COVID-19: HHS Funds Allocated to Support Disproportionately Affected Communities

What the GAO found

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has provided $75 billion in pandemic relief funding from its Public Health and Human Services Emergency Fund to four agencies: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Health Resources and Services Administration, Indian Health Service, and Office of Minority Health. CDC received more than half of the funding. The GAO found that these agencies directed $29 billion (more than 35%) of this funding to programs specifically supporting communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Additionally, the agencies have allocated $33 billion to programs with a recommendation that recipients — often state health departments — support those communities with the funds.

Allocations of Funds Selected by HHS Agencies to Programs Supporting Communities Disproportionately Affected by COVID-19

Note: Amounts do not total $75 billion in pandemic relief funding due to rounding.
aHHS officials told GAO that many recipients chose to support disproportionately affected communities with these funds.

States had discretion to target the allocation and use of federal relief funds provided through various CDC programs. Five select states that the GAO reviewed have allocated select CDC funds to support a range of COVID-19 testing, vaccination, and other response efforts in disproportionately affected communities. However, state officials have reported difficulties doing so — challenges that CDC officials said many other states face:

  • Delays in state acceptance of federal funds. Health departments in three selected states waited between 3 and 9 months for the state to accept certain CDC funds.
  • Capacity challenges. Consistent with findings from other GAO work, all five selected states reported hiring and workload challenges, as well as challenges due to limited capacity of local partners, which limited their efforts to allocate and utilize CDC funds.

Why GAO Did This Study

Between March 2020 and March 2021, six pandemic relief acts have earmarked billions of dollars for the HHS Public Health and Human Services Emergency Fund. This fund is used for HHS emergency preparedness and response activities, including addressing health effects disproportionately felt in certain communities.

The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing COVID-19 monitoring and surveillance efforts. GAO has also been asked to review how HHS has allocated pandemic relief funds to support communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. This report describes (1) how much four HHS agencies have allocated to support communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19; and (2) how a sample of states allocated select CDC funds to support disproportionately affected communities.

The GAO reviewed agency data and documentation and interviewed officials from all four HHS agencies. The GAO also reviewed documentation and interviewed health department officials from five states. The states – Arizona, Louisiana, Michigan, New Hampshire and Washington – were selected to reflect geographic variations and racial and ethnic populations, among other characteristics.

HHS provided technical comments on a draft of this report, which have been incorporated where appropriate.

For more information, contact Carolyn L. Yocom at (202) 512-7114 or [email protected]

COVID-19: HHS Funds Allocated to Support Disproportionately Affected Communities

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