Senator pushes to have Public Health and Social Services Emergency Funds target rural areas to bolster testing, contact tracing, containment, and mitigation efforts 

U.S. SENATE – U.S. Senator Jon Tester led a bipartisan group of Senators in calling on the Biden Administration to quickly distribute funding from the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund to rural communities that have been hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Tester worked to set aside $2.5 billion in the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund during negotiations of the recent year-end spending package in order to support testing, contact tracing, surveillance, containment and mitigation to monitor and suppress coronavirus. Tester’s bipartisan letter to Acting U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Norris Cochran urges for the prioritization of rural areas as this funding moves out the door.

“In recognition of the unique challenges faced by high-risk, rural, and underserved areas, and the fact that current population-based formula funding may not factor in these circumstances, Congress set aside $2.5 billion provided in the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund for ‘high-risk and underserved populations and rural communities’ to be allocated in a targeted manner,” wrote Tester and his colleagues. “…With the very concerning trends in rural America, additional resources are needed to ensure that health providers and health departments have the funding necessary to address the COVID-19 pandemic. This Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund set-aside should be distributed to support rural and underserved communities across the United States as quickly as possible.”

Rural communities are currently facing some of the highest rates of COVID-19. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, the share of non-metro area coronavirus cases has increased from 3.6 percent on April 1 to 15.6 percent on December 7. Additionally, rural communities are home to a greater percentage of older Americans with 17.5 percent of the rural population being 65 years or older.

Tester was joined by a bipartisan group of Senators in his letter, including Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), and Angus King (I-Maine).

Since last March, Tester has worked diligently to secure resources for Montana’s rural and frontier communities to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, he met with President Biden in the Oval Office to push for swift vaccine distribution for Montana veterans, and he pushed former President Trump to provide smaller-population states with supplementary funding to bolster vaccination efforts, contact tracing, and testing. He also recently secured nearly $12 million in pandemic relief funds for Montana health care providers.

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