Rural Health Information Hub Latest News

Updated: Pennsylvania has the 5th Smallest Increase in Unemployment Claims Due to Coronavirus – WalletHub Study

With nearly 39 million Americans now jobless as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic but many people actually making more money while unemployed, WalletHub today released updated rankings for the States Hit Most by Unemployment Claims, along with accompanying videos.

To identify which states’ workforces have been hurt the most by COVID-19, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia based on increases in unemployment claims. We used this data to rank the most impacted states in both the latest week for which we have data (May 11) and overall since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis (March 16). Below, you can see highlights from the report, along with a WalletHub Q&A. To see the states most impacted since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.

Increase in Pennsylvania Unemployment Claims Due to Coronavirus (1=Worst, 25=Avg.):

  • 437.16% Increase in Unemployment Claims (May 2020 vs May 2019)
    • 64,078 the week of May 11, 2020 vs 11,929 the week of May 13, 2019
    • 4th lowest increase in the U.S.
  • 134.74% Increase in the Number of Unemployment Claims (May 2020 vs January 2020)
    • 64,078 the week of May 11, 2020 vs 27,298 the week of January 1, 2020
    • 5th lowest increase in the U.S.
  • 1,775.53% Increase in Unemployment Claims Since Pandemic Started
    • 1,849,337 between the week of March 16, 2020 and the week of May 11, 2020 vs 104,157 between the week of March 18, 2019 and the week of May 13, 2019
    • 18th lowest increase in the U.S.

To view the full report and your state’s rank, please visit:

CMS News and Events Update: Thursday, May 21, 2020



MLN Matters® Articles


HRSA Study Sets Baseline for Health Outcomes and Behaviors in the Middle Childhood Population

A paper published in Pediatrics by researchers in HRSA’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau provides a broad new profile of health outcomes and behaviors in the middle childhood population. Middle childhood refers to ages 6 through 11. Using data from the combined 2016 and 2017 National Survey of Children’s Health, the researchers examined sociodemographic, health status, family, and neighborhood characteristics of 21,539 U.S. children in this age range.

Overall, most children were in excellent or very good physical health, and over 20 percent were considered to have special health care needs. Researchers found the prevalence of diagnosed anxiety problems increased as children got older. Also, as children age, the proportion of children obtaining the recommended amount of sleep per night decreased while the amount of reported screen time with television or devices among children increased. Finally, less than one-third of children engaged in the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity, with even fewer females participating in daily physical activity as they got older. These findings suggest opportunities for targeted interventions and public health strategies at earlier ages.

View the video and text abstracts in Pediatrics.

StoryMap Project Shines Light on Pennsylvania’s Vulnerable Communities

Penn State Project aimed at strengthening communities in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic

Lancaster downtown

The coronavirus pandemic has revealed the vulnerability of social and economic upheaval. But what factors make certain communities especially vulnerable during this and future crises? And how can policymakers and community groups understand and mitigate these vulnerabilities, while helping communities emerge from such adversity stronger than before?

Researchers in the Center for Economic and Community Development in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, in partnership with Penn State Extension‘s Energy, Business, and Community Vitality Unit, have developed an online tool they hope will facilitate engagement and help community leaders formulate answers to these and other questions.

Vulnerable Pennsylvanians in the Context of a Pandemic” is a project based on the ArcGIS StoryMap platform. Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Agriculture, the site enables the user to click on interactive maps to learn about the prevalence of 12 vulnerability risk factors at the county and, in many cases, census-tract level. Accompanying the maps are narrative text and several questions designed to stimulate thought and discussion.

“As we were thinking about meaningful research we could do to help communities and decision-makers in this pandemic, we thought about vulnerable populations in Pennsylvania,” said Cristy Halerz Schmidt, applied research educator in the Center for Economic and Community Development. “We wanted to identify some of the social and economic factors that could make people more vulnerable to risk, and how these factors might affect their ability to recover from unexpected events.”

The result was a series of interactive maps with data related to conditions that existed before the COVID-19 pandemic. The maps illustrate — and allow users to drill down on — the following vulnerability risk factors: poverty, housing-cost burden, broadband and internet access, race and ethnicity, school enrollment, healthcare coverage, language barriers, disability status, food insecurity, population 65 and over, transportation, and sources of income.

Based on these factors, the researchers developed information and discussion questions to guide thinking about how, why and where the pandemic and resulting disruptions could affect local populations.

