“It is incumbent on everyone to continue to support the mission that you’ve given us. The only way to do that is to have our soldiers continue to be able to be in nursing homes. We can only do that with the appropriate funding.”
Members of Pennsylvania’s National Guard have spent months in nursing homes across the state helping healthcare workers battle the novel coronavirus pandemic.
They’ve served meals, cleaned floors, visited with patients, offered words of support, and provided direct care.
“We must continue to be able to utilize the Guard’s support,” said Teresa D. Miller, state Secretary of Health and Human Services on Thursday, during a news conference on Thursday.
She said those services will be vital in the coming months.
“We’re headed into what will likely be a very challenging winter and flu season,” she said. The coronavirus continues to spread in record numbers throughout Pennsylvania and the country. On Thursday, the state announced a record 5,488 new cases. Scientists and epidemiologists have repeatedly said the nation could see high numbers throughout the winter.
Miller, other officials from Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration, US Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Chester), and National Guard Lt. Col. Dr. Albert Fogle urged President Donald Trump to extend the Title 32 designation that allows the Guard to provide healthcare-related services. They also said the president should fund the order completely through federal funds.
“It is incumbent on everyone to continue to support the mission that you’ve given us. The only way to do that is to have our soldiers continue to be able to be in nursing homes,” Fogle said. “We can only do that with the appropriate funding.”
The issue is the directive that the president uses when he calls the Guard to service. Under Title 32, the National Guard falls under the command of the governor. This is different from when the Guard is mobilized under Title 10, which gives the president authority. Either way, the federal government generally funds the units.
Normally, those designations are for brief periods of time, Fogle said.
“We have responded over the years to multiple times when the state has called us,” he said, pointing out they can be called for help with floods, snowstorms, or other disasters. “(B)ut this has been a very special and different call to our citizen soldiers to respond.”
When Trump first ordered the designation at the beginning of the pandemic, the federal government funded 100% of the Guard’s efforts. Trump extended the order in August, but limited the federal funds to 75%. The designation ends Dec. 31.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer sent Trump a letter with the same request. According to Pennsylvania’s Emergency Management Agency Director Randy Padfield, the state has sent a similar letter, and has made a formal request through the National Guard.
Houlahan said extending the designation has broad, bipartisan support in Congress.
Having the federal government fund the Guard would help the states and municipalities that are on the front lines, the officials said.
“State and local governments are facing unprecedented pressures on their budgets,“ she said. “This is the wrong time to unnecessarily burden states with additional costs.“
Reinforcing that sentiment, Padfield pointed out that the state has had to use federal CARES Act funding to pay for the guard.
“That’s funding that doesn’t get to be used for other things,” he said.
Fogle also explained that the designation offers the servicemembers better benefits, such as health insurance. It also helps Guard members and their employers, who have to let them leave their jobs for extended periods.
Fogle said the Guard will always answer the call, but that response is not free.
“Our expectation as soldiers is we will do what we are called to … that’s what we do,” he said. “We serve the citizens and the commonwealth. … Unfortunately, we can’t do it for free and there’s gotta be a way to fund that.“
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