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San Antonio's Community Health Centers Ask Congress To Continue Federal Funding

Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio
One of CommuniCare Health Centers clinics on San Antonio's Eastside

Community health centers are asking Congress to pass a bill that will ensure their funding for the next two years. The health centers say they are on a funding cliff, which could cause the loss of 70 percent of federal grant funds.

Community health centers serve about 27 million people in the U.S., including about 1.3 million people in Texas. They receive about $5 billion in federal money annually, much of which is appropriated by Congress. About $3.6 billion was not reauthorized in the last fiscal year.

Since 2011, community health centers across the U.S. — like CommuniCare on San Antonio’s East Side — received billions of dollars annually from Congress. But that funding momentarily stopped in October when Congress did not reauthorize the funds. However, in December, Congress provided $550 million for funding only through March 31.

Paul Nguyen is the CEO of CommuniCare Health Centers, which operates eight locations in San Antonio and four others in surrounding communities. He says the majority of people community health centers assist are impoverished.

“Our patients that we serve, more than 70 percent live below 100 percent of the federal poverty line,” he said.

CommuniCare centers receive about $8 million in federal funding and serve 61,000 patients. If the funding were to be cut, CommuniCare would lose about $5.7 million in funding, which equals to the treatment of of about 4,200 patients. CommuniCare’s annual revenue is about $83 million from various sources.

There are about 460 community health centers in Texas, across 125 counties, with about 10,000 employees. Rachel Gonzalez-Hansen, CEO of Community Health Development in Uvalde County, said without enough long-term funding, community health care efforts might be rolled back.

“We all need to start thinking about cutting back on staff, cutting on patients and cutting back on services,” she said.

Funding for community health centers is currently included in the stop gap measure to prevent a government shutdown. If it’s approved, there could be an allocation of $3.6 billion each for fiscal year 2018 and 2019. Congress must pass a spending bill by Thursday to avoid a government shutdown.

Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@tpr.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules