early childhood education teacher with very young student

Early childhood programs received an increase of $220 million in the Omnibus Appropriations Bill passed by Congress late last year.

COVID-19 Relief and Omnibus Appropriations Bills: Human Services Overview

By Margaret Wile | Jan. 29, 2021 | State Legislatures Magazine

Congress passed an omnibus legislative package at the end of last year that included fiscal year (FY) 2021 appropriations, COVID-19 relief and several other measures that had not been voted on during the regular legislative session. The package included many health and human services provisions; those related to human services are highlighted here. NCSL has separately covered highlights of the bills’ health issues and prepared a detailed overall summary of the legislation.

Major human services funding for both FY 2021 and COVID-19 relief included:

Appropriations Funding

Administration for Children and Families (ACF): The bill provides $24.7 billion in discretionary funding for the ACF, an increase of $251 million over the FY 2020 enacted level.

  • Early childhood programs receive an increase of $220 million: $5.9 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant, an increase of $85 million; $10.7 billion for Head Start, an increase of $135 million.
  • $3.8 billion for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, an increase of $10 million. 
  • $745 million for the Community Services Block Grant, an increase of $5 million.
  • $196 million for Family Violence Prevention and Services and the Domestic Violence Hotline, an increase of $8.5 million.

COVID Stimulus Funding

Administration for Children and Families: $10.25 billion to support early childhood programs and child care providers through:

  • $10 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grants to provide immediate assistance to child care providers.
  • $250 million for Head Start.

The bill includes several provisions related to the Families First Act, support for older foster youth experiencing homelessness, and the child welfare system more broadly. To aid states with implementation of Family First, Congress included language to temporarily waive state matching funds for Family First Prevention Services until the end of the public health emergency and the state match for the Prevention Services Clearinghouse. It also extends the MaryLee Allen Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program, which provides community-based family support, family preservation and family reunification services along with adoption promotion and support services. An additional $85 million will be provided and will waive state matching requirements for the emergency funds. The law specifies that FY 2022 funding will be provided at the non-emergency level.

The omnibus bill included the Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act of 2019 (H.R. 4300), which extends vouchers for two years for youth aging out of foster care if they participate in self-sufficiency activities such as work or school. In addition, it provides $350 million for the John H. Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood program, which supports current and former foster youth as they transition out of the foster care system, and waives any state matching dollars required for the Chafee funds. These housing efforts dovetailed with a provision that provides a temporary freeze of older youth aging out of the foster care system during the pandemic.

Beyond the child welfare system, other key human services provisions included:

  • Additional flexibilities for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program for the duration of the public health emergency.
  • An extension of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Child Care Entitlement to States and other related programs, including the Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood grants, through the end of FY 2021.
  • An increase in the monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit level by 15%, based on the June 2020 Thrifty Food Plan, through June 30, 2021. The state administrative process for SNAP benefit level increases has been simplified, and $100 million has been set aside for state administrative costs through FY 2021, with the requirement that the funds be made available to states within 60 days of enactment.
  • An additional $5 million for technical support to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in expanding the SNAP online purchasing program, including for farmers markets, direct marketing farmers, mobile payment technologies, and the electronic benefit transfer system.

The new law is well over 5,000 pages and NCSL has created summaries highlighting major provisions on a wide array of policy topics. Visit ncsl.org to learn about the COVID-19 economic relief and FY 2021 omnibus appropriations portions of the package.

Margaret Wile is a policy director in the Health and Human Services Program in NCSL’s State-Federal Relations Division.

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