Third year medical student Jeanette Lovato examines Gene Henderson for a persistent back injury that has kept him from working for nearly three years at the El Rio Community Health Center, Wednesday Jan. 13, 2016, Tucson, Ariz. Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star

As Congress works to fund the federal government, community health centers need to be funded for five or more years. Since October, Congress has only provided temporary funding for the centers and other health-care programs.

Without renewed funding, community health centers are facing a serious shortfall of 70 percent of their federal funds. If funding is not reinstated soon, children and adults may be harmed as they lose access to affordable care due to cuts in services, hiring delays and even loss of jobs.

As CEOs of the largest primary care providers in the area, we know community health centers are critical for providing healthcare for Tucson and surrounding communities. Our centers serve over 140,000 patients, with El Rio Health Center serving over 95,000 and MHC Healthcare serving over 50,000 individuals. Centers provide health care for over 27 million Americans. Nationally, they save over $24 billion annually and show a savings of $2,371 per Medicaid patient per year (24 percent lower costs).

Community health centers are a critical component of the safety net, providing care for patients regardless of their ability to pay through sliding fee scales and uncompensated care. Centers are community driven, nonprofit organizations which rely on the proposed federal funding to provide affordable and accessible health care.

The centers’ approach to comprehensive, integrated health care works to provide quality care at reduced costs. Community health centers are medical homes providing integrated medical, behavioral health, dental, pharmacy, laboratory, radiology and other services allowing them to treat the whole person, and entire family, at one location. They also make affordable health care more accessible with night, weekend and same-day appointments.

Not funding community health centers may ultimately cost more money, as adults and children seek treatment in emergency departments at a significantly higher cost. This will put stress on the entire community as hospitals are forced to provide more high-cost, avoidable uncompensated care and community members may not obtain the health care they need.

These centers have always garnered bipartisan support and been viewed as community-based solutions for access to health care. President Reagan, President George W. Bush and President Obama all made significant investments into community health centers, more than doubling their number repeatedly, expanding services and significantly funding new clinicians and construction of health centers.

Health centers have also been recognized as one of the “top most effective federal programs” and ranked first in overall performance out of all Department of Health and Human Services programs. According to the Government Accountability Office, community health centers have an 11-to-1 return on investment, returning $11 for every $1 of federal funding. The centers are a cost-effective and efficient program meeting the needs of local communities while saving taxpayers money.

In addition, the health-care industry is the fastest growing sector of our economy. Providing funding for community health centers will continue creating more jobs, rather than risking a retraction in the number of jobs and services available.

Funding for these centers is critical for the people of Arizona, as well as the strength of our community, with affordable accessible health care for all. Congress needs to act immediately to extend funding for community health centers to protect Arizonans.

Nancy Johnson is the CEO of El Rio Health Center. Clint Kuntz is the CEO of MHC Healthcare.