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Ocasio-Cortez Urges Biden to Expand At-Home Test Program for Multifamily Homes

People in multifamily residences have been unable to order free at-home tests from the Biden administration’s website.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on December 8, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) is leading an effort to urge President Joe Biden to address oversights in his administration’s program to allow people to order free at-home COVID tests.

“[W]e write requesting your attention on a salient issue that has arisen in the distribution of the testing kits to multifamily households,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote in her letter to Biden. The letter was signed by 36 members of Congress, including members of the progressive “squad” like Representatives Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington), Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts) and Jamaal Bowman (D-New York).

The lawmakers requested that the Biden administration address issues that have been preventing families from being able to order tests from the free at-home test program.

Last week, the Biden administration put up a website and a hotline allowing people to order four at-home tests per household. Biden announced the program just after detailing his administration’s plan to purchase 500 million at-home tests to distribute to Americans, in addition to a plan to buy 500 million tests that he outlined last month.

Shortly after the website and hotline launched, however, many people living in apartments or other multifamily residences noted that they were unable to place an order to their homes because someone in their complex or building had already ordered tests for themselves. People who live above retail establishments or in basement apartments have also reported not being able to order tests.

In their letter, the lawmakers noted that their constituents have been contacting them about the issue.

“Approaching a rollout process with the aim of equity and accessibility requires the acknowledgement of households residing outside of single-family units,” the lawmakers wrote. They went on to point out that people living in multifamily buildings and people living in multigenerational family homes are at the highest risk of contracting COVID, making it especially paradoxical that these families wouldn’t be able to access the free tests.

Even when people are able to successfully order tests for their household, four test kits often aren’t enough to cover everyone living under one roof. Many families, especially non-white families, have more than four individuals living in their homes. Making it harder for these communities to receive free at-home tests may exacerbate inequalities that already exist, as people of color are at a higher risk of dying from the virus due to lack of health care access.

To rectify these inequities, the lawmakers urged Biden to direct program officials to account for different types of residences. They also recommended allowing families to specify the number of people in their household so that they can order an appropriate number of tests.

The Biden administration has faced widespread criticism for its handling of the pandemic during the president’s first year in office. Earlier this month, the administration faced scrutiny for announcing a program that would only allow people with private health insurance to get reimbursed for at-home COVID tests. That program, critics noted, would not only bar uninsured people from participating in the program, but would also place an unnecessary hurdle on people who are insured by requiring them to contact insurance companies for reimbursement.

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