As the spread and impact of the COVID-19 virus continues, state and local governments will play an important role in ensuring the safety of children and families, while minimizing disruptions to essential programs and services for our youngest learners.
The Ounce, in partnership with the Educare Learning Network, is closely monitoring the situation and relaying the latest guidelines and recommendations for the field as they become available. Below is a set of policy recommendations our partners and advocates can share to urge state and local governments and systems leaders to support families and programs affected by this ongoing health crisis.
Communicate with clarity and urgency
- Encourage your state leadership to consult the guidance provided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), the Office of Childcare and Office of Head Start (OCC and OHS), and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), for updates on the flexibility allowed to states, grantees and programs for key early childhood funding streams.
- Encourage states to offer a dedicated person/phone line for providers to answer provider-specific questions about their COVID-19 response.
Offer flexibility with minimum bureaucracy
- Wherever possible, we recommend that state governments issue suspensions of rules and regulations or blanket waivers when offering flexibility for families and programs, rather than waivers that require applications and tedious paperwork. Reducing the paperwork burden will ensure timely adoption of any provisions designed to offer flexibility and promote public health during this time.
- Consider the special circumstances that programs are dealing with when monitoring and assessing programs to prevent penalizing service providers. It is important to keep in mind that the ability of programs to maintain low ratios, qualified staff, and high enrollment or attendance are all likely to be impacted by COVID-19.
- When possible, offer Early Intervention providers the option of virtual appointments to ensure continuity of services for children and families.
Preserve family access to critical services
- We strongly urge that the federal government encourage, and state governments adopt, temporary suspension of family eligibility redetermination for critical services, particularly those related to child care subsidy, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid, and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) to ensure that temporary changes in family workforce participation, earnings, or other factors due to COVID-19 do not impact family eligibility.
- Additionally, we recommend that states temporarily waive “face to face” initial eligibility requirements as well as family fees or copays.
- States should support the ability of families and home visiting participants to access home visiting through virtual methods by providing the appropriate approvals, devices or connectivity where needed.
Provide nutrition and wraparound supports for families
- We encourage states to take advantage of the USDA’s offer of maximum flexibility around the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP).
- States should consider using these funds to allow programs to purchase food to send home with families so that children continue to have access to nutritious food, even if their attendance is disrupted.
Provide additional funding to cover special costs
- States should consider using available quality funds to offer additional crisis grants to support members of the early childhood education workforce who are unable to work. Wherever possible, these funds should be distributed through existing channels, like WAGE$ or Teacher Education And Compensation Helps Early Childhood® (T.E.A.C.H.) programs.
- States should also consider using available quality funds or other revenue sources to issue crisis grants to programs to cover increased substitute costs, expenses as a result of additional sanitation needs, and other needs. Wherever possible, states should use existing channels to distribute crisis funds to early childhood programs.
Act with coherency and coordination
- The federal government and the states should consider offering consistent guidance to workforces across the early education spectrum and funding streams – from child care, home visiting, and early intervention – with special attention paid to those who work in the homes of children and families. It may be useful to draw upon the recommendations and guidelines currently being issued to workforces in public health and child protection.
Understand the downstream impacts to budgets and metrics
- The federal government and states should offer appropriate flexibility during contract/grant renewals. It is important to consider that programs may be underspending in certain budget lines, and that current circumstances may cause under-enrollment or other missed benchmarks or program requirements. Governments should be mindful of the additional time it may take to scale programs back to pre-emergency enrollment levels.
The Ounce will continue to monitor this developing situation and share any updates and resources as they become available.