End of pandemic-era programs raises concerns for Alameda County service providers

ALAMEDA COUNTY, Calif. — Service providers in Alameda County, particularly the unincorporated area, are apprehensive about the end of pandemic-era policies and programs, which are expected to be rolled back in the coming months.

Arlene Nehring, senior minister at Eden United Church of Christ in Hayward, expressed concern at a meeting of the county Public Health Department’s community advisory group on Tuesday, saying that community partners fear for the residents they serve as resources that were made plentiful during the pandemic are now drying up.

“I hope we have a disaster plan, seriously, for the hardest-hit areas economically,” Nehring said. “We want to help the community as much as we can, but there’s only so much we can do with empty pockets.”

As of Feb. 28, the state, Alameda County and the cities within it have ended their states of emergency and set end dates to pandemic-era policies and programs, including the county eviction moratorium, which is set to expire April 28.

Nehring said she “was already talking people off cliffs and bridges” around housing costs when rent relief was available, “and now it isn’t.” She added that the number of people receiving food from her church quintupled during the pandemic.

About 11% of Californians are behind on their rent right now, though it may be higher in Alameda County, so tenants may be at risk of losing their housing once the eviction moratorium expires, said Michelle Starratt, housing director with the county’s Housing and Community Development Department. Resources are available, though the Board of Supervisors has left them underfunded.

“There’s not necessarily a lot of support for additional legal services for tenants right now, given that lots of tenants haven’t been paying rent, and the landlords are really very carefully curating their message,” Starratt said.

The federal disaster declaration and public health emergency is set to end on May 11, and a smaller Medi-Cal program that provides COVID-19 care for people who are not eligible for Medi-Cal or other coverage is set to end on May 31. The federal policy to provide continuous Medicaid coverage is also set to expire March 31, which means Medi-Cal eligibility is going to start being redetermined on a rolling basis starting April 1.

“This is a big deal because it is going to potentially disrupt coverage for many people across the state,” County Health Officer Nicholas Moss said. “It’s not a cliff; it’s going to happen on a rolling basis throughout the year, but it is going to happen.”

Although free vaccines and medication will continue to be available until the federal supply runs out, some insured individuals may start seeing charges for COVID-19 care in the coming months and years, depending on their coverage. While there is some level of safety net access for uninsured individuals in the short term, Moss said it may become an issue in the long term.

Alameda County has seen 2,400 cumulative deaths related to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, with the worst waves during the winters of ’20 and ’21.

This winter has been a different story, with no more than 200 people hospitalized with COVID-19 at one time this winter and that number has remained between 80 and 100 since mid-January. Moss noted that COVID-19 continues to be a significant cause of severe illness and death in Alameda County, with people over 80 remaining the most impacted age group by far.

“We’re in this place where it’s not gone away and it is continuing to cause impacts,” Moss said. “It does look a little bit different from what we saw earlier, but it’s certainly not gone.”

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