How to protect children experiencing hunger & homelessness in the wake of COVID-19
Every facet of the lives of children and families are being disrupted during this historic public health and economic crisis. Unfortunately, both their short-term and long-term consequences and challenges are not being fully considered or discussed. This crisis is severe and will last for months or even years to come. Moreover, the resulting physical and mental health consequences, impact on education and child development, and economic implications of this calamity will last well beyond the coronavirus itself.
That is why First Focus Campaign for Children called on Congress to safeguard the physical, emotional, financial, and developmental health and well-being of our nation’s 74 million children with a specific package of legislative proposals across a range of issues — including children experiencing hunger and homelessness.
Child food insecurity remained high in the United States before COVID-19, with 1 in 7 children (11.2 million) living in a household that struggled to put food on the table. Now with school closures leading to limited access to school meals and low-income household budgets being stretched even thinner, more children are experiencing, or are at-risk of experiencing, hunger and food insecurity. We urge Congress to build on the nutrition assistance provided in previous aid packages to ensure that families with children can put food on the table. To achieve these goals, we urge you to:
- Increase SNAP: Increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits by 15 percent, with an additional 20 percent bump for families with children, and increase the minimum SNAP benefit from $16 to $30 a month. The poorest families already receive the maximum amount so it is essential to increase benefit levels for those families with little or no income. In addition, waive SNAP work requirements for college students.
- Extend Pandemic EBT Transfers: Extend the Pandemic-Emergency Benefit Transfers through the summer and permit additional distribution sites.
- Increase WIC Funding and Access: Increase the amount of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program’s Cash Value Benefit as well as increase access to the program through raising the eligibility age for children up to age 6, increase postpartum eligibility for up to two years, and extend infant and child certification for two years.
Child and youth homelessness continues to skyrocket in the United States, with 1.5 million students identified as homeless by the U.S. Department of Education in the 2017-2018 school year, a 10 percent increase from the previous year. The coronavirus outbreak only serves to exacerbate this problem, both by putting additional children and youth at risk of homelessness, and by increasing threats to the safety and well-being of children and youth currently experiencing homelessness in doubled-up situations, motels, shelters, and on the street. We call on Congress to:
- Increase support to children and families experiencing homelessness in all forms: Establish a Family Stabilization Fund within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) to provide emergency relief for homeless families. These funds would be administered to agencies and programs eligible for grants under ACF and in partnership with local educational agencies, public housing agencies and other entities to provide funding to meet the needs of families with children experiencing homelessness. This funding could be used for shelter and housing-related needs, as well as health and safety needs including hygiene needs and mental health services. These funds would be available through September 2021.
- Target aid to students experiencing homelessness: Fund the McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) program at $500 million to provide enhanced targeted funding to identify students experiencing homelessness and support their educational needs. Congress should allow these funds to be used broadly to provide immediate relief to students and their families as they are identified as homeless by school systems, including to address the unique needs of young children, unaccompanied youth, children and youth with disabilities, and English Language Learners.
- Institute a moratorium on all evictions and utility shut offs nationwide: Institute a moratorium on all evictions nationwide, including from hotels and motels as well as all utility shut offs. This moratorium should freeze all existing eviction orders and eliminate late fees for back rent owed.
- Provide emergency rent relief to prevent homelessness: Create an emergency assistance fund as included in the bipartisan Eviction Crisis Act (S. 3030), to help families with rent relief and other housing-related costs. Families should not worry about building up large rent arrears due to trying to cover other bills.
- Establish a right to civil counsel and increase funding for civil legal services: Establish a right to civil counsel for all families facing eviction or other housing disputes and provide an increase in funding of at least $75 million for the Legal Services Corporation to meet the increased civil legal service needs of families with housing disputes, as well as other civil legal needs such as domestic abuse protective orders, child custody orders, unemployment benefits, and more.
- Increase funding for RHYA programs: Increase Runaway and Homeless Youth Act programs by $300 million - $150 million for current grantees and $150 million for new grantees.
- Ensure tribal eligibility for Homeless Assistance Grants: Allow tribes and tribally designated entities to be eligible for McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grant funding.
For a full list of our specific policy recommendations across the array of children’s issues, check out our letter to Congress.