April 24, 2020
CDF-MN Policy Recommendations: COVID-19 Responses to Support Children and Families
As the COVID-19 crisis evolves, Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota believes that it is essential to center the values of equity and stakeholder input in responses designed to support the needs of every child and family in Minnesota. CDF-MN is focused on the whole child with specific attention on children in low income households, children of color and American Indian children. Over the past several weeks we have been listening to our community partners, child care providers and stakeholders, Freedom Schools partners, members of Voices and Choices for Children Coalition as well as other coalition partners regarding the needs of children, youth and families. Overall concerns about equity and technology, access to basic needs and on-going child care and education challenges have predominated these conversations.
CDF-MN presents the following policy suggestions rooted in community feedback as well as our own analysis. Recommendations are given in response to the opportunity to use federal CARES Act funds flowing through CCDBG ($48 million), GEERS ($43 million), ESSER ($13 million), and additional reserves of federal funds (TANF, CCAP, etc.), as well as provide guidance to educational institutions receiving $126 million in pass-through funding and to advance policy changes that are cost neutral but provide continuity of support during the crisis. These suggestions are evolving as community conditions (both public health and economic) change and this is our best thinking today. Click here to see a summary of CDF-MN’s recommendations presented in chart form.
Technology – across all needs:
As the pandemic unfolds over the near and far term, and in-person services and instruction continue to be limited, solutions at all levels proposed for everything from schooling to enrichment services, home visiting with new parents to foster care placements, mental health support to medical appointments require technology access – hardware, software, connectivity and infrastructure. Unfortunately, unequal access based on income, race and geography to technology is causing exponential harm to our state’s most under-resourced children and families. New gaps are being identified and remedied through a mix of public and private efforts that simply do not have the ability to reach all children and families. Each family has unique needs and there are multiple avenues to ensuring access. While some school districts have been better able to ensure basic internet and device access, many are overwhelmed just developing and delivering content.
Using federal resources from the various sources (CCDBG/GEERS/TANF reserves), we propose two flexible approaches for addressing the digital divide and ensuring every low-income child has the technology (hardware, software and connectivity) that they need to access the full range of supports:
- Community Solutions-style flexible grant program to advance creative solutions grounded in community experiences (to support technology and translation supports); and
- Technology support micro-grants to families with children on MFIP and other low-income families.
Many Minnesota families with children already depend on public work support programs and more are turning to them as they lose their jobs or experience decreases in hours because of COVID-19. It may take years for Minnesotans to recover their jobs and full wages or to pay off debts that were accumulated during the crisis. Workers from communities of color have been disproportionately affected by unemployment during the pandemic. To the extent that workers are able to benefit from federal programs designed to ensure economic stability, such as the $600 PUI payments on top of regular UI, both children and the state will benefit. Unfortunately, these short-term supports (UI top ups expire in July) could have the unintended consequence of knocking families off of the other public work support programs (MFIP, CCAP, SNAP) that they need to meet basic needs over the long term.
Recommendations related to protecting economic support for the 59,000 children that are currently supported by MFIP as well as other safety net programs and the many more being added daily include:
- Continue many of the modifications for public programs that have already been made for the recovery period, specifically some of the changes for simplified application processes and postponement of re-determinations;
- Follow precedent of MA/CHIP and federally subsidized housing in disregarding the “sporadic and temporary” federal $600 UI supplement for income eligibility purposes within safety net programs, with a particular focus on MFIP and CCAP but also including non-DHS programs such as WIC, Energy Assistance, Early Learning Scholarships and School Meals; alternatively expand income eligibility across programs to compensate; or at a minimum keep any case that is scheduled to close open (with $0 benefit) through July so that families do not need to reapply when temporary supports end;
- Ensure appropriate training of county staff and key community outreach partners to identify people newly eligible for MFIP and to advise those who are current MFIP participants but are newly unemployed on how to access resources available to them (MFIP vs UI);
- No sanctions or repayments should be required because of the confusion over how income will be counted during this period; and
- Clarify and share Public Charge rules for affected programs (UI supplement) with community and public organizations and families and use state dollars to fund immigrants that are not elsewise eligible for public programs such as health care, SNAP and CCAP.