“We hope the discussion questions can help community members better understand their neighborhoods or counties as they seek solutions or plan for impacts,” said Schmidt, who pointed out that many of the vulnerability risk factors incorporated in the tool have been the subject of local and national discussion and news coverage as the pandemic’s impact became more clear.

The narratives and questions can serve as a facilitation tool, noted Alyssa Gurklis, program and project coordinator in the Center for Economic and Community Development. “For example, community leaders can use the maps and text to guide discussion and help people sift through the information,” she said.

“As the pandemic progresses, the maps can be useful in assessing the specific needs of a community and provide a basis for evaluating whether policies and programs are working or whether there needs to be a different approach to issues,” Gurklis added. “This resource can assist decision-makers in navigating those questions.”

Although the project grew out of the coronavirus pandemic, it has a longer-range value, according to Theodore Alter, professor of agricultural, environmental and regional economics and co-director of the Center for Economic and Community Development.

“The pandemic obviously is having really serious impacts across our communities,” Alter said. “Folks are suffering, and there’s going to be a shortfall in revenue that’s going to impact public services. But as citizens, as members of civic and nonprofit organizations, as members of the public and private sectors, we can use this as an opportunity to think about not only what we need to do now to help move families through this crisis, but also to think about what we want our communities to be like in the future.”

The discussion that the StoryMap tool can help stimulate, he explained, may lead to approaches to address chronic issues affecting communities, leaving them more prepared to face future challenges.

“Civil dialogue around our differences and vulnerabilities provides the greatest opportunity for co-creativity and co-innovation,” Alter said. “If I were an extension educator, a community leader, a business owner, a municipal official, a pastor, a head of a mental health organization, I would use this vulnerabilities StoryMap to look in-depth at my community, and then bring people together to talk about the questions we posed and others — use it as a catalyst for figuring out how we want to go forward.

“The conversation should be about more than just how we can mitigate the vulnerabilities, but also how we actually can get stronger in the face of this pandemic so that in the future, we’re better prepared for the next crisis that comes along,” he said. “How can we improve and strengthen what we do and how we do it? It’s not about returning to equilibrium, but about getting stronger, getting better, getting different, because the world is going to be different.”

**CORRECTION** USDA Announces Details of Direct Assistance to Farmers through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced details of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), which will provide up to $16 billion in direct payments to deliver relief to America’s farmers and ranchers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Farmers and ranchers will receive direct support, drawn from two possible funding sources. The first source of funding is $9.5 billion in appropriated funding provided in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Stability (CARES) Act to compensate farmers for losses due to price declines that occurred between mid-January 2020, and mid-April 2020 and provides support for specialty crops for product that had been shipped from the farm between the same time period but subsequently spoiled due to loss of marketing channels. The second funding source uses the Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act to compensate producers for $6.5 billion in losses due to on-going market disruptions.

To learn how to apply, please visit the following link.

USDA, FDA Strengthen U.S. Food Supply Chain Protections

As the COVID-19 pandemic response continues, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have been working around the clock on many fronts to support the U.S. food and agriculture sector so that Americans continue to have access to a safe and robust food supply. As a next step in carrying out Executive Order 13917, the USDA and FDA today announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to help prevent interruptions at FDA-regulated food facilities, including fruit and vegetable processing.

Resources and Links for USDA Direct Payments

  • For the final rule, which includes the list of commodities for which USDA already has data, please CLICK HERE.
  • For the notice of funding availability, which outlines the application process for commodities not listed in the rule, please CLICK HERE.
    • Note: This is the document most relevant for nursery operations and inland aquaculture.

For general information about the CFAP direct payments, please CLICK HERE.

Pennsylvania Governor’s Administration Receives Approval to Launch Online Grocery Purchasing for SNAP Recipients During COVID-19 Crisis

Pennsylvania Governor Wolf’s Administration received approval from the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow Pennsylvania to join the pilot program that lets recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, purchase groceries online through participating retailers.

Once active, only eligible food items normally paid for by SNAP will be able to be purchased online with SNAP benefits; delivery fees, driver tips, and other associated charges may not be paid for with SNAP benefits. Due to the expedited timeframe to implement, this initiative does not include the ability to transact Cash Assistance benefits using the EBT card.  Therefore, individuals will need to use another method of payment to cover the non-allowable fees such as a pre-paid debit card. The pilot program currently includes three approved retailers: Amazon, Walmart, and ShopRite. Retailers that are interested in participating must contact FNS to review the requirements to be added to the program.

Retailers that do not wish to join the pilot program can still offer delivery or pick-up flexibility options for SNAP recipients by using mobile EBT processing equipment that would allow customers to pay with SNAP when groceries are delivered or picked up. Farmers markets may be able to receive this processing equipment at no cost through a grant opportunity provided by DHS.

HHS Provides $225 Million for COVID-19 Testing in Rural Communities

On May 20, 2020, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) provided $225 million to Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) for COVID-19 testing.  These investments will support over 4,500 RHCs across the country to support COVID-19 testing efforts and expand access to testing in rural communities. Rural Health Clinics are a special designation given to health care practices in underserved rural areas by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that help ensure access to care for rural residents.

This funding is through the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act that President Trump signed into law on Friday, April 24, 2020 which specifically directed these monies to be allocated to RHCs. HRSA funded RHC organizations based on the number of certified clinic sites they operate, providing nearly $50,000 per clinic site.

“Today’s funding provides rural health clinics with resources and flexibility to boost their testing capabilities to fight COVID-19,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “Further expanding testing capacity, including at RHCs, is a crucial element of safely reopening our country and helping Americans return to work and school. A safe reopening is vital for Americans’ health and well-being, and especially so for those living in rural areas, who may have struggled with access to healthcare long before COVID-19 and found care even harder to access during this crisis.”

HRSA is also awarding $500,000 to support technical assistance efforts to the RHCs as they expand testing capabilities.  This includes activities such as conducting webinars, providing resources and guidance for implementation and management of testing programs.

To view a state-by-state breakdown of this funding, visit:…

Got Medicare? Get a No-cost Test for COVID-19

By Seema Verma

Administrator, U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

If you have Medicare and want to be tested for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the Trump Administration has good news.

Medicare covers tests with no out-of-pocket costs. You can get tested in your home, doctor’s office, a local pharmacy or hospital, a nursing home, or a drive-through site. Medicare does not require a doctor’s order for you to get tested.

Testing is particularly important for older people and nursing home residents, who are often among the most vulnerable to COVID-19. Widespread access to testing is a critical precursor to a safe, gradual reopening of America.

When a vaccine for COVID-19 is developed, Medicare will cover that, too.

For Medicare beneficiaries who are homebound and can’t travel, Medicare will pay for a trained laboratory technician to come to your home or residential nursing home to collect a test sample. (This doesn’t apply to people in a skilled nursing facility on a short-term stay under Medicare Part A, as the costs for this test, including sample collection, are already covered as part of the stay.)

If you receive Medicare home health services, your home health nurse can collect a sample during a visit. Nurses working for rural health clinics and federally qualified health clinics also can collect samples in beneficiaries’ homes under certain conditions.

Or you can go to a “parking lot” test site set up by a pharmacy, hospital, or other entity in your community.

We’re doing similar things in the Medicaid program, giving states flexibility to cover parking-lot tests as well as tests in beneficiaries’ homes and other community settings.

We also implemented the Families First Medicaid eligibility option, which allows states to cover uninsured citizens’ testing costs with no cost-sharing. Individuals should contact their state Medicaid agency to apply for this coverage.

Both Medicare and Medicaid cover serology or antibody tests for COVID-19. These tests can help identify who has been exposed to the virus.

Medicare generally covers the entire cost of COVID-19 testing for beneficiaries with Original Medicare. If you’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage health plan, your plan generally can’t charge you cost-sharing (including deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance) for COVID-19 tests and the administration of such tests.

In addition, Medicare Advantage plans may not impose prior authorization or other utilization management requirements on the COVID-19 test or specified COVID-19 testing-related services for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

We have also required that private health issuers and employer group health plans cover COVID-19 testing, and certain related items and services, with no cost-sharing during the pandemic. This includes items and services that result in an order for, or administration of, a COVID-19 diagnostic test in a variety of medical settings, including urgent care visits, emergency room visits, and in-person or telehealth visits to the doctor’s office.

From day one, President Trump has worked to ensure that cost is no barrier to being tested for COVID-19, and to make testing as widely and easily available as possible. As a result of these actions, we’ve seen a surge in testing among Medicare beneficiaries. Robust and widespread testing is of paramount importance as we begin easing back into normal life.