July 07, 2020

Cortez Masto Introduces Comprehensive Legislation to Support Child Welfare Agencies During COVID-19

Las Vegas, Nev. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) joined Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) in introducing the Child Welfare Emergency Assistance Act, comprehensive legislation to provide flexible, emergency aid for key child welfare programs working to support young people and families during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Senators’ legislation will help ensure child welfare agencies and organizations are equipped with resources to continue protecting and supporting families during this public health crisis.

“Children in the foster care system and those at risk of entering the system are particularly vulnerable to the twin economic and public health crises brought on by COVID-19. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to take its toll on state and local budgets across the country, I’m proud to cosponsor legislation that will provide child welfare agencies with the funding and supplies they need to protect investments in vital services for children and their caregivers during this unprecedented time. We have a moral obligation to support children and help keep families together during this crisis.” 

BACKGROUND:

Specifically, the Child Welfare Emergency Assistance Act will invest in the health, safety, and wellbeing of children, youth, and families by:

  • Establishing a moratorium on “aging out” of foster care to ensure no young person is cut off from critical housing and support services during the public health emergency.
  • Investing $2 billion to support state and tribal child welfare agencies in providing families, kinship caregivers, and young people with a broad range of support services, including assistance for transportation, housing, and utility payments.
  • Providing $30 million for kinship navigator programs to ensure kinship caregivers have access to information and resources, including food, safety supplies, technology, and COVID-19 testing.
  • Dedicating $50 million to help states implement health oversight and coordination plans to ensure children in foster care are up-to-date on vaccinations and have access to needed care and telehealth services.
  • Investing $15 million to states and tribes for training on trauma-informed de-escalation strategies for child welfare partners, congregate care facilities, and families.
  • Requiring states to develop and implement de-escalation strategies to limit unnecessary involvement with law enforcement, and ensure any contact with law enforcement is non-coercive.
  • Expediting eligibility for children living with a relative in foster care for federal support, and allow 100% federal support for kinship caregiver payments through the Title IV-E Guardianship Assistance Program and kinship-related Title IV-E adoption assistance payments.
  • Providing $500 million for the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program to ensure young people have access to supports, such as housing, food, and cash assistance, and allow more of these funds to cover housing costs for foster youth. Funds could also be used for education and training vouchers, which help young people cover the cost of education.
  • Increasing federal support to provide Title IV-E prevention services, such as parent training, family counseling, and substance use disorder treatment.
  • Providing $30 million for the Court Improvement Program to ensure dependency courts have resources to facilitate the transition to remote hearings, train judges, volunteers, and court personnel on the use of technology, and support innovative programs to help families continue to address case plan requirements.

Child welfare agencies could also use this funding to expand adoption promotion and support services, or to hire, train and support caseworkers to conduct safe in-person home and remote visits, including the purchase of personal protective equipment and technology.

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