March 27th, 2020

Congress Passes CARES Act in Response to the COVID-19 Crisis

This afternoon, the House passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or the ‘‘CARES Act” which will make many important improvements to help our nation during the COVID-19 crisis. We expect the President to quickly sign the bill into law.

Importantly, the bill: 

  • Provides nearly $25 billion for food assistance such as SNAP and child nutrition programs;
  • Increases unemployment insurance benefits by $600 per week for up to four months;
  • Provides direct payments to eligible individuals and couples (up to a certain income threshold);
  • Includes $100 billion in grants to healthcare providers for treating coronavirus plus a 20 percent bump in Medicare payments; 
  • Offers a 6-month suspension of federal student loan payments; and
  • Includes tax credits for employees to incentivize keeping employees on payroll.  

Education Provisions in the CARES Act

When it comes to education, the bill allows the Secretary of Education to waive provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the Higher Education Act (HEA), and the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. Specifically, states can apply to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to waive federal requirements under ESSA such as the requirement to administer state assessments, provide educator training in person, and the limits on funding spent on technology for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year. Institutions of higher education also have increased flexibility to provide education virtually.  

Regarding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the bill does not provide waiver authority to the Secretary of Education, but does require ED to submit a report to Congress within 30 days indicating which waivers may be needed to help states and districts comply with IDEA. (NCLD is and will continue to work to protect IDEA during this time and we’ll need your help! Stay connected for more information on how you can get involved.)

Funding Boosts in the CARES Act

The total cost of the package is more than $2 trillion. Of particular importance to our community, the law provides $30.75 billion to support public schools and institutions of higher education. Specifically, the Act allocates:

  • $13.5 billion for elementary and secondary education to use for planning and coordinating during long-term school closures and purchasing educational technology to support online learning for all students.
  • $3 billion for Governors in each state to allocate, at their discretion, emergency support to school districts and institutions of higher education most significantly impacted by coronavirus. 
  • $14.250 billion for institutions of higher education to be used to defray expenses such as lost revenue, technology costs associated with a transition to distance education, and grants to students for food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and child care. 

Other provisions in the bill that impact our students and families include:

  • $3.5 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grant for immediate assistance to child care providers to prevent them from going out of business and to otherwise support child care for families, including for healthcare workers, first responders, and others playing critical roles during this crisis.
  • $750 million for Head Start programs to help respond to coronavirus related needs of children and families, including making up for lost learning time.
  • $1 billion for Community Services Block Grant for local community-based organizations to provide a wide-range of social services and emergency assistance for those who need it most.
  • $8.8 billion for Child Nutrition Programs to increase flexibility for schools to feed students. 
  • $15.51 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in anticipated increases in participation as a result of coronavirus. 

NCLD is pleased to see this much-needed investment in our schools and communities as we face this unprecedented crisis. However, more is needed. The bill included no funding to close the “homework gap” and provide students with internet access or equipment at home. 

Next Steps for Advocates

Even with the additional funding provided by the CARES Act, there will be a need for more guidance and greater clarity to ensure that states and districts direct these funds toward increasing equity. Funds must be used to support and provide access to students with disabilities, low-income students, English learners, and others who are most impacted by this crisis.

As we near the date in April when Secretary Betsy DeVos submits her report on IDEA waivers, NCLD will be working hard to protect civil rights. Be sure to sign up for our emails so you get real-time alerts and can lend your voice to the cause. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook. We need your support to ensure all schools can continue to educate all students.

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