Yesterday afternoon, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) unveiled the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or the “HEROES Act,” a $3 trillion proposal that builds on previous Congressional efforts to help alleviate the dire health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before this crisis, millions of families could not afford an emergency, were living in poverty, and struggled with keeping food on the table and a roof over their heads. Now, more than 30 million people have filed for unemployment, many have lost their employer-based health insurance, and child hunger and poverty are on the rise.
The HEROES Act includes many significant investments we know are needed immediately to help support children and families, especially families living in poverty and struggling to make ends meet. At the same time, several additional provisions needed to fully meet the needs of all of our nation’s children and families—particularly the most vulnerable—are missing from this legislation.
While we urge Congress to address the unique needs of children and families as they move the next relief package forward, we are very pleased to see that the HEROES Act takes the following steps forward for children:
- Provides for a second round of direct cash assistance payments and parity for adults and children, including $1,200 per adult and $1,200 per dependent (with up to three dependents for a maximum of $6,000 per household). It also modifies the CARES Act retroactively to expand eligibility to more dependents, including full-time students below age 24 and adult dependents as well as ITIN filers and individuals in mixed-status families.
- Includes important—but temporary—one year improvements to the Child Tax Credit (CTC) by making it fully refundable up to $3,000 per child up to 17 years of age and $3,600 for children under six with options for advanced monthly payments to children and families.
- Includes a temporary, one-year expansion of 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. The maximum credit increases from $538 to $1,487.
- Provides emergency TANF flexibility, similar to the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act, which suspends work requirements and time limits on assistance through January 31, 2021 and creates penalties for states who fail to comply or try to sanction families for failure to participate in “work participation” activities.
- Makes additional investments in critical programs that ensure hungry 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, including: additional funding for SNAP, WIC, and the child nutrition programs to meet increased demand; a 15 percent increase in maximum SNAP benefit levels; an expansion of the minimum SNAP benefit from $16 to $30; and a two-year suspension of burdensome work requirements. It also allows SNAP recipients to purchase hot foods, prohibits the Trump administration from implementing three harsh proposed rules to change and weaken SNAP, and expands Pandemic EBT to young children who are enrolled in childcare feeding programs under the Child Care and Adult Food Care Program (CACFP).
- Declares a year long, nationwide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, provides for $100 billion in rental assistance and $75 billion in homeowner assistance for those most at risk of losing their homes due to the crisis as well as $11.5 billion in grants to provide emergency shelter and services to people experiencing homelessness. The bill also provides $1 billion for new, non-renewable vouchers to provide long-term housing for individuals currently experiencing homelessness.
- Increases Medicaid funding to states by a total of 14 points to help ensure Medicaid can continue to act as a powerful first responder for children, families, and communities during this public health crisis. It also prevents the Secretary of Health and Human Services from finalizing the detrimental Medicaid Fiscal Accountability Regulation (MFAR) until the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency. If enacted, the MFAR rule would offset much of the benefit of the FMAP increase and make the combined state fiscal relief that has already been provided even more inadequate, thus jeopardizing children’s and parents’ access to coverage and care.
- Provides $20 million for CAPTA Title I and $20 million in CAPTA Title II to help state and local communities in their efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect because of the pandemic. It also provides additional funding to support young people transitioning from foster care with an additional $50 million for Title IV-E Chafee and $18 million in Education and Training Vouchers, along with some temporary changes to these programs to help young people stay connected to these services during this crisis. While Congress included this additional funding to the child welfare system, it does not go far enough to address the serious challenges facing children and families in or at risk of entering the child welfare system.
- Provides an additional $9.6 billion to states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories for Emergency Aid and Services through the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG). States must pass at least 50 percent of these funds to counties, cities, and community-based organizations which would then be required to use the funds to provide for basic wellbeing necessities; to administer services and maintain the social services infrastructure; and to connect families and individuals with other services, benefits, and payments. An additional $400 million was appropriated for tribes and tribal organizations as they are not eligible for SSBG.
- Provides an additional $7 billion for the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) to offer immediate relief to child care providers, workers, and families as well as an additional $850 million through the Social Service Block Grant to fund child and family care services for essential workers.
- Provides an additional $100 million in 2020 to support home visiting services, while temporarily allowing those home visiting programs funded under the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program (MIECHV) to operate under these unprecedented circumstances by conducting virtual home visits and helping ensure families have the technological and emergency supplies they need.
