The Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) program, a part of the American Rescue Plan, delivers $350 billion to state, local, and Tribal governments across the country to support their response to and recovery from the COVID-19 public health emergency. These funds are meant to be used to support families and businesses struggling with the pandemic’s impact, maintain vital public services, and encourage economic recovery.

One such use of these funds is of particular interest to the child welfare field: funds can be used to “provide premium pay for essential workers, offering additional support to those who have and will bear the greatest health risks because of their service in critical sectors.”

According to the Final Rule, released by the Treasury on January 6, 2022 and governing the use of SLFRF funds, child welfare workers meet the requirements to be considered essential workers, and therefore could be eligible for premium pay up to $13 per hour, but not exceeding $25,000 for any single worker during the program (see page 35), should states choose to use funds in this manner.

The child welfare workforce has always been undervalued in terms of recruitment, retention, and support.  This despite evidence that decreased caseworker turnover results in better outcomes for families and children with shorter lengths of stay and higher levels of permanence.  Many child welfare agencies face high turnover, especially when in a crisis.  Anecdotally there have been reports across the country that the pandemic has had an impact on the child welfare workforce with shortages in staffing.

For the child welfare worker, it has meant facing a lack of PPE and other supports in the early stages of the pandemic, exposure to families and children with COVOD-19 and a more difficult time in the recruitment of families during the pandemic.

At a time when the child welfare field is facing high rates of turnover in the workforce, these additional funds could be a welcome, albeit temporary, investment in the front-line staff interacting with families and community members on a daily basis.