Child Health

The Senate Promised to Focus on Kids in the Next COVID-19 Relief Package. Here’s What They Should Do

July 22, 2020 | National

As COVID-19 cases surge all across the country, the economic repercussions of this crisis leave children, families, and communities reeling, while magnifying long-standing racial and economic disparities. The Senate returned to work in Washington this week promising to act on additional COVID-19 relief legislation that their Republican leadership says will be focused on “bringing back jobs and making sure we take care of our kids.” But for more than two months, as children and families suffered, with Black families and other families of color disproportionately losing their lives and livelihoods to this crisis, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) “hit pause” on additional relief legislation and refused to take up the HEROES Act passed by the House of Representatives in mid-May, which builds on the groundwork laid by previous coronavirus relief packages to ease the damaging health and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The House bill included much of what our children and families need to weather this unprecedented crisis and provides a critical starting point as the Senate moves ahead. But at the same time, many additional provisions are needed to fully meet the needs of all our nation’s children and families, especially the most vulnerable—children of color, immigrant children, poor children, and children involved in the child welfare system.

As the Senate considers additional relief legislation this week, they must prioritize the needs of children and families. Specifically, CDF is calling on Congress to:

Make direct cash assistance equal for adults and children to improve children’s well-being, aid their healthy development, and reduce poverty and inequality during this unprecedented time. Low-income families with children, especially families of color, are disproportionately feeling the effects of this crisis.

  • Include direct, recurring cash payments of $2,000 per month for every adult and child until the economy recovers. Expand eligibility for these payments to include older youth between 16 and 24 years old, adult dependents, ITIN filers, and individuals in mixed-status families, and apply these new eligibility requirements retroactively to the cash payments in the CARES Act. Resources should also be provided to ensure those who are underbanked and not connected to the tax system receive their payments.
  • Make important improvements to the Child Tax Credit (CTC) by making it fully refundable up to $3,600 per child up to age six and $3,000 up to age 17. Create an option for advanced monthly payments of the credit. Expand eligibility to children regardless of immigration status or territory and include a lookback provision to allow families to use their previous years’ earnings to determine their eligibility for the CTC.
  • Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for adults without dependent children in addition to lowering the minimum age of eligibility for the credit from 25 to 19 for most recipients and 18 for former foster youth and homeless youth. Include a lookback provision to allow families to use their previous years’ earnings to determine their eligibility for the EITC.
  • Include the Pandemic TANF Assistance Act (S. 3672), which provides $10 billion in flexible emergency spending under a new Coronavirus Emergency Grant Program to help low-income families, especially families of color, afford their basic needs and is not tied to the burdensome and counterproductive requirements traditionally tied to TANF, such as work requirements and time limits on assistance. 

Make additional investments in critical programs that ensure needy children and families can access the nutritious food they need to survive especially for children who do not have regular access to meals because of school closures.

  • Provide a nationwide, 15 percent increase in the maximum SNAP allotment to ensure increased access to nutritious food for every SNAP household. 
  • Increase the minimum SNAP benefit from $16 to $30.
  • Suspend all SNAP administrative rules that would terminate or weaken benefits, including burdensome work requirements.
  • Expand program eligibility and emergency funding for SNAP and Pandemic EBT, including by allowing young children who are enrolled in childcare feeding programs and college students to qualify and after school sites to be fully funded. 
  • Enhance and restructure SNAP administrative processes by waiving requirements for in-person meetings, connecting SNAP applicants to other social programs, and providing enough funding to meet increased caseload demands.
  • Allow the purchasing of hot foods and foods at restaurants. 
  • Waive harsh work requirements until the economic downturn ends. 

Increase funding to ensure children can access safe, stable housing and avoid the threat of homelessness during this crisis regardless of immigration status, criminal justice history, or income. Many of these provisions below are similar to the Emergency Rental Assistance and Rental Market Stabilization Act (S. 3685), which CDF endorses

  • Declare a nationwide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures for the duration of the crisis.
  • Provide $100 billion in emergency rental assistance to prevent low-income renters from falling behind during the crisis and potentially being subjected to evictions and the risk of homelessness when moratoriums are lifted.
  • Provide an additional $11.5 billion for Emergency Solution Grants and expand emergency shelters for those who are already experiencing homelessness.
  • Provide increased, flexible funding for McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) programs for children and youth, students with disabilities, and foster youth experiencing homelessness. The additional funding should be used to provide students experiencing homelessness with the materials and technology they need for remote learning, as well as access to school meals and other school-based services.

Ensure access to comprehensive, affordable health coverage and care for all.

