The Senate returned to work last week promising to unveil additional COVID-19 relief legislation that their Republican leadership said would focus on “making sure we take care of our kids” in the face of the unprecedented national economic and public health crisis. This week, they finally introduced their idea of relief—The HEALS Act—and it falls far short of the meeting the needs of children and families in this country.
The HEALS Act proposal includes:
- One-time stimulus payment of $1,200 for adults and $500 for dependents. These payments exclude immigrants as well as anyone in their households, are too small, do not provide parity for children or resources for the unbanked, and are one-time instead of recurring. Every adult and every child should receive a payment of $2,000 a month regardless of immigration status to ensure families are able to pay their bills, seek necessary health care, and put food on the table amid this economic crisis.
- TANF COVID Emergency Fund which provides a counterproductive new model for reimbursing states for 80% of their increased costs of providing cash assistance and other in-kind support through the TANF program. However, this emergency fund is capped at $2 billion through FY2021 and falls short of what was proposed through the Pandemic TANF Assistance Act of $10 billion. The bill does not waive the burdensome and illogical work requirements and time limits on assistance that plague the normal TANF program, which are critical now during the pandemic and beyond
- $2.2 billion in funding to maintain current Section 8 voucher rental assistance for low-income families experiencing a loss of income from COVID-19 and $1 billion in funding to Public Housing Agencies to maintain their programs and help contain the transmission of COVID-19 in public housing properties. In addition to this funding being inadequate, the HEALS Act completely leaves out a federal eviction moratorium, $100 billion in emergency rental assistance, and funding for those experiencing homelessness, which are critical to helping stop the catastrophic housing and racial justice crisis currently facing our nation.
- Slashes Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) benefits from $600 per week to $200 per week and phases out the system starting in September to be replaced with a program where only 70% of a recipient’s lost wages are replaced. The Republican plan would also end all the federal unemployment programs starting December 31, 2020, further hurting workers experiencing prolonged unemployment. Now is not the time to gut a proven program: expanded UI benefits are critical for the millions of families that have experienced job losses during the pandemic and at a time when unemployment, particularly among Black and Latinx families, is on the rise.
- Support for young people transitioning out of foster care including $50 million in funding for the Chafee program, authority to waive limitations on the percentage of funds that can be used for housing assistance, and the suspension of work and education requirements for the education and training voucher program. This funding was far less than the amount advocates have urged Congress to provide to adequately meet the needs of young people transitioning from foster care to adulthood amid a pandemic and economic collapse.
- $50 million in funding for Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention through Title II of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). These funds can be used to provide vital supports to struggling families that help to keep children safe. These programs have adapted to remain open and continue to support families but the funding Congress allotted was only five percent of the total amount they need to keep families strong.
- $75 million in funding for Title IV-B, Subpart 1, to provide interventions that help keep families together, to train the child welfare workforce to adjust to the public health emergency, and to promote the safety, permanence, and well-being of children in foster care. The funding in the HEALS Act falls shamefully short of the $2 billion proposed in the Child Welfare Emergency Assistance Act and what the system needs to keep children safe.
- $10 million in funding for the Court Improvement Program to assist child welfare courts in their response to COVID-19, only one-third of the amount that courts have claimed they need to prevent delayed reunifications and ensure that children and families receive critical supports in a timely manner. The HEALS Act does not provide adequate funding to maintain this program, and it completely leaves out funding for CAPTA Title I, Kinship Navigator Programs, and the Title IV-E Prevention Program to ensure states can meet the needs of the child welfare system. It also leaves out significant investments needed in the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG), which provides critical services and supports on a variety of human service needs, including child protective services, child abuse prevention services, and foster care.
- $5 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant and $10 billion for Back to Work Child Care Grants which would provide some short-term assistance for child care providers to stay open and support children safely. The HEALS Act falls far short of what was proposed through the Child Care is Essential Act and what is needed to prevent the collapse of the child care industry.
- $105 billion in funding for education including $70 billion for K-12 schools. Two-thirds of this funding is tied to re-opening which would incentivize schools to re-open even when it is not safe for students, staff, and families.
- $25 billion for hospitals and healthcare providers as well as $7.6 billion for Community Health Centers. This funding is far less than the $100 billion for healthcare providers proposed in the HEROES Act, and the HEALS Act also fails to increase Medicaid funding to states (FMAP) or prevent the detrimental MFAR rule, leaving children’s and parents’ access to needed coverage and care at risk as more families lose access to employer-sponsored insurance and become eligible for Medicaid.
- $42 billion in funding for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and the development of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics.
- $190 billion in funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) which focuses support on businesses with fewer than 300 employees that have experienced at least a 50% reduction in gross revenues.
- Liability protections to shield businesses, schools, and hospitals from lawsuits alleging their negligent operations caused customers or employees to be infected with COVID-19. These protections would incentivize unsafe business practices that put workers’ and the public’s health at risk.
- 100% tax deductibility of business meals to support corporate executives despite the lack of any additional funding for SNAP for children facing food insecurity.
- $1.75 billion for a new FBI headquarters in DC despite the lack of adequate funding for critical resources families and children need to weather this crisis.
In addition to these many shortcomings, the HEALS Act also fails to provide any additional funding for lifesaving nutrition assistance programs or a boost to the SNAP program, but doubles the business meal deduction tax for wealthy CEOs; adequate state and local fiscal relief to cope with COVID-19 expenses; funding for juvenile facilities to protect the health and safety of incarcerated children; expansions to the Child Tax Credit or Earned Income Tax Credit; expansions to paid sick days or paid family and medical leave benefits; or any assistance for immigrant families that are being disproportionately harmed by the health and economic crises. The pandemic, and the Senate’s inaction, have exacerbated already existing racial and economic disparities; These resources are critical to reduce these growing disparities and provide families the resources they need.
In short, the HEALS Act is inadequate and irresponsible: Senate leadership waited two months to unveil a proposal that leaves millions behind and now leaves little time for negotiations as life-saving support begins expiring. As negotiations heat up again this week, we urge Congress to put the health and well-being of children and families in need ahead of further tax cuts and benefits for wealthy corporations and businesses.
Find CDF’s official statement on the HEALS Act here.