For six months as Senate Majority Leader McConnell refused to take up a meaningful COVID-19 relief package, the pandemic has not only continued, but worsened. There are seven million confirmed cases in the U.S., 200,000 people have died, and millions of children and families—especially Black and Brown children and families—continue to struggle from the result of catastrophic job losses and reduced hours, ongoing systemic and structural racism, and economic upheaval. Despite the Senate’s refusal to take up the House-passed HEROES Act or come to the negotiating table in earnest, this week, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi introduced a new version of the HEROES Act. Despite the smaller price tag, this bill maintains many of the key priorities for children and families included in the May bill passed by the House, while also taking steps to address at least two critical pieces for children and families that to date, have been largely left out of Congress’ earlier efforts to ensure relief: significant funding for the child care sector and critical investments to help support children, youth, and families across the child welfare continuum. While this new bill may still fall short of all of the things we know children and families need to weather this health and economic crisis, it’s imperative that Congress take this crucial next step to ensure long overdue relief now.
The updated HEROES Act includes:
- A long overdue $57 billion in funding for child care including $50 billion for Child Care Stabilization Grants and $7 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grants to provide immediate assistance to child care providers and protect these essential services from permanent closure. This funding would fill the gaps left in emergency assistance for child care providers in earlier relief packages and ensure the child care industry can stay afloat and parents can return to work safely.
- A second round of $1,200 ($2,400 for joint filers) direct cash assistance payments for each adult taxpayer and $500 per dependent with no caps on the number of dependents. The new bill makes critical improvements and fixes from the CARES Act payments by including households with full-time students below 24, adult dependents, and ITIN filers in mixed immigrant status families, though it does not include parity amounts for adults or children as outlined in the original HEROES Act in May.
- A temporary, one year expansion to the Child Tax Credit beginning in 2020 by making it fully refundable and establishing an option for an advanced monthly payment. When compared to the original HEROES Act, notably, the bill does not include an expansion of the credit to $3,000 for children aged six to 17 and $3,600 for young children under six.
- A temporary, one-year expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) beginning in 2020 for adults without qualifying dependent children in addition to lowering the minimum age of eligibility for the credit from 25 to 19 (except full-time students under 25) and 18 for former foster youth and homeless youth. The maximum credit increases from $538 to $1,487.
- Emergency TANF flexibility, similar to the original HEROES 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. The bill also provides $9.6 billion in emergency assistance for children and families experiencing material hardship through the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG). Children who are on free or reduced price school meals would qualify for funds that could be used at the state and local level with at least 50 percent of these funds going to counties, cities, and community-based organizations to provide for basic wellbeing necessities such as short-term cash, non-cash, and in-kind benefits; to administer services and maintain the social services infrastructure; and to connect families and individuals with other services, benefits, and payments.
- Expanded nutrition assistance for children and families, including $10 billion for SNAP, $400 million for WIC, and $300 million for state SNAP administrative costs. The bill temporarily boosts maximum SNAP benefits by 15 percent, increases the minimum monthly SNAP benefit from $16 to $30, temporarily suspends time limits and work requirements for one year, and permits families on SNAP to purchase hot foods. The bill also raises the monthly WIC Cash Value Voucher (CVV) up to $35 dollars for mothers and children and partially reimburses school and child care meal programs for revenue losses incurred last year due to decreased participation.
- A year long, nationwide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, $50 billion in rental assistance, $21 billion for states to provide homeowner assistance for those most at risk of losing their homes due to the crisis, and $5 billion in assistance for people experiencing homlessness. This bill provides significantly less funding for housing assistance than the original HEROES Act in May, which provided $100 billion in rental assistance, $75 billion for homeowners, and $11.5 billion for people experiencing homelessness, meaning communities will need more money early in 2021 because these funds will run out quickly. The bill maintains $1 billion for new, non-renewable vouchers to provide long-term housing for individuals currently experiencing homelessness and funding for public housing operators.
- Increased funding and regulatory changes to help stabilize families and prevent children from entering foster care, including an increase of federal reimbursement for the Title IV-E Prevention Program to 100 percent, $225 million for the Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention Program through CAPTA Title II, and $100 million in home visiting. The bill also provides $85 million in the MaryLee Allen Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program to help support birth, foster, adoptive, and kinship families and to help child welfare courts adapt to the pandemic.
- Support for relatives caring for children by increasing federal support for Kinship Navigator Programs and temporarily waiving the evidence standard required for federal reimbursement to help reach more kinship caregivers and provide them with access to resources and information they need to safely care for children.
- A moratorium on aging out of foster care and dramatically increased resources to help older youth successfully transition to adulthood by providing $400 million to the John H. Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood and adjusted program requirements to better meet these youths’ unique needs during the pandemic. The bill also keeps more young people connected to supports and safe housing by placing a moratorium on youth “aging out” of foster care and by allowing youth who have already aged out during the pandemic to re-enter care.
- Needed funding for the child welfare system’s ability to support children and families including $75 million to the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Child Welfare Services Program and $100 million for grants to state Child Protective Services programs through Title I of CAPTA.
- Increased funding and expanded eligibility for Medicaid including a temporary boost to the Medicaid FMAP to 14 percent to support hospitals and healthcare providers, a temporary boost of ten percent for federal payments to state Medicaid programs to support home- and community-based services, an extension of Medicaid eligibility to incarcerated individuals 30 days prior to their release, and Medicaid coverage of non-emergency medical transportation.
- Protection for families at risk of losing their job-based health insurance by allowing unemployed Americans to access ACA premium tax credits and establishing a special election period and limited retroactive coverage for those who are eligible for unemployment compensation.
- $182 billion in funding for K-12 schools including $175 billion for a State Fiscal Stabilization Fund to support schools’ COVID-related needs including making up instructional time, school-based supports, sanitation and cleaning, and educational technology as well as $5 billion for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Facilities Aid to help ensure school buildings are set up to protect the health of students and staff.
- Aid to unemployed workers, including a restored Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, which would bring back the $600 weekly boost in supplemental unemployment benefits for workers through January 31, 2021. However, Congress must expand and extend benefits available to families until the economy has recovered, and lawmakers must also extend benefits to all workers, regardless of their immigration status.
- Increased access to 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.
Children and families—particularly families of color and low-income families who have been facing the brunt of the health and economic impacts of the crisis—need support to face the unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and months of federal inaction. The Children’s Defense Fund applauds the House’s continued efforts to provide children and families with the support they deserve and urges the Senate to pass this critical legislation immediately.
Find a summary and the full text of the updated HEROES Act here.