Child Health

Key Policies to Support Children and Families during the COVID-19 Pandemic

March 19, 2020 | Ohio

Key Policies to Support Children and Families during the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Kelly Vyzral, Kim Eckhart, and Tracy Nájera

March 19, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic represents a new challenge – one that we’ve never experienced in our lifetime – but one that is not totally unexpected and one that we may be faced with more often in the future. Our goal as a community is to emerge from this public health crisis stronger, more resilient, and with lessons learned that we can move forward with in the future so that mistakes, missteps, and lack of preparedness in our societal infrastructures are not repeated.

However, this pandemic has unveiled the vulnerabilities of our human services sector and the magnitude of diminishment in terms of services, access, and safety net over the past decade. With natural disasters experienced around the world, and in this country, the first impacted and those who are most harmed are typically those who are most vulnerable in our society – the poor, the homeless, the sick, the very young and the very old. The significant challenge that we, as a nation, face is that our human services systems and programs are not prepared to meet the needs of our communities at this unique moment in time.

So what should be done? Of course, first and foremost, we must all do our part to flatten the curve by following the advice of public health experts. In terms of our policies and how best to invest our resources and flexibility to apply these policies – our human services systems at the local, state, and federal levels must take action to meet the needs of Ohioans right now.

As my colleague John Corlett recently stated, “Unless we take extraordinary steps, lives will be lost, and the health and human services sector and those it serves will be permanently damaged and may never recover.” This is not an overstatement. It is shared collectively agreed upon fact shared by many experts, advocates, and policymakers.

Congress is taking action on a series of bills, with the Families First Bill (commonly referred to as Bill #2) passing the Senate earlier today (March 18, 2020).

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) is a multi-billion emergency aid package that guarantees free coronavirus testing, establishes paid leave, enhances unemployment insurance, expands food security initiatives, and increases federal Medicaid funding (increased FMAP) to support states.

There are plans for a third Coronavirus aid package, but as of yet there is no legislation introduced.

The plan, released by the Senate Democrats, includes the following:

  • Emergency cash-assistance plan under which every American tax filer would receive a payment totaling $2,000 for each adult and child in the household, with a gradual phase-out for taxpayers whose income is above a certain threshold.
  • A second payment would be issued this summer and could be as high as $1,500 per person. This second payment would be triggered if the emergency declaration continues, or if the national unemployment rate rises by one percentage point.  Quarterly payments would continue as long as unemployment levels are elevated.

This plan was endorsed by Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and is seen as an effort to provide financial stability to individuals and families.

Separately, the Trump administration unveiled a $1 trillion plan (Wednesday March 18th).  It includes $500 billion to cover two separate waves of direct payments to American taxpayers in the next several weeks.  The first round of payments would go out on April 6th, and the second on May 18th. Payment amounts would be fixed and tiered based on income level and family size. Read additional details about the Administration’s plan here.

Additional orders issued by the Trump Administration yesterday include the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to suspend evictions and foreclosures through April. The administration also invoked the Defense Production Act, which directs America’s industrial sector to manufacture medical supplies that are in short supply in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition to the federal response, the state of Ohio has certainly done its part. Governor DeWine, Dr. Action, Director of the Ohio Department of Health, and Lt. Governor John Husted embody the steady, level-headed leadership needed through this crisis. They have enacted a series of emergency policies and executive orders to ready our state for the worst of the pandemic in recent weeks and days. CDF-Ohio, with its partners, and the advice of national experts has compiled the following list of immediate supports that will be provided to stabilize our human services and economic systems in Ohio and also what additionally is needed for Ohio’s children and families.

Family Stability

  • Provide family paid medical leave. The federal Families First legislation will provide up to 12 weeks of leave for working individuals who must take leave of absence due to illness or to care for a family member who may be sick. This would cover times of quarantine as well.
  • Ensure individuals have access to sick leave. The federal Families First legislation will provide up to two weeks of paid sick leave for individuals.
  • Expand unemployment compensation. The federal Families First legislation will provide support to the states for expanded unemployment compensation.

Healthy Children, Healthy Families

  • With the President declaring a national emergency, states are now able to submit an Ohio 1135 waiver under the Stafford Act. The waiver will allow for Medicaid expansion to higher income levels and additional flexibility to extend coverage to as many children as possible. With nearly 100,000 children in Ohio currently uninsured, we urge our state policymakers to use the flexibility available through the waiver to protect public health for all Ohioans, flatten the curve, and provide health services to those who need it and immediately.
  • Further, Ohio should take the following actions:
    • Discontinue any and all current restrictions on presumptive eligibility.
    • Suspend all Medicaid redeterminations and administrative actions. No one should be losing their Medicaid benefits during this time.
    • Eliminate Medicaid prior authorizations for medication, services, and equipment.
    • Require managed care plans to suspend prior authorization requirements during this crisis.
    • Ohio must request through an amendment to its state plan that all copays be eliminated during this time.
    • Eliminate all barriers to telemedicine especially in light of public health concerns.
  • While COVID-19 testing is covered by Medicaid for individuals in the Families First Act, Medicaid must also guarantee follow-up screening, possible treatments, and/or hospitalizations
  • Suspend the new Public Charge to ensure that all who live in the United States have the healthcare they need and seek care when they need it during this pandemic. 

Child Nutrition

  • Ohio’s non-congregate feeding waivers have been approved by the USDA.
  • Many school districts are setting up feeding “hubs” to distribute breakfasts and lunches. In many areas transportation or the logistics of a parent bringing the child to the “hub” to pick up food presents a serious barrier to adequate nutrition. In these cases, we must be creative and flexible to insure children are not going hungry during this epidemic.
  • More information can be accessed from the Ohio Department of Education here.

Child Care.

  • The shuttering of schools, institutions of higher education, and many businesses means that many working adults are finding themselves without work. This can result in many children being disenrolled in child care would could have a significant destabilizing effect on the child care infrastructure throughout Ohio. Emergency rules have been filed to ensure a level of financial stability for many of our publicly funded child care centers.
  • Governor DeWine has signaled several times over the past week that a decision would be made soon regarding the closing of child care centers and emergency planning is underway to support child care needs of health care worker and emergency response personnel.
  • On Wednesday, March 18, 2020, the DeWine Administration issued emergency rules to allow hospitals, churches, youth organizations, and existing daycare providers to apply to open short-term childcare centers for children of health care and emergency service workers.
  • More information from the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services available here.

Children in Extended Care – Child Welfare System

  • Provide continuation of mental and behavioral health services for children who are justice-involved through telehealth and other efforts.
  • Expand eligibility and flexibility for the BRIDGES program for youth who are aging out the foster system to ensure they are receiving the support needed in terms of housing, nutrition, healthcare, etc.
  • Increase funding for kinship care. We must ensure that kinship caregivers have access to adequate services and support during this public health crisis.

CDF-Ohio is committed to working with our advocacy partners, local providers, state agencies, and policy leaders to implementing solutions to save lives, support vulnerable children and families, and emerge from this public health crisis stronger and more resilient as a society.

Please check our COVID-19 page for up-to-date state and federal policy and action updates.