are looking to Medicaid, which in recent years has been working on braiding health care and housing services, reflecting a greater understanding of how homelessness and poor housing conditions lead to poorer health. But it hasn’t been easy.

‘Whether it’s the affordable housing crisis that existed before the pandemic, or the affordable housing crisis intensified that will exist after the pandemic, it’s going to take many voices and many partners of different backgrounds coming to the table to help address this,’ said Amy Riegel, director of housing for CareSource, a managed care company largely focused on Medicaid. The Ohio-based company, which operates in five states, this summer pledged $50 million toward affordable housing construction

‘The pandemic has really been a highlight of how significant the need is,’ Riegel added.

Medicaid itself doesn’t pay for room and board. And even as CMS has afforded state Medicaid programs more flexibility to respond to the pandemic, the agency hasn’t approved requests from states like Washington and North Carolina that sought an exception during the health care crisis. However, those states and others have found different ways to shore up housing support during the pandemic

In August, North Carolina health officials launched a program providing housing and nutrition aid to people isolated or quarantined because of Covid-19. The state sees the program as building on its broader Medicaid effort to address societal factors affecting health outcomes, such as housing instability, food insecurity or toxic stress.

Health care officials in Washington state have expanded access to telehealth — a major lifeline for people wary of doctor offices during the pandemic — through an existing Medicaid program providing housing and employment support. Over 6,000 smartphones were donated to enrollees and other high-risk homeless populations across the state, while over 500 loaner laptops have been distributed to providers.


States could soon be confronting dire housing situations without new help from Washington. The temporary federal ban on evictions, issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, will expire at the month’s end, and the agency hasn’t said whether it would be extended. After months of stalled negotiations, Congress is trying to advance a coronavirus relief package that could include new housing aid and an extension of the eviction moratorium. By some estimates, 30 to 40 million Americans could be at risk of eviction without a major rescue from Washington.

In Colorado, the Medicaid agency hopes its enrollment outreach efforts will translate to more people being connected to housing services. The state has has been running a statewide campaign to make sure residents, especially those who’ve lost their jobs, are aware they may be eligible for health insurance. Tracy Johnson, the state’s Medicaid director, said people who contact her agency about health coverage can be routed to other state benefit programs.”