Human Services: COVID-19 Resources

6/4/2020

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Overview

The public health and economic effects of the coronavirus are top concerns for state lawmakers. During this unprecedented national crisis, policymakers are paying close attention to the well-being of children, youth, young adults and families. NCSL is responding with new informational resources addressing five broad human services policy areas: Child Support and Family Law, Child Welfare, Early Care and Education, Economic Security, and Housing and Homelessness. Click through the following topics for issue summaries, state responses, federal actions and topical resources. NCSL staff will update this information regularly, so check back often.

New Search bills related to and responding to COVID-19 that have been introduced in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Access legislation starting in 2020 by state, topic, keyword, year, status or primary sponsor using the state legislation database.

Child Support and Family Law

Unemployment has spiked as a result of COVID-19-related furloughs, layoffs and business closures. As incomes of parents who are ordered to pay child support decrease, child support agencies are seeing sharp increases in requests for modifications of child support orders. 

Legislators can expect many custodial parents will soon experience economic hardship as a result of noncustodial parents’ sudden inability to pay child support because they lost their income or are themselves incapacitated by COVID-19. At the same time, noncustodial parents will have concerns about falling out of compliance with orders that were set based on income they no longer have and the compounding effect of penalties for nonpayment.

Financial security is not the only issue. Questions and concerns about court-ordered access and visitation are also on the table. School and child care closures and other protective measures have pushed many families, child support agencies and family courts to grapple with a host of compliance-related questions.

Compounding the situation, many local child support agencies are themselves hamstrung by social isolation orders. In some areas, court systems are shut down or operating with limited capacity. Many child support offices are also physically closed, with staff working from home in jurisdictions with the capacity and technology to support remote work. Hearings are being delayed and in states where child support modifications currently require court action, these delays will contribute to accrual of debt by newly unemployed noncustodial parents.

State Responses

States are responding in a variety of ways. Texas is allowing for virtual negotiations of child support cases. Oregon is informing individuals who have been laid off due to closures and quarantines to request a modification of their child support orders, noting that child support payments will still be withheld from unemployment benefits. Florida has offered alternative options for handling child support cases without visiting the local child support offices, which are temporarily closed to the public.

Federal Actions

The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides for immediate direct payments of various amounts to most families earning less than $75,000 ($112,500 for head of household and $150,000 married). Noncustodial parents who have fallen behind on child support payments will have their relief checks intercepted. The Texas Attorney General’s Office interprets the child support provision in the CARES Act as a mandate to intercept COVID-19 relief payments for noncustodial parents owing more than $500 in past-due child support.

Seven Things Legislators Can Do Now

Legislators may experience a surge in contact from constituents about disrupted payments, delayed court hearings and intercepted federal stimulus payments. Understanding the legal and financial consequences of this crisis and being ready to help ameliorate their effects will help stabilize families with child support, access and visitation orders.
 

  1. Ask your state child support agency how you can help keep the wheels turning. Needs will vary by state but may include 1) authorizing remote notarization (e.g., Colorado), 2) encouraging courts and child support agencies to accept non-notarized statements (e.g., Texas and Delaware), and 3) permitting electronic payments. All 50 states allow for electronic child support payments. Idaho is among the majority of states that do not charge a fee for child support payments made via bank transfers. Montana and Vermont are examples of states that do charge a fee for electronic payments.
  2. Consider the effectiveness of financial penalties for noncompliance during this crisis. For example, California has suspended automatic placement of bank liens and suspensions of drivers’ licenses.
  3. Consider the full effect of delayed unemployment benefits and intercepted child support payments. While the federal government is giving states increased flexibility to address their backlogs of unemployment benefits applications, federal guidance issued April 2 clarifies that “states must continue to ensure that eligibility decisions are based solely on the facts of each case." Federal law allows child support payments to be withheld from unemployment benefits under 42 U.S.C.A. § 503.
  4. Expedite processing of unemployment benefits and extend the length of time recipients can receive those benefits. Job and income loss resulting from COVID-19 will increase nonpayment of child support. Conversely, timely receipt of unemployment benefits will help noncustodial parents avoid child support arrears. NCSL’s COVID-19: Unemployment Benefits webpage has the latest on state responses to the pandemic.
  5. Allow virtual negotiations to address the backlog of child support cases in the court systems. Child support and other nonemergency court hearings are being automatically postponed in many states. As mentioned, Texas is one state that allows virtual negotiations.
  6. Permit those who owe to file motions to modify child support by mail or email. Massachusetts is among the states allowing constituents affected by COVID-19 to file motions by mail after losing their jobs. Vermont allows motions to modify child support to be filed by email.
  7. Deem child support matters essential. At least 11 states have deemed child custody arrangements "essential" during the coronavirus outbreak. Hawaii’s Executive Order HI 503 2020 includes the transportation of children pursuant to a custody agreement as a “permitted activity outside of the home” during its stay-at-home order. Minnesota’s Emergency Executive Order 20-20 deems child support legal services as a “critical sector,” allowing constituents under stay-at-home orders to seek advice and representation related to child support.

 

Other NCSL Resources

External Resources

Child Welfare

COVID-19 is placing an already vulnerable population of children, youth and young adults at even greater risk and is asking more of a workforce already stretched thin. In response, NCSL has developed four resource guides to inform legislators and legislative staff about issues and potential remedies related to child welfare caseworkers, congregate care facilities, foster and kinship caregivers, and older youth in the child welfare system. Check this page often for new and updated resources.

Child Welfare Caseworkers
Child welfare caseworkers are first responders, ensuring the safety, stability and well-being of vulnerable children and families. This already challenging job is now further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. With many jurisdictions implementing social distancing mandates, the operating environment for child welfare caseworkers has shifted.

The child welfare workforce is now investigating maltreatment, providing in-home services, responding to substance abuse crises, and ensuring that visitation and reunification services are coordinated—all while minimizing the spread of COVID-19. Some jurisdictions do not have adequate gloves, masks or hand sanitizer to keep caseworkers safe during investigations and home visits. Learn more.

Congregate Care Facilities
The health of children and youth in congregate care settings is among the many challenges child welfare systems are facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In stark contrast to orders from state and local officials to avoid close contact with others, residents of congregate care facilities live in close proximity to each other. Learn more.

Foster and Kinship Caregivers
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and anticipated economic downturