By: Kathleen Stoll
March 10, 2022
March 11 is a day of celebration for me. No, not my birthday. For this health policy wonk, March 11 is ARPA Day. What, haven’t heard of it? Feel free to send presents all the same. West Virginians have good reason to celebrate with me.
March 11 marks one year since the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), a federal package that provided rapid response funds for COVID-19, strengthened West Virginia’s public health infrastructure and delivered stimulus payments when our communities and families were in need. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., voted for this package, stating, “This relief bill will help West Virginia rebuild after this incredibly difficult year.”
A year later, it is clear that the rescue plan was a groundbreaking investment that, among other benefits, made health insurance coverage more affordable for West Virginians.
And we know that the first difficult year of COVID-19 was followed by another, with the rise of the omicron COVID variant, and now an unjustified, cruel war initiated by Russia in the Ukraine.
The American Rescue Plan provided $4 billion in funding to West Virginia state and local governments. So far, that has included $424 million to expand home- and community-based medical services, $11.4 million to support maternal health care and respond to the opioid crisis, and $1,400 in direct cash assistance to West Virginians (the “stimulus check”) and an expanded child tax credit for families that need it most.
COVID-19 disruption to the global supply chain has caused a staggering level of inflation on basic necessities, and rescue plan funds ensured that West Virginians had more wiggle room in their budgets to make ends meet.
Even with COVID-driven inflation, in the past year about 300,000 West Virginians have been lifted out of poverty, a staggering reduction of 71% that can be directly traced to the supports delivered through the American Rescue Plan.
One of the major accomplishments of the plan was eliminating or reducing health care premiums for families across our state. For example, West Virginians enrolled in marketplace plans with family incomes of $55,000 per year saved an average of $475 per month thanks to this law, and that makes a huge difference. Without further congressional action, every West Virginian who purchases health insurance on the state marketplace will face higher premiums.
We can already see the impact of more affordable and accessible health insurance by looking at West Virginia’s historically low uninsured rate for 2021: The percentage of West Virginians without health insurance had been steadily growing, from a low of 5.3% in 2015 to a recent high of 6.7% in 2019. Thanks to rescue plan investments, we have finally seen a huge reversal of that trend, with recent data showing the lowest uninsured rate in history for our state, at only 5.1%.
ARPA also supercharged the COVID-19 vaccination and treatment efforts in our state. The day it was enacted, only 13.8% of West Virginians had been fully vaccinated. One year later, that number has more than tripled, to 56.8%, and thousands more have received a single dose but not a second yet.
One year after the American Rescue Plan, West Virginians are more financially stable, have better access to affordable care, and are more resilient against the COVID-19 pandemic than they ever have been. We have massively benefited from making smart investments in our public health infrastructure, but there is still more to do.
We are still coping with COVID-driven inflation; the war in Ukraine and the ban on importing Russian oil will further drive-up inflation. West Virginia still has a long recovery period ahead, with skyrocketing inflation, COVID-19 relief funds expiring and a coming end to the federal COVID Public Health Emergency that could remove some West Virginians from Medicaid.
Unfortunately, American Rescue Plan funds are running out in 2022.
Congress can help our West Virginia families by passing a strong budget resolution package this year that can extend and build on the most successful elements of ARPA and, thus, continue our state on the road to long-term recovery.
I hope Manchin will keep the needs of West Virginians in mind and support a package that continues ARPA’s success. The hard times are not yet over, and West Virginia families face further barriers to financial stability.
Kathleen Stoll serves as policy director for West Virginians for Affordable Health Care (wvahc.org) and operates a policy and economic consulting business, Kat Consulting.