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How Might States’ Responses to the Pandemic Affect Safety Net Programs?

When the pandemic began a year ago, states braced for sharp budget cuts and skyrocketing needs for public assistance. Though hardship has been immense and the loss of life unfathomable, federal relief efforts and better-than-expected state revenues have mitigated the economic recession. Federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act provides much-needed relief, but states’ fiscal positions vary and considerable uncertainty remains. Safety net programs, like Medicaid and public health programs and assistance with food, housing, child care, and cash, can significantly reduce hardship, but they involve state policy and practice choices that often have implications for racial equity. States also are now grappling with how best to direct both state and federal funds.

Please join the Urban Institute for a virtual discussion exploring the tough questions now facing state legislatures and program administrators. How can states most effectively and equitably target federal dollars? How can states address economic inequality and racial and ethnic disparities that have worsened during the pandemic? What policies, practices, and investments that changed in response to the crisis should continue after the pandemic? We will start with a moderated panel discussion among a state Medicaid director, a state health and human services administrator, and a state budget analyst. A second moderated panel discussion will follow, during which representatives from state government associations will provide a national perspective on these issues.



Panel 1:

  • Suzanne Bierman, Administrator, Division of Health Care Financing and Policy, Nevada Department of Health and Human Services
  • Renita Polk, Principal Budget Consultant, California Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee
  • Dannette R. Smith, Chief Executive Officer, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services
  • Ian Hill, Senior Fellow, Health Policy Center, Urban Institute (moderator)

Panel 2:

  • Ann Flagg, Senior Director, Policy and Practice, American Public Human Services Association
  • Stacey Mazer, Senior Staff Associate, National Association of State Budget Officers
  • Matt Salo, Executive Director, National Association of Medicaid Directors
  • Heather Hahn, Senior Fellow, Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population, Urban Institute (moderator)




Funding for this event was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. For more on Urban’s funding policies, go to

We strive to host inclusive, accessible events that enable all individuals, including individuals with disabilities, to engage fully. Please email [email protected] if you require any accommodations or have any questions about this event.

Image credit: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock


Date & Time Thursday, April 29, 2021

  • Senior Fellow
    Chair, Institutional Review Board
  • Associate Vice President