AASA Advocacy Round Up: All Things COVID (2 of 4)

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AASA Advocacy Round Up: All Things COVID (2 of 4)

In an effort to provide a thorough yet succinct overview of all things COVID and federal policy, AASA’s advocacy team is happy to share a series of three blog posts. The blog posts each have a different focus:

  • Blog Post One: COVID Background and Timeline
  • Blog Post Two: Congressional Action to Date (including details of education-specific funding and supports)
  • Blog Post Three: COVID resources for district leaders (LONG list of federal guidance and Q&As, related articles, supporting documents and more)
  • Blog Post Four: COVID resources (quick list of relevant blog posts from AASA blog, link to AASA’s list of COVID-related webinars)  

Congressional Action to Date (3 bills completed, one currently under negotiation)

  • HR 6074, Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act (March 6, 2020)
    • $8.3B emergency package
    • 3x request from White House.
    • Includes $2.2B to help federal, state, and local health agencies prepare for and respond to COVID-19.
  • HR 6201, Families First Coronavirus Response Act (March 18, 2020)
    • Nutrition Provisions
      • $500 million for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to provide nutrition assistance for children and their mothers who have lost their jobs as a result of the outbreak.
      • $400 million for The Emergency Food Assistance Program to help local food banks meet increased need for low-income Americans.
      • $100 million for nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories. 
      • A provision that allows the Department of Agriculture to approve state plans to provide emergency Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) food assistance to households with children who would otherwise receive free or reduced-price school meals in the event that their school is closed (The MEAL Act).
      • Gives the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to approve state waivers addressing nutrition assistance with school closures even if it increases cost to the federal government.
      • Provisions to allow child and adult care centers to serve food to go, allow the Secretary of Agriculture to waive meal pattern requirements in child nutrition programs if there is a disruption in food supply, and allow the Secretary of Agriculture to issue nationwide school meal waivers during the emergency.
      • Allows participants to be certified for WIC without being physically present at a WIC clinic.
      • Suspends work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) during the emergency.
      • Allows states to request waivers for emergency CR-SNAP benefits to existing SNAP households up to the maximum monthly allotment.
    • Health Provisions
      • Provides free COVID-19 testing to all Americans, regardless of insurance.
      • Medicaid and CHIP, which cover over 45 million children between the two programs, will cover diagnostic testing, including the cost of a provider visit to receive testing, with no cost to the patient.
      • Increases states' federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP) for public health programs like Medicaid and CHIP for the duration of the emergency. 
      • Increases Medicaid allotments for U.S. Territories.
      • The bill ensures that American Indians and Alaskan Natives do not experience cost sharing for COVID-19 testing.
    • Paid Sick Leave, Unemployment Insurance, and Family and Medical Leave Provisions
      • Provides employees of employers with under 500 employees the right to two weeks of fully-paid leave when they are sick, or two weeks of paid leave at 2/3 of their normal rate to care for a family member.
      • Provides employees of employers with under 500 employees the right to take up to 12-weeks of job-protected leave.
      • Provides $1 billion in 2020 emergency grants to states to meet the increased need for Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits.
      • Provides several tax breaks for employers who give their employees mandatory paid leave during the emergency.
  • S 3548 CARES Act (March 25)
    • Funding for Schools and Children (Details)
      • $15.5 billion for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program;
      • $8.8 billion for Child Nutrition Programs to ensure students receive meals when school is not in session;
      • $3.5 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grants, which provide child-care subsidies to low-income families and can be used to augment state and local systems;
      • $750 million for Head Start early-education programs;
      • $100 million in Project SERV grants to help clean and disinfect schools, and provide support for mental health services and distance learning;
      • $69 million for schools funded by the Bureau of Indian Education; and
      • $5 million for health departments to provide guidance on cleaning and disinfecting schools and day-care facilities.
      • The $13.5 billion in stabilization fund money could be used to provide K-12 students internet connectivity and internet-connected devices, and a separate item in the bill for rural development provides $25 million to support "distance learning."
    • Using CARES Act Funding
      • Under the CARES Act, States and districts are set to receive $13.2 billion for K-12 in the CARES Act. The money must be spent by September 2021 although it’s not clear whether the funding can be directed at costs already incurred related to the pandemic (but that is our hope). There is an urgent push by Governors to expedite the process for moving these funds to districts which AASA supports, but it still could be at least two months before they show up in districts’ coffers. Once the funds are out here is how you can use them:
        • Any activity authorized in ESSA, IDEA and Perkins CTE
        • To coordinate with public health departments to prevent, prepare and respond to COVID-19
        • To address the unique needs of low-income students, students with disabilities, English-learners, racial and ethnic minorities, homeless and foster care youth
        • PD for staff on sanitation and minimizing spread of pandemic and purchasing supplies to clean and sanitize buildings
        • Planning for and coordinating long-term closures including how to do meal services, how to provide tech/online learning, how to carry out IDEA, etc.
        • Providing mental health services/supports
        • Planning and implementing activities related to summer learning and afterschool programs, including providing classroom instruction or online learning during the summer months, and addressing the needs of vulnerable children
        • Any other activity necessary to maintain the operation and continuity to employ existing staff 
    • Waiver Authority Under CARES
      • DeVos’ waiver authority as provided in CARES is addition to the expedited waiver process DeVos announced for assessments earlier in March. This package includes waiver flexibility for states to get waivers on accountability (related to publicly reporting various indicators under their accountability systems, as well as waivers from reporting on progress toward their long-term achievement goals, and interim goals under ESSA and waivers to freeze in place their schools identified for improvement. No schools would be added to the list, and no schools would be removed from the list for the 2020-21 school year, under this expedited waiver process. There is no additional language related to IDEA flexibility; that remains the huge, bruising conversation we are having with the hill. There are also a handful of waivers available at the state and local level re flexibility from sections of ESSA related to funding mandates. SEAs/LEAs can seek a waiver:
      • from ESSA's requirement for states to essentially maintain their education spending in order to tap federal funds. 
      • to make it easier to run schoolwide Title I programs regardless of the share of low-income students in districts and schools. 
      • from requirements governing Title IV Part A, which funds programs aimed at student well-being and well-rounded achievements. Caps on spending for different priority areas would be lifted, and schools would no longer be barred from spending more than 15 percent of their Title IV money on digital devices. 
      • to carry over as much Title I money as they want from this academic year to the next one; normally there's a 15 percent limit. 
      • from adhering to ESSA's definition of professional development. 
    • Accessing CARES Funding
      • As of April 13: The U.S. Department of the Treasury launched a web portal to allow eligible State, local, and tribal governments to receive payments to help offset the costs of their response to the coronavirus pandemic. Once registered through this portal, States, territories, and the District of Columbia will receive promptly half of the funds allocated to them pursuant to the CARES Act. This will fast-track the availability of $71 billion to meet immediate cash flow needs. The remaining balance of the payment amounts due to States, eligible local governments, and tribal governments will be paid no later than April 24, 2020. Read full press release here.
  • Currently being negotiated: CARES 2.0 / COVID 4
    • Top Priorities: moving forward, we are prioritizing a significant infusion of funding for schools (check out the joint letter with our priorities, signed by a dozen national organizations) as well as a call for narrow, time-limited flexibility for IDEA (Details/call to action below).
    • IDEA Call to Action: Congress Must Grant Narrow, Temporary IDEA Flexibility NOW
      • In light of the hardship districts are experiencing in trying to educate all students during a pandemic, we call on Congress to provide practical, narrow flexibility in how districts meet some of the requirements under IDEA. If your district is struggling to meet IDEA mandates, we urge you to take a moment to email the education staff on Capitol Hill and ask them to ensure the next COVID-19 relief package contains sensible flexibility for IDEA.
      • Please send an action alert to your full Congressional delegation today using AASA’s Action Alert System. You simply input your address and they will direct you to the appropriate Rep/Senators for you to email and supply a template email for you to use. Or you can download a list of all the education staffers for your Congressional delegation and email them individually here. We urge you to make your advocacy more impactful by personalizing this email and adding a paragraph describing the issues your district is specifically facing in complying with IDEA. 

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