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Weekly line: What you need to know about the $178B Provider Relief Fund

By Heather Bell

June 24, 2021

    This month, HHS issued updated guidance on the Provider Relief Fund (PRF) that clears up some of the uncertainty surrounding the fund and extends the looming deadline for spending the grants.

    Congress created the PRF as part of the Cares Act to help providers offset revenue shortfalls and other eligible expenses related to the Covid-19 pandemic. PRF has provided essential support to health care providers during the pandemic—and unlike the loans allocated under the Cares Act, PRF funds are distributed as grants, and once spent, do not need to be repaid.

    But the grants do come with a fair amount of administrative work; providers must go through the process of determining eligibility, completing the grant application, formally accepting the payment once received, and submitting reports on how the funding was used through HHS' PRF Reporting Portal. But since January, providers have been in the dark on when exactly they would need to report on how they used their funds—and when those funds must be used.

    Below, I answer key questions surrounding the PRF—and what the latest update means for providers.

    How long do providers have to spend PRF grants?

    Previously, providers had until June 30 to spend the PRF grants they received or return the unused funds. However, the updated guidance gives providers more time to spend the grants, meaning most providers can use existing PRF funds to cover Covid-related costs that they incur beyond June 30, 2021.

    HHS also changed how it sets the deadline for using the payments. In the past, HHS had set a single deadline by which PRF grants had to be spent. But moving forward, HHS will tie the deadline to the date the funds were received. Providers who received funds during the first half of 2020 will still need to meet the June 30 deadline, but HHS set three new deadlines for providers who received funds after. The change means all providers will have at least 12 months, and up to 18 months, to spend their grants.

    Table 1 

    The move was welcomed by hospital and physician groups, which had urged HHS to extend the deadline and allow providers to use the grants for eligible expenses that they incurred beyond June 30.

    How have reporting requirement changed?

    The updated guidance also outlined when providers will need to report on the use of funds and changed the definition of who exactly needs to report.

    Previously, providers who received more than $10,000 across funding rounds had to comply with reporting requirements. However, the latest guidance narrows that field to those who receive more than $10,000 in aggregate during an individual payment period. Providers who received more than $500,000 in aggregate during each payment period will have to submit more detailed reports. HHS also is now requiring SNFs and nursing homes to comply with the reporting requirements.

    The other big change in the guidance is the length of the actual reporting period. Previously, providers had 30 days to log into the portal and complete reporting requirement, but HHS has now extended that to 90 days. HHS said the reporting portal will be open on July 1.

    The below table outlines the new dates and deadlines.

    Table 2 

    When will HHS disperse the remaining funds?

    One of the biggest questions on providers' minds has been when HHS will distribute the remaining funding. To date, Congress has allocated $178 billion to the fund—though exact amount that remains in the fund is uncertain. AHA has said $4.4 billion is left in PRF, but other estimates have placed that number higher at $24 billion.

    While HHS' guidance does not specify a date for a fourth funding round, the table above suggests a new period could be coming for the second half of 2021.

    As we await more information on the next payment period, there are a few steps providers can take now:

    • Read the latest eligibility requirements to determine if you will be eligible for the next funding round.
    • Review the Phase 3 application instructions and terms and conditions to get a head for Phase 4 applications.
    • Ensure your Covid-related revenue losses and expenses are up to date as PRF grant recipients will need to demonstrate the need and use of funds during the new reporting periods.

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