  • Increase Medicaid funding to ensure it can continue to act as a powerful first responder for children, families and communities during this public health crisis. Congress must enact an additional emergency FMAP boost of at least 5.8 percent to states to meet the 12 percent total requested by the bipartisan National Governors Association and blocking the Trump Administration from finalizing the Medicaid Fiscal Accountability Regulation (MFAR). If the proposed changes to the MFAR rule are finalized, it would offset much of the benefit of the FMAP increase, thus jeopardizing children’s and parents’ access to coverage and care. 
  • Prohibit states from enacting burdensome barriers to enrolling in—or staying enrolled in—Medicaid and CHIP to ensure no child or parent loses health coverage in the midst of a public health crisis on account of bureaucratic red tape.
  • Enact the bipartisan Children’s Health Insurance Program Pandemic Enhancement and Relief Act,the “CHIPPER Act,” (H.R. 6797) which would postpone the upcoming reduction of the enhanced FMAP for CHIP from 23 percent to 11.5 percent set to take effect on October 1, 2020. Maintaining the current enhanced FMAP will help ensure states and local governments continue to have additional resources to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Congress should also provide sufficient funding for CHIP to meet the cost of increased enrollment due to newly eligible children and pregnant women; allow states to expand income eligibility for CHIP up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level to reduce uninsurance among children; and enact a permanent extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) through the CARING for Kids Act (H.R. 6151) to ensure that any future lapses in funding would no longer occur, particularly during a national crisis. 
  • Allow COVID-19 testing and treatment regardless of immigration status and for immigrants who are ineligible for full-scope Medicaid due to status but otherwise meet eligibility requirements, ensure coverage is available through Emergency Medicaid. 

Expand child welfare funding to help states meet the needs of the child welfare system.

To date, Congress has provided almost no additional emergency funding to support the child welfare system during this crisis. CDF, along with nearly 600 organizations, called on Congress to provide necessary resources to support the entire child welfare continuum, and these recommendations were taken and expanded upon in the Child Welfare Emergency Assistance Act (S. 4172) and in specific provisions of the Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act (S. 4112): 

  • $1 billion in additional funding for CAPTA Title II to target specific prevention services to communities where it is needed most; 
  • $320 million in additional funding for Kinship Navigator Programs to ensure access to information and resources for older relative caregivers at greater risk of COVID-19; 
  • $2 billion in additional funding for Title IV-B to support prevention efforts and help eliminate the need for out-of-home placements; 
  • Increase the federal reimbursement rate for the Title IV-E Prevention Program to 100% through FY2021 to ease the financial burdens of implementation and help support prevention efforts during the public health emergency;
  • $500 million in additional funding in CAPTA Title I to help child protection systems adapt to these new circumstances and barriers to service delivery; 
  • $500 million in additional funding for the Chafee Program to provide emergency support for youth transitioning out of care and establishing a moratorium on “aging out” of foster care to ensure no young person is cut off from critical housing and support services during the public health emergency; and 
  • $30 million in additional funding for the Court Improvement Program to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the functioning of child welfare courts.

Provide additional, significant, and dedicated funding for child care to offer immediate relief to the sector.

Ensure adequate support for K-12 schools to support students and families as the unprecedented disruption to education and other critical services children receive at school continues.  

  • Provide at least $200 billion in additional funding for K-12 education and programs that support marginalized students that are most likely to be affected by missing in-person instruction. Money must be available to all schools regardless of their timeline for reopening. Schools in areas with high rates of COVID-19 spread may need to consider delaying a return to full time in-person instruction, and these schools will need the same or greater federal investments, not fewer.
  • Maintain levels of accountability that protect students’ civil rights and ensure that no new waiver authority is granted under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Expand paid sick days and paid family and medical leave benefits and unemployment insurance to ensure they reach all workers for the duration of this crisis.

  • Extend unemployment benefits until the economy recovers and allow families to continue to receive assistance, including the critical $600 boost through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) which is set to expire July 31, 2020.  
  • Expand all paid sick and paid family and medical leave to include everyone who pays taxes, including workers who file ITINs, and ensure self-employed workers and independent contractors are eligible. 

Ensure the safety and well-being of children and youth involved in the justice system.

  • Provide $75 million in funding for Pandemic Justice Response Act Grants through the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in youth facilities, support continued access to education, and provide community support for youth returning home. 
  • Incentivize the suspension of state and local courts’ juvenile fees and fines during the pandemic so children are not placed at greater risk of COVID-19 solely for being unable to afford a fee or fine.

Ensure relief and access to services for all families — regardless of immigration status.

  • Allow COVID-19 testing and treatment regardless of immigration status and clarify that for immigrants who are ineligible for full-scope Medicaid due to status but otherwise meet eligibility requirements, coverage is available through Emergency Medicaid.
  • Extend cash payments to ITIN filers and eliminate previous discriminatory exclusion of mixed-status families.
  • Extend eligibility for higher education emergency relief grants to college students regardless of immigration status. 
  • Automatically extend expiring work authorization and status (e.g., DACA and TPS). 
  • Free the families. Require DHS to review the files of all individuals in the custody of ICE to assess the need for continued detention. Individuals who are not subject to mandatory detention should be prioritized for release–especially children together with their parents. 

Research shows that the investment Congress has already made to date to support children and families is working, but it must be sustained and broadened to prevent our unacceptable poverty rate from growing even larger and to make sure we Leave No Child Behind. The unique and urgent needs of children must be a priority in Congress’ ongoing efforts to support the American people through this pandemic. We cannot allow this crisis to continue to exacerbate existing disparities and hit our most vulnerable children the hardest.