Early Care and K-12 Education:
The care and instructional needs of children and youth require an integrated approach to policy and funding supports. Using existing CCDBG and new CARES Act CCDBG funding as well as GEERS funding, we recommend increasing access to subsidized early care and learning as well as funding for educational supports and out-of-school enrichment programming so that Minnesota’s disparities are not exacerbated. To succeed in school, work and life as the state moves beyond the immediate emergency, institutions, families and the children that depend on them both need additional supports to create a level playing field and equal opportunities.
As the state potentially moves in and out of stay-at-home orders and the economy slowly comes back to life in fits and starts, the state’s early care and education sector will be a critical foundational partner in maintaining healthy child development, public health and the ability for parents to continue or return to economic productivity. Specific policies include:
- Increase the CCAP provider rate to the 25th percentile of the 2018 market rate survey for at least two yearsusing currently banked federal CCDBG funds;
- Increase access to the CCAP Basic Sliding Fee program and create additional flexibilities in the program to address particularly acute and emerging needs; including for example distance learning support or tutoring for school age children;
- Continue CCAP modifications (suspension of re-determinations/absent days policies) to sustain providers and ensure child care availability during and beyond the immediate crisis;
- Expand and modify the Early Learning Scholarship program to serve additional ages, more providers and shorter financial commitments to address particularly acute and emerging needs;
- Provide additional months of flexible support via the Emergency Child Care Grant program; and
- Re-purpose a small amount (up to $1 million) of public health funds to support Family, Friend and Neighbor (FFN) caregivers that are being increasingly tapped during the emergency
Now that distance learning will carry forward through the remainder of the current academic year and as school districts, teachers and families begin to accept the reality that distance learning may continue in waves as the pandemic evolves through the next academic year, policies are needed to support children. Mental health challenges among children are on the rise and the K-12 system is struggling to serve families and children. In addition, more can be done to equip our school systems to deal with COVID-19 and ongoing forms of systemic racism as well as targeted experienced by Asian, Pacific Islander Minnesotans. To address significant needs across the state, limited funds should be allocated with a lens toward reducing opportunity gaps and ensuring the most under-resourced students and families have the most intensive support, both in the immediate distance learning phase and as schools move to re-open. Guidance to K-12 education institutions receiving pass-through support should include:
- Providing internet and technology to help students with distance learning, addressing access in rural and low-income communities, providing adaptive equipment for students with special needs, and multilingual online learning resources, particularly if the approaches mentioned on technology above are not advanced);
- Encourage school districts to identify public/private partnerships with cities that often provide internet access and cable TV production, cable/internet providers, and other organizations that are looking to improve technology within local communities;
- Prioritizing effective programming for students from low-income families, students with special needs, English learners, homeless students, students in foster care, students of color, American Indian students, and students on tribal land. This should include access to staff with specialized skills, including multilingual staff to bridge the gap between school and family during distance learning (could be advanced through a Community Solutions style program as described above);
- Strengthen mental health services, social-emotional learning and ability of service providers and schools systems to address racism.
We are hearing from school and community partners through our Freedom Schools network that due to lack of funding, many sites will not have the capacity to shift to distance learning for summer programming. Coordinating a virtual learning program takes additional resources and staffing (ex. purchasing software, technology for staff and families, supplies to be delivered to individual students and additional staff training around virtual learning). We support the IGNITE Afterschool Network recommendation that MDE engage educators and school leaders while partnering with the Ignite Afterschool Network of community education programs, libraries, non-profit youth program providers, culturally specific programs and others to develop an Educational Recovery and Youth Enrichment Program to support under-resourced students during the pandemic this spring and summer so they are ready to return to formal education in the fall. Specifically:
- Fund planning and implementation of in-person or online summer learning, after-school, and/or extended learning programs through a new GEER funded Educational Recovery and Youth Enrichment Program or other similar existing mechanism to help ensure target populations do not lose educational ground; and
- Design of new funding opportunities must include community partnerships and be more flexible so smaller charter schools and community organizations that meet families and children where they are have the opportunity and resources to support families.