On Monday, September 28, Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced a new version of the Heroes Act, the latest in a series of attempts at legislation to mitigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy and the American people. The bill, an update to the bill that the House passed in May of this year but that the Senate refused to take up, contains vital resources to help children and families weather the stressors of the public health emergency.
Importantly, the updated Heroes Act goes far further than its predecessor (or the HEALS Act, which was proposed in the Senate but never voted on) when it comes to supporting the children, youth, and families in the child welfare system. The House proposal includes the provisions of the bipartisan Supporting Foster Youth and Families through the Pandemic Act (H.R.7947), which was introduced by 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. It also includes crucial funding for the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act(CAPTA) to help the child welfare system adapt to the public health emergency and provides critical investments in helping to keep families strong in the face of the pandemic.
Specifically, the updated Heroes Act would:
- Dramatically increase resources to help older youth successfully transition from foster care to adulthood and maintain their health during the pandemic. Older youth who have made tremendous progress toward successful adulthood, often without the support of family, are seeing that progress upended by the economic impact of the pandemic. The Heroes Act will help mitigate the daily challenges facing these young people by providing $400 million to the John H. Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood and adjusting program requirements to make it more able to meet youths’ specific needs during the public health emergency.
- Prevent youth from aging out of the foster care system during the crisis. The updated Heroes Act 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. Now more than ever, extended foster care is a life line for young people as it provides them with the safety and security of knowing they can maintain their current living arrangements and services, and ensures they will be in the best position to stay healthy and continue working towards their goals for their future.
- Increase investment in the Title IV-E Prevention Program. The COVID-19 pandemic creates many new stressors for vulnerable families. Communities need tools and resources in order to offer prevention and early intervention services to help these families remain safe and healthy. By increasing the federal reimbursement for the Title IV-E Prevention Program to 100 percent, this bill would build on important reform efforts already underway across the country and will allow states, tribes, and territories to act swiftly to provide evidence-based, trauma-informed mental health and substance use treatment and in-home skill-based parenting programs to help keep families strong and keep children safely at home with their families.
- Invest $225 million in keeping families strong throughout the pandemic and beyond. By appropriating $225 million for the Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention Program through CAPTA Title II, the updated Heroes Act would fund programs like home visiting and family resource centers, which help to build on the strengths of families and provide services tailored to their needs so that they are able to remain strong in the face of the public health emergency and other crises that threaten their stability.
- Provide $85 million for services and programs to support birth, foster, adoptive, and kinship families and to help child welfare courts adapt to the pandemic. A targeted investment of federal funds into the MaryLee Allen Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program will give communities the flexibility they need to boost investments in services that support families during this challenging time. Investment in the Court Improvement Program will help mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the functioning of the child welfare courts, such as enhancements in technology to ensure timely hearings and avoid delays in reunification and other legal proceedings to achieve permanency.
- Help relatives caring for children by increasing federal support for Kinship Navigator Programs. Grandparents and other relatives who step in to raise children and keep them safely with family and out of foster care, face unique challenges during this COVID crisis. These relative caregivers are often older and particularly vulnerable to the virus and are struggling to safely access basic food, medicine, and supplies without exposing themselves to the virus. By increasing the federal share for Kinship Navigators to 100 percent and temporarily waiving the evidence standard required for federal reimbursement, this bill creates stronger flexibility to reach more kinship caregivers and provide them with access to resources and information they need to safely care for children.
- Provide $75 million in flexible funds to child welfare agencies. The Heroes Act provides an additional investment in the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Child Welfare Services Program, which adds needed flexibility for states and tribes to develop and expand coordinated, community-based services for children and families.
- Strengthen the child welfare systems ability to adapt to the pandemic. This version of the Heroes Act would also provide $100 million for grants to state Child Protective Services programs through Title I of CAPTA. These critical funds would help to ensure the continued functioning of the child welfare system during the pandemic and fund important adaptations, such as providing technology for virtual visitation or personal protective equipment for child welfare caseworkers.
- Provide flexibilities for home visiting programs to continue serving families safely. The bill provides $100 million for home visiting and allows for necessary adaptations to ensure that young parents can continue to receive home visiting services and will ensure that funding for these vital programs will not be reduced because of measures taken to ensure safety of home visiting staff and clients. Delaying deadlines and providing programmatic flexibility allow home visiting programs to adapt to the public health crisis while safely providing necessary supports to families.
Additionally, the updated Heroes Act would invest $9.6 billion in the Social Services Block Grant. Though these flexible funds for states are not directly designated for child welfare, many states use a substantial portion of these funds to supplement child welfare funding. The bill also contains the provisions of the Stronger Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act which would reauthorize both titles of CAPTA for five years and increase the authorization level for each to $270 million. The provisions are very similar to the bill that passed the House in 2019 and include some key reforms including how child abuse fatalities are reported and how states share information from child abuse and neglect registries.
The updated Heroes Act would provide much-needed emergency support for children, youth, and families that are facing unprecedented stress and disruptions due to the public health crisis by addressing challenges found across the entire child welfare continuum. This proposal reflects most of the recommendations elevated by the child welfare community in the April 10 sign-on letter to House and Senate leadership on the emergency support needed for children and families in response to the pandemic. Once enacted, it would provide much needed resources to help support struggling families, keep children safe, and help youth thrive during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
CDF is thankful for the leadership of Chairman Davis and Ranking Member Walorski in advancing many of the provisions of this bill and for the tremendous advocacy of the entire child welfare community. Children and families need support to face the unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly children and families of color who are disproportionately impacted by both the pandemic and systemic racism in the child welfare system. This bill is an important step toward protecting children and strengthening families.