Congress recently passed the $2 trillion coronavirus relief legislation, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), H.R. 748. Yet lawmakers already are at work on a fourth major legislative package (“Phase Four”) to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The CARES Act provided significant new resources for education, early care, housing, nutrition, and services. However, those resources are insufficiently targeted to one of the most mobile, vulnerable, and hidden populations: children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness.
Families and youth experiencing homelessness are unable to shelter in place, or are forced to do so in unsafe, tenuous situations. The closure of schools and early childhood programs further exacerbates their health, safety, and educational concerns, and represents the loss of the most stable part of their lives. Without a safe and stable place to stay, transportation, internet, or sometimes even phones, these youth and families face unique barriers to accessing community-based services and online learning opportunities. They need targeted support through efficient, existing service-delivery systems and programs in order to mitigate or prevent further harm.
These needs are urgent. Public schools reported a record 1.5 million homeless children and youth in the 2017-2018 school year, with an additional 1.4 million children under age six experiencing homelessness. Approximately 4.2 million youth ages 13-25 experience homelessness on their own. As disturbing as these numbers are, they are very likely underestimates — and worse still, the current economic crisis and family stress related to shelter-in-place orders are expected to create new waves of youth and family homelessness.
To prevent lasting harm to children, youth, and families – and to prevent adult homelessness – SchoolHouse Connection urges Congress to include the following provisions in the “Phase Four” coronavirus response package:
- K-12 Education: $500 million to support identification, outreach, and removal of barriers to services and education through the Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) program.
- Higher Education: New funding and requirements to target outreach to youth experiencing homelessness, prioritize them for emergency aid, provide them with assistance in FAFSA completion, and waive SNAP work requirements for college students.
- Early Childhood: Emergency child care, outreach, and early learning support for young children experiencing homelessness.
- Unaccompanied Youth: Provisions to remove barriers to Recovery Rebates for unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness.
- Family Stabilization: A $2 billion dedicated flexible funding stream to support emergency needs, including emergency housing, eviction prevention, outreach, and other services, for families and children experiencing homelessness.
Concerns: The CARES Act provides $13 billion to education agencies, and $3 billion to governors, for emergency educational assistance. While support for children and youth experiencing homelessness is an explicitly authorized use of funds, it is not required. In light of the competing demands for these dollars, including by more visible constituencies, as well as continued lack of awareness and under-identification of homelessness by public schools, it is unlikely that state or local educational agencies will direct adequate resources to identify and support children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness.
- A $500 million supplemental appropriation to the McKinney-Vento Act’s Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY program) would allow for targeted support through an existing service delivery system that is already charged with identifying and supporting homeless students. Congress should ensure that these funds can be used for a broader range of activities than is currently permitted by statute, to allow for immediate relief for families and youth as soon as they are identified by schools, and in recognition of the loss of support from typical community partners.
- Congress has provided supplemental support through the EHCY program in the past, both in response to the Great Recession in 2008, as well as three different disaster-related spending bills.
Concerns: The CARES Act provides $14 billion to institutions of higher education, $7 billion of which must be used for emergency financial aid grants for students (including eligible expenses under a student’s cost of attendance, such as food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and child care). Youth experiencing homelessness or from foster care have no family supports, prior traumatic experiences, and high mobility. Without specific outreach to let them know about the availability of aid, and priority access to it, they may miss out entirely. They also face unique barriers to obtaining financial aid for the next school year, and given current school closures, they are unlikely to be able to produce documentation of their status as independent students. Finally, many youth experiencing homelessness or from foster care have lost their campus jobs due to closures, which not only cuts their income, but makes them ineligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as they are not working at least 20 hours a week. Yet, they are in need of SNAP assistance more than ever.
- Institutions of higher education should be required to proactively reach out and inform all students who were classified as independent students about emergency aid that may be available, and give them priority access to assistance. In addition, institutions should be required to streamline financial aid determinations for homeless and foster youth, and provide assistance in completing the FAFSA.
- Waive SNAP work requirements for college students.
- Congress should ensure that any new funding for child care expressly prioritizes the enrollment of children experiencing homelessness and provides streamlined access and enrollment.
- Congress should clarify that unaccompanied homeless youth are eligible to receive the $1,200 individual Recovery Rebate regardless of whether their parents claimed them as dependent in 2018 or 2019. Unaccompanied homeless youth should be defined to mean any student at an institution of higher education who meets the definition of “independent” under 20 U.S.C. §1087vv(d)(1), and any unaccompanied homeless youth as defined in 42 U.S.C. §11434a(6).
Concerns: The extraordinary challenges facing homeless families, children, and youth now – and the wave of new homelessness that is already starting to occur – are not, and cannot, be met by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) homeless assistance system programs. More than 80% of homeless children identified by public schools are ineligible for HUD homeless assistance due to the difference in definitions of homelessness. Yet these families cannot self-isolate, move frequently, and are at high risk for transmission, infection, illness and prolonged outbreak. Moreover, families and youth are severely disadvantaged in accessing support through the Emergency Solutions Grant funding provided to HUD by the CARES Act, due to HUD’s funding formulas and preferred uses of funds.
- Congress should provide $2 billion in dedicated funding to the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the U.S Department of Health and Human Services for the express purpose of providing funds to any entity that is eligible for an ACF grant to meet the needs of families with children who are homeless (including through housing, education, and faith-based partnerships). ACF programs are extremely well-positioned to provide immediate relief both for short term emergency needs, and prevention, as well as comprehensive two-generation services, for families experiencing homelessness. Eligible uses of funds should include: shelter and housing needs, including eviction prevention, utility payments, motel stays, housing placement, and other assistance; health and safety needs, including food, hygiene supplies, and mental health services; transportation, educational, employment, and other needs; the particular needs of pregnant women and children birth to age five; the particular needs of unaccompanied homeless youth; and assistance in accessing Recovery Rebates, unemployment compensation, and other benefits provided by federal, state and local governments.