- Provides some additional funding to support statewide and local funding for K-12 schools, and while the funding is flexible, there is no requirement to direct more funding to support vulnerable populations, such as low-income students, homeless students, students with disabilities, or English language learners; designates $5 billion in funding for a temporary disbursement through FCC’s E-Rate program to help support eligible elementary schools, secondary schools, or libraries to purchase equipment (including Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, or advanced telecommunications/IT services) to help students and families meet the challenges of distance learning; and does not further weaken levels of accountability that protect students’ civil rights by introducing new waiver authority under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or otherwise.
- Extends all unemployment benefits provisions through January 31, 2021 and allows families to continue to receive assistance through March 31, 2021, including the new $600 boost through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) which was set to expire July 31, 2020.
- Ensures more workers can access critical paid sick days and paid leave provisions by fixing gaps in the prior relief packages; eliminating the backwards employer exemptions; and ensuring that all workers qualify for paid sick, family, and medical leave, regardless of employer size. The bill extends the ability to use paid sick and paid leave through December 31, 2021, increases wage replacement, provides healthcare responders with emergency paid leave, and expands the coverage and use of paid leave to include family caregiving and COVID-related medical leave.
- Expands access to critical services and supports to immigrant families. The HEROES Act allows COVID-19 testing and treatment regardless of immigration status and clarifies that for immigrants who are ineligible for full-scope Medicaid due to status but otherwise meet eligibility requirements, coverage is available through Emergency Medicaid. It also extends cash payments to ITIN filers and eliminates previous discriminatory exclusion of mixed-status families; extends eligibility for higher education emergency relief grants to college students regardless of immigration status; and automatically extends expiring work authorization and status (e.g., DACA and TPS). The bill requires 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.
As the full Congress takes up the next relief package in response to this unprecedented national health and economic crisis, we urge them to maintain the provisions noted above and take the following additional steps to continue to protect the children and families who have been—or are at risk of being—left behind:
- Extend robust funding to support children and families through the economic downturn and while unemployment remains high. The HEROES Act does not extend funding for these critical programs for long enough. We have long called for tying assistance to an economic trigger, like the unemployment rate, in order to help ensure assistance is provided for a longer period of time and not require Congress to come back multiple times to extend much needed funding. As we saw with the 2009 Great Recession, assistance was not big or long enough and we must learn our lessons from the past. Specifically, Congress should:
- Tie the extension of the SNAP maximum benefit increase of 15 percent to an economic trigger, like the unemployment rate, to ensure families have enough food each month.
- Tie the extension of unemployment benefits to all workers, including immigrant workers, to an economic trigger like an unemployment rate and a healthy economy, while unemployment remains high at 10 percent through the end of 2021.
- Ensure direct cash assistance is recurring each month and increased to $2,000 for all children and adults through the economic downturn while unemployment remains high. As families struggle to afford rent and food, and millions lose their jobs each week, they need more than just another one-time payment to make ends meet.
- Expand child welfare funding to help states meet the needs of the child welfare system. The HEROES Act is virtually silent on child welfare, addressing some important administrative hurdles but providing almost no additional emergency funding. While hospitals report increases in incidence and severity of extreme abuse and neglect, the child welfare system struggles to rebuild itself for remote delivery, and older youth navigate this crisis without resources or support from families, Congress has neglected to provide dedicated funds to support these vulnerable children and families. CDF, along with nearly 600 organizations, called on Congress to provide necessary resources to support the entire child welfare continuum including: $1 billion in additional funding for CAPTA Title II to target specific prevention services to communities where it is needed most; $20 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; $1 billion in additional funding for Title IV-B Part 2 to support prevention efforts and help eliminate the need for out-of-home placements; $30 million in additional funding for the Court Improvement Program to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the functioning of child welfare courts; $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 to ensure the FMAP rate increase is provided to the Title IV-E Prevention Program.
- Provide at least $50 billion in total funding dedicated to child care to immediately help child care settings and families weather this growing public health and economic crisis and preserve the nation’s supply of family child care and community-based child care programs. A new analysis found the child care system needs at least $9.6 billion each month in public funding during the pandemic to provide emergency relief and avoid permanent closures of child care providers and economic destabilization.
- 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.
- 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.
- Prioritize children and families in the greatest need when deciding how to distribute much needed supplemental funds to educators, schools, and communities and ensure students with disabilities, English learners, students experiencing homelessness, and migrant youth have access to remote learning and have equal educational opportunity.
We applaud the many important provisions laid out in the HEROES Act and will continue urging both chambers of Congress to include these and other steps to ensure our most vulnerable children and families can weather this crisis.