COVID-19 Policy Negotiations & New Executive Orders

In recent weeks, leaders in the Senate, House of Representatives, and Administration have been negotiating another COVID-19 relief deal. This package could include an extension of federal unemployment benefits, support for states and cities, liability protections for businesses, and more. A few weeks ago, Senate leaders proposed the HEALS Act, which differs greatly from the House passed HEROES Act. Over the past week, negotiations have been difficult, with little to no consensus. Cost is one of the largest sticking points, with each side being trillions of dollars apart. The price tag of the bill impacts which policies can be included. 

Over the weekend, President Trump signed three presidential memorandums and an executive order. The legality of these executive orders is in question, and they will likely be challenged in court. Ultimately, Congress would need to act to move many of these pieces. Items included in the executive memorandums include:

  1. Payroll Tax Deferment – Would create a payroll tax holiday for employees earning less than $104k per year from Sept. 1- Dec. 31. This would also allow employers to “defer” payments and explore legislation to eliminate obligations of paying the deferred payments later.
  2. Eviction Moratorium – Would expand the eviction moratorium by providing support through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Health and Human Services (HHS), and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The memorandum suggested there would be financial assistance to renters, homeowners, and landlords – but didn’t clarify how.
  3. Enhanced Unemployment Benefits – Recommends a $400 per week federal unemployment benefit, expiring on Dec. 27 (the previous CARES Act level was $600 per week).
  4. Student Loans – The CARES Act put student loans into administrative forbearance with a 0% interest rate through Sept. 30. This memorandum would extend the policy through the end of the year.

Today, we will see if Congress continues negotiations. The Alliance continues to advocate around key issues including financial relief for state and local government, financial relief and access to forgivable loans for midsize and large nonprofits, an increase in the universal charitable deduction, an FMAP Medicaid increase, essential worker pay, $50 billion for the child care sector, additional second-round PPP funding for nonprofits, supports to help with unemployment insurance costs for nonprofits, and more. We thank all Alliance members who have weighed in with their Representatives and Senators, and who have yielded our calls to action – we can’t make progress without your help!

Now is the time to make your voice heard. We need to apply pressure to members of Congress, to ensure our priorities are included. Don’t forget to take action on the items most important to your organization and community.

New Child Welfare Bill Proposed in House of Representatives

Last week, Chairman Danny Davis (D-IL) and Ranking Member Jackie Walorski (R-IN) of the Worker and Family Support Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee introduced a new bill called the Supporting Foster Youth and Families Through the Pandemic Act (H.R.7947). This bill provides supports to children and their families who are in the child welfare system.

Organizations can endorse the Supporting Foster Youth and Families through the Pandemic Act (H.R. 7947) by joining this sign-on letter of support. Due to the time-sensitive nature of the Senate and House negotiations for the next COVID relief bill, we are asking organizations to endorse as soon as possible in case a list of endorsers is requested by Congress immediately.

Summary of the legislation:

  • Support for Older Youth. Provides an additional $400 million for Chafee for fiscal year 020, of which $50 million is reserved for Education and Training Vouchers (ETV).
  • Raises the maximum age for eligibility for assistance to age 27 through fiscal year 2021.
  • Increases the maximum allowable amount per individual for ETVs from $5,000 to $12,000 through fiscal year 2021.
  • Suspends requirement that a youth be enrolled in a postsecondary education or training program or making satisfactory progress towards completion to be eligible for ETV if youth is unable to do so because of COVID.
  • Clarifies that under these provisions the Chafee ETV vouchers may be used to maintain training and postsecondary education costs.
  • Removes the 30% cap in Chafee for housing assistance.
  • Prohibits states from requiring a child to leave foster care solely due to their age to ensure no young person is cut off from critical housing and support services during the public health emergency. 
  • Permits youth to re-enter care during the COVID public health emergency.
  • Allows jurisdictions to use the new additional Chafee funds to meet any of the costs incurred in complying with the provisions in this bill. In cases where youth are eligible for Title IV-E foster care funds, federal match of administrative and maintenance costs remains available.
  • Removes the penalty for failing to comply with the data reporting requirements for the National Youth Transition Database for these new funds.
  • Bars HHS from requiring jurisdictions to provide proof of a direct connection to the pandemic for funds used if doing so would be administratively burdensome or would cause delay or impede the ability to serve youth.
  • There is no state match requirement for these additional funds.
  • These changes are in effect until October 1, 2021.
  • Increases the federal reimbursement for the Title IV-E Prevention Programs- Temporarily increases the federal reimbursement rate up from 50% to 100% for the Title IV-E Prevention Program created under Family First for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency period (January 27, 2020 through September 30, 2021).   
  • Emergency funding for the MaryLee Allen Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program- Provides an additional $85 million in fiscal year 2020 to Title IV-B, Part 2 the MaryLee Allen Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program. There is no state match requirement for these additional funds.
  • Investments for the Court Improvement Program- Reserves $10 million from the additional Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program funds for the Court Improvement Program, with $500,000 reserved for Tribal court improvement activities. These funds shall be used for activities related to COVID-19, such as technology investments, trainings to facilitate remote hearings, and programs to help families avoid delays in legal proceedings as a result of COVID-19.
  • Strengthening Kinship Navigator Programs- In order to help reach more kinship caregivers raising children, particularly those who are older and more susceptible to the virus, the bill improves the ability of Kinship Navigator Programs to provide critical supports to these families. 
  • Temporarily waives the evidence-based requirement tied to Title IV-E reimbursement for these programs through the COVID-19 public health emergency period (January 27, 2020 through September 30, 2021)
  • Allows funds to be used to carry out a kinship navigator program, including:
  • evaluations, independent system review and related activities
  • short-term support for direct services or assistance
  • to ensure that kinship caregivers have the information and resources to allow kinship families to function at their full potential, including access to information and resources for necessities (i.e. food, safety supplies, testing and treatment for COVID-19), access to technology to support remote learning or other activities that must be carried out virtually due to COVID, health care and other assistance (including legal assistance and assistance with making alternative care plans for the children in their care if the caregiver is unable to care for the children), services to kin (including for those outside of the formal child welfare system), and assistance to allow children to continue safely living with kin.
  • There will be 100% federal reimbursement for these funds.
  • Provides flexibilities for home visiting programs to continue serving families safely. Allows virtual home visits to be considered home visits, ensures funding will not be reduced on account of reduced enrollment, and that funds can be used for training on virtual visits, enrolling families, and providing emergency supplies to families. This bill also delays deadlines tied to the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program, including the statewide needs assessment, waiving performance measures, or allowing alternative data sources to show improvement in performance. Funds made available for fiscal year 2018 will now remain available through September 30, 2021.
  • Provides adjustments of funding certainty baselines for the Family First Transition Act funding certainty grants so that temporary FMAP increases don’t reduce grant amounts and offers a technical correction to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to ensure the District of Columbia receives the enhanced FMAP rate. 

Two Child Care Bills Pass the House of Representatives

The House of Representatives passed two bills that would assist the child care sector. The first, the Child Care Is Essential Act (H.R. 7027), would commit $50 billion, in the form of Child Care Development Block Grants, to the sector. The amount allocated to each provider would be based on average operating expenses before the pandemic and also take into account increased costs due to COVID-19. The second, the Child Care for Economic Recovery Act (H.R. 7327), would give $10 billion for infrastructure enhancement and safety modifications, and an additional $10 billion per year until 2024. These bills represent a major increase in child care funding compared to previous House proposals. In the HEROES Act passed in May, the House Democrats offered up $7 billion for child care. At the end of July, Senate Republicans introduced the HEALS Act, which allocated only $15 billion for child care. All these bills are meant to influence the ongoing negotiation between the House, Senate, and Administration on the next package of COVID-19 relief legislation.

Food Stamp Benefit Increase for 2021

On July 29, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), under the Department of Agriculture, announced the largest increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in decades. Every year, the FNS increases the size of food stamp benefits in order to keep up with the rising average cost of food in the marketplace. Beginning on October 1, 2020, benefits will increase by 5.3%, more than double the average annual increase over the last 20 years. The new maximum monthly benefit will increase from $646 to $680. This benefit increase supplements many other critical programs administered by FNS this year, including emergency SNAP grants to states, online purchasing pilot programs, and $6 billion for food banks.

States Withholding Federal Money from Local Governments & Organizations

The Department of the Treasury Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a new report detailing how states spent the money allocated through the CARES Act in late March. The report covers the period through June 30 and shows that numerous states were withholding money; only three states had spent more than 50% of their allotted funds. The OIG report was released after another report from the National League of Cities in May claimed that 32 states were short-changing city and local governments, with no indication of when or if funds would be made available. For the next round of stimulus funding, Democrats are fighting for another round of financial relief to state and local governments, with a price tag of almost $1 trillion. Republicans are arguing that money already allocated should be spent first, and that any assistance should target school districts to help with reopening schools. 

Census Bureau to Cut Census Short a Month Early

On Aug. 3, the Census Bureau announced that it will be terminating field data collection on Sept. 30 – a month earlier than scheduled. The Bureau claims that it will be able to collect the same amount of household responses, despite the shorter timetable. However, many organizations are pushing back against the new plan, citing concerns about undercounting people of color, immigrants, low-income people, and children. Historically, these groups have been disproportionately under-represented in the decennial census. Because of operational delays and disruptions earlier this year due to COVID-19, a rushed census risks undercounting these groups even more. As a result, we could see skewed electoral districts and inadequate funding for communities that need support the most. The Alliance joined the Census Project and hundreds of other organizations in sending a letter to Congress, demanding an extension of the 2020 Census.

Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Bill Passes in the House of Representatives

The House of Representatives has now passed 10 out of 12 bills that constitute the federal budget for Fiscal Year 2021. The Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education bill would allocate $196.5 billion in fiscal 2021, which is $20.8 billion more than the president’s budget request and $2.4 billion more than provided for 2020. The Department of Labor would receive significant funds for the unemployment compensation system and related operations. These bills must also be considered in the U.S. Senate, and they must pass a compromised version. However, this constitutes an important step in the budget process.

HHS funding would include: 

  • $10.8 billion for Head Start, a $150 million increase from fiscal 2020.
  • $5.93 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant, a $100 million increase.
  • $3.85 billion for substance abuse treatment programs, a $10 million increase.
  • $1.76 billion for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) mental health programs, an $83 million increase.
  • $1.65 billion in discretionary funding for community health centers, a $25 million increase.
  • $3.77 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, a $25 million increase.
  • $25 million for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to conduct firearm injury and mortality prevention research.

Education funding would include:

  • $16.6 billion for Title I grants, which support public schools with high numbers of low-income children, $254 million more than in fiscal 2020.
  • $12.9 billion for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Part B grants to states, a $193.5 million increase.
  • The maximum Pell Grant would be $6,495 for the 2021-2022 academic year, an increase of $150 over last academic year.
  • $1.26 billion for the Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centers, a $13 million increase.

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