This is a continuation of last week’s description of the American Rescue Plan Act. The $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief measure has a lot in it that directly and indirectly addresses the impact of this year-long pandemic. It addresses many issues that have received increased focus because of this past year’s struggles (racial and regional inequities within the economy and health care system). Unlike the December relief legislation, there are limited funds specific to “child welfare” because what was adopted in the December relief including $350 million for the Title IV-E Chafee program, $50 million in training and education vouchers, an increased match for Family First Prevention Services, $75 million in Promoting Safe and Stable Families funding, $10 million for the Court Improvement Program (CIP), greater access to funding for kinship navigator programs, and mandated protections for youth aging out of foster care. There is a tremendous amount of funding, however, that will help families throughout the child welfare continuum from primary prevention to youth exiting foster care. What is in it:
Overall, there is $165 billion in education relief funding split between K through 12 and Higher Education. The package provides Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund of $122.7 billion for K-12 school reopening activities, including implementing recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of this total, there is $800 million for McKinney-Vento Homeless Children and Youth populations. Separately there is Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools of $2.7 billion and a Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund of $39.5 billion.
For child welfare, the state education agency (SEA) is required to use at least 5% of the total grant award for activities to address learning loss and another 1% of the total grant award for evidence-based summer enrichment programs, and at least 1% for “evidence-based comprehensive” after-school programs. Education access and education progress have always been a challenge for children in foster care because of the potential relocation to a new school or maintaining current student enrollment despite transportation and other challenges.
Some news reports and analysis suggest that during this pandemic, some student populations, who may have already been behind in education, are even more challenged due to lower attendance, limited access to the internet, lack of equipment (computers), or challenging in using learning tools (for example being required to use a smartphone to access the classroom). Considering many foster families may have limited access to these tools and have been challenged economically, it will be important for the child welfare community to ensure that these families get access to these supplemental learning programs and other supports.
The Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund is divided between 91% of funding for direct grants to public and private nonprofit institutions of higher education (IHEs) and postsecondary vocational institutions; 1% in direct grants to proprietary IHEs; 7.5% through minority-serving institutions (MSI) programs 0.5% through the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE).
Expansion of health insurance coverage includes an expansion of tax credits for individuals buying health insurance through the ACA and expanded Medicaid incentives for the remaining 14 outlier states that have yet to expand Medicaid health insurance coverage under the ACA for families up to 150 percent of poverty. States receive a 90 percent match if they do this under current law. This would add to those incentives.
In addition to incentives to these 14 states to take the ACA option, the legislation provides increased support to adults and families purchasing health insurance through the ACA exchange. The relief measure boosts tax credits for 2021 and 2022 and results in reduced monthly insurance premiums. No ACA marketplace enrollee would spend more than 8.5 percent of their income on premiums if they are at 400 percent of poverty or lower. People with income below 150 percent of the poverty line (about $19,000 for a single person and $39,000 for a family of four) would pay no premiums for a middle-level ACA plan. For a family of four premiums would decrease on a monthly basis by: income of $45,000 (171% FPL) premiums decrease from $193 to $32/per month; income of $60,000 (229% FPL) premiums decrease from $379 to $158/per month; income of $90,000 (343% FPL) premiums decrease from $737 to $531/per month; income of $120,000 (458% FPL) from $1,445 to $850/per month.
For child welfare, the health care coverage expansion is significant. Medicaid expansion by the 14 states would, according to the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities, expand Medicaid to nearly 4 million uninsured low-income adults, and this includes 640,000 essential or front-line workers. The ACA, especially the part that expands Medicaid, has added billions of dollars to coverage of mental health and substance use treatment services, critical needs within the child welfare population. Also, impacting child welfare is the various additions for specific health care block grants:
- $7.6 billion for community health centers and Native Hawaiian Health Centers.
- $3.3 billion for the Indian Health Service.
- $50 million for the Title X Family Planning Program.
- Allowing Medicaid coverage for one year postpartum to address the maternal health crisis disproportionately affecting communities of color.
- $3.5 billion for the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment and Community Mental Health Block Grants.
- $420 million to the Indian Health Service for behavioral health services.
- $140 million to develop a program to support providers’ mental health and decrease providers and public safety officers’ burnout.
- $20 million youth suicide prevention.
- $10 million for the National Childhood Traumatic Stress Network
Nutrition services were increased through a series of program changes to assist families during the pandemic. For child welfare, these expansions will help lower-income families. The American Rescue Plan Act extends the COVID-19 15% benefit increase in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) through the end of September; Extends the Pandemic-Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) benefits through the health emergency to allow families with children to receive school meals or purchase these meals more easily—even when not physically in school. Funding increases the Supplemental Assistance for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) vouchers for fruits and vegetables to $35 per month for four months and provides $1 billion for nutrition assistance to the Territories.
There is also an additional $35 billion in rental and homeowner’s assistance. This includes $20 billion in emergency rental assistance to help renters and small landlords; $9.9 billion to aid homeowners struggling to afford their mortgage payments, utility bills, and other housing costs and $5 billion to secure shelter for the homeless. Before the pandemic, there were already an estimated 568,000 individuals and families experiencing homelessness; this package includes $5 billion to help communities provide supportive services and safe, socially distant housing solutions, including the purchase of properties like motels for use as non-congregate shelter, to protect the health of these families and individuals and help control the transmission of coronavirus. There are also more Emergency Housing Vouchers. The $5 billion included in the American Rescue Plan will expire after these assisted families no longer need them.
(For more information on how this helps child welfare, see Child and Youth Homelessness Relief in the American Rescue Plan Act article).