The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has received $850 million from the federal government to combat COVID-19, agency Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said Tuesday.
All of the funds were spent, are obligated, or in the process of being obligated Cohen told members of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee On Health and Human Services.
State lawmakers set aside more than $345 million for NCDHHS from the Coronavirus Relief Fund, which holds the state’s direct aid from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. North Carolina received more than $4 billion dedicated to COVID-19 response.
NCDHHS also received more than $500 million from other federal programs that were bolstered by Congress in response to the pandemic, including a $220 million award for its public health emergency efforts.
A majority of the CRF funds were allocated for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing.
The agency has set up testing sites throughout the state, with increased measures for marginalized and high-risk populations and in hot spots.
These actions cost about $125 million in total, according to NCDHHS’ finance report.
Staff and patients at long-term care facilities such as nursing homes will be continuously tested for the coronavirus.
“We do want to make sure that we are targeting our testing to where we think we’re going to find cases, and that’s how we’re trying to map our resources,” Cohen said.
Mental health services also have been a priority for NCDHHS during the pandemic. The agency is using $75 million from CRF for more staffing, mental health emergency services, group homes and increasing demand for naloxone, an overdose rehabilitation drug.
NCDHHS has used $118 million in Child Care and Development Block Grants to cover child care for essential workers, personal protective equipment and to keep facilities open.
The CARES Act funding has been used for subsidies for 20,000 children to continue child care during the pandemic, officials said. More than 25,000 teachers and staff received bonuses, and 3,800 child care programs received support with operational costs.
The federal government also increased its share of Medicaid cost, saving the state $500 million in fiscal year 2021. Still, Cohen said expanding the program to more North Carolinians would increase the state’s response efforts.
Lowering the eligibility threshold under Affordable Care Act guidance would reduce the state’s shared cost from 67 percent to 10 percent.
Sen. Jim Burgin, R-Harnett, questioned the need for Medicaid expansion with so many funds already being funneled to NCDHHS.
“I think we’ve done everything and spent money on everything and provided everything, so what would be different if Medicaid expansion had been imposed,” he said.
Cohen said the money could have shored up testing, tracing and mental health services.
“We should be reaching for all federal support at this moment in time to respond to this crisis, particularly a health crisis,” she said.