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Senate Leadership releases HEALS Act COVID-19 relief bill, includes support for education, child care

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Senate Leadership releases HEALS Act COVID-19 relief bill, includes support for education, child care

After a week long delay, Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) announced the latest proposed Covid-19 relief bill – the Heals Act - on Monday afternoon, July 27.  According to the announcement,  the HEALS Actaddresses three critical crises facing the country: getting kids back to school, getting workers back to work, and winning the fight against the virus. The new Covid package is a series of bills that addresses these different areas.

The Republican plan would provide federal $200 weekly unemployment supplements until states can adopt a system that scales the total benefit to 70% of a worker’s previous income. Other provisions in the bill include a second round of stimulus checks for individuals, strong liability protections, and an extension of eviction protections. It does not provide additional aide to states and municipalities. Negotiations between Senate leadership, House leadership (which passed their proposal, the HEROES Act, last May), and the White House, are now expected to begin in earnest with the process expected to take several weeks before Congress sends a bill to President Trump’s desk. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has pledged that the House “can’t go home” for its upcoming recess without passing additional coronavirus relief.

The education and child care provisions of the package are detailed below. The proposal includes $105.1 billion for the Department of Education. While the package does not include dedicated funding to support afterschool programs, afterschool is an allowable use for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, which is allotted to receive $70 billion. However, two-thirds of this funding would be available only to help schools with additional costs of reopening for in-person instruction. The Child Care funding in the bill can also be accessed by afterschool programs. This week, as Congressional negotiations begin, a new proposal of $6.2 billion to support 21st CCLC afterschool programs was also suggested.

Education Stabilization Fund – The proposal provides $105 billion to help get students back to school and provide for the continued learning of all students in elementary and secondary education and higher education, as follows:

  • $1 billion for the Bureau of Indian Education and outlying areas;
  • $5 billion for the Governors Emergency Education Relief Fund;
  •  $70 billion for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund; and
  • $29 billion for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.
  • These funds would remain available through Sept. 30, 2021.

Similar to the CARES Act, the new bill includes a host of allowable uses for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSERF) for both LEAs that reopen physically or those that choose virtual learning, either may use funds they receive for (among other uses): planning and implementing activities related to summer learning and supplemental afterschool programs, including providing classroom instruction or online learning during the summer months and addressing the needs of low-income students, students with disabilities, English learners, migrant students, students experiencing homelessness, and children in foster care.

The following general provisions are included as part of the Education Stabilization Fund:

  • Authorizes funding for the Governors Emergency Education Relief Fund, which provides flexible funding to Governors to be used for early childhood education, elementary and secondary education, or higher education, based on the needs of the state.
  • Authorizes funding for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, which provides grants to states, including funding allocated to school districts based on existing formulas, and proportional funding for private schools based on the number of children attending private schools in the state. Of the funding allocated directly to school districts and private schools, one-third would be available to all school districts and private schools immediately. The remaining two-thirds would be available specifically to help schools with the additional costs to reopen for in-person instruction, with funding awarded based on certain minimum opening requirements and other criteria established by the state.
    • A school district’s, reopening plans would have to include in-person instruction for at least 50 percent of students. Those students would also have to physically attend school no less than 50 percent of each school week. School reopening plans would have to include a detailed timeline for providing in-person learning, as well as an "assurance" to "offer students as much in-person instruction as is safe and practicable."
  • Authorizes funding for the Higher Education Emergency Relief (HEER) Fund, which provides grants directly to institutions of higher education, largely based on full-time equivalent enrollment of Pell grant recipients, to support both additional institutional expenses related to COVID-19 and additional student financial aid needs. Institutions that paid the endowment tax in 2019 would receive decreased allocations and could only use funding for student aid.
    • Within the HEER fund, $2.9 billion is for additional and dedicated funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions.
  • Authorizes assistance to non-public schools.
  • Provides for the continued payment of school employees.
  • Establishes definitions related to the Education Stabilization Fund.
  • Requires states to maintain their funding for education at least at the same proportional levels as in 2019 as a condition for receiving Education Stabilization Fund grants.

With regard to Child Care provisions, the HEALS Act provides the following, all of which also apply to school-age providers:

  • Child Care and Development Block Grant - $5 billion for child care, including direct support for child care providers to help ensure working parents have access to child care so they can work or return to work
  • Back to Work Child Care Grants - $10 billion - Authorizes short-term assistance to help child care providers reopen and stay open so that parents have a safe place to send their children when they return to work. Allows states to build out programs to help child care providers reopen and maintain operations for 9 months.
  • Children and Families Services Programs - $190 million for family violence prevention and child welfare programs, to support services for particularly vulnerable families and populations.

Furthermore the bill includes a host of other provisions of note:

WIOA State Grants – $450 million. The proposal provides $450 million for adult, youth, and dislocated state grants for states and communities to respond to the workforce impacts and layoffs resulting from the coronavirus.

Liability Protection: The SAFE TO WORK Act included with the package establishes temporary rules for specific types of coronavirus-related claims designed to facilitate and foster a prudent reopening of our businesses, schools, colleges and universities, religious, philanthropic and other nonprofit institutions, and local government agencies, while also ensuring that those who contract coronavirus because of the gross negligence of others can recover for their injuries.  It also protects health care providers from coronavirus-based claims, grants temporary labor and employment law protections, and clarifies already-existing products-liability protections.

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) will be extended. Small businesses or nonprofit organizations with 300 or fewer employees that show a revenue loss of 50% will be able to apply for a second loan.

With negotiations to begin, now is the time to weigh in with your members of Congress. Share the impact of virtual and in-person programs on students and families; the successes, and also the challenges around sanitation and safety, local funding shortages, and the uncertainties ahead. Your elected officials at all levels – local and state as well – want to know how your students and families are doing, how the program is fairing, and what they can do to ensure students are supported by afterschool and summer in the fall. Check out our action alert tool here for a template and be sure to add your own experiences! 

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