As Congress prepares to return to Washington, D.C., next week after its month-long recess, negotiations over the next relief package continue to stall. During a hearing in front of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis this week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin advised that certain parts of the economy need relief quickly. On a phone call with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after the hearing, Mnuchin urged Pelosi to accept a smaller, more targeted package now, followed by a more comprehensive package later. He recommended aid to the service and airline industries, as well as another tranche of Paycheck Protection Program funds for small businesses. Pelosi rejected the step-by-step approach in favor of a larger, more comprehensive package. Before the August recess, House Democrats had proposed a $3.5 trillion package, called the HEROES Act, which they later reduced to $2.2 trillion. 
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans have been working on a $500 billion bill, down from the $1 trillion bill they proposed in July. One draft of the bill includes $300 per week in supplemental unemployment benefits, an increase from their pre-recess proposal of $200 per week, but short of the $600 per week benefit that expired at the end of July. The draft also turns a $10 billion loan to the U.S. Postal Service into a grant. Republicans writing the bill not only need to win over some Democrats to reach the 60-vote threshold to pass a bill, they need to contend with at least 20 Senators in their own caucus who oppose any new emergency spending. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that he is doubtful about whether another package would pass in the next few weeks.

With the current fiscal year ending Oct. 1, one possible outcome will be a stopgap bill that temporarily continues current spending levels until after the election, with an emergency relief package attached. Yesterday, however, Pelosi and Mnuchin signaled that they will keep the stopgap and emergency aid separate. Stay tuned. The Alliance will continue to keep you updated on new developments as Congress returns to Capitol Hill next week.

Annual Foster Care Report Released

The Administration for Children and Families released its annual Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) report for fiscal year 2019, which showed several improvements in quality of life for children and families across the nation. For example, the number of children in foster care dropped from 435,000 in fiscal year 2018 to 424,000 in fiscal year 2019, the lowest amount since 2015. From fiscal year 2018 to fiscal year 2019, the number of children entering care dropped from 263,000 to 251,000, and adoptions increased from 63,000 to 66,000, the largest number of adoptions since fiscal year 1995, when AFCARS data collection began. In fiscal year 2019, 86,700 of the 251,000 children in foster care—just over one-third—were removed because of drug-related concerns of at least one parent, a two percent drop from fiscal year 2018.

Kinship Navigator Programs Receive Funding

The Administration for Children and Families awarded $19 million in grants to states to help develop, enhance, or evaluate their kinship navigator programs, which support and train grandparents or other relatives to provide permanency for children who are removed from home. This follows on the heels of President Trump’s executive order, Strengthening the Child Welfare System for America’s Children, which he signed in June. The funds are intended to help states prepare for the title IV-E Kinship Navigator Program authorized by the Family First Prevention Services Act. More than 2.5 million children are currently being raised by relatives through the child welfare system and through informal arrangements. Among those in foster care, 32% are living with kin.

Guidance on Payroll Tax Deferral for Employers

After Congress failed to agree on an emergency stimulus bill before the start of the August recess, President Trump signed several executive orders to provide partial relief to families. The Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service released guidance on an executive order that defers payroll taxes. The guidance states that, between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31, employers can suspend certain payroll taxes for employees earning less than $4,000 in a biweekly pay period. These taxes will be due to the IRS between Jan. 1 and April 30, 2021, at which point interest will be applied. The executive order has generated strong opposition including this letter from 30 business associations calling the executive order “unworkable.”

Summer Meal Programs Extended into Fall

On Aug. 31, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the extension of two summer meal programs, the Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option, until the end of the calendar year or until funding runs out. Though Congress did not allocate money for the entire 2020-2021 school year, the Food and Nutrition Service is confident, based off internal calculations, that funds will last for the rest of the calendar year. This is the first time that these programs will operate past the summer months. Additional flexibilities include allowing meals to be served outside of group settings and standard mealtimes and permitting parents to pick up meals for their children. Over the past six months, partners on the ground have created 80,000 meal sites.

New Rural Telehealth Initiative Underway

Federal Communications Commission (FCC), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have launched a new rural telehealth collaboration to help rural communities access quality health care during the pandemic. Rural Americans make up 15% of the population and suffer from higher rates of heart disease, cancer, and strokes than their urban counterparts. Accessible telehealth services are paramount in these rural areas, which have experienced disproportionate hospital closings and a shortage of specialists. Through the collaboration, the FCC received $200 million to meet the telehealth needs of over 500 health care providers, while USDA’s Rural Broadband ReConnect program dispersed $650 million in grants and loans to establish high-speed broadband in rural areas.

SafeCare Approved by Title IV-E Prevention Services Clearinghouse

The Title IV-E Prevention Services Clearinghouse recently approved another evidenced-based service. SafeCare is an in-home behavioral parenting program aimed at reducing child maltreatment and neglect. Designed for parents and caregivers with children birth through five, the program cultivates nurturing parent-child relationships, sensitivity to child injury or illness, and a safe home environment. The program develops over 18 sessions split up into three modules:

  • Home safety
  • Health
  • Parent-child/parent-infant interaction

The Clearinghouse rated SafeCare as “supported” because at least one study scored moderate or high in design and showed positive effects for at least six months on one target outcome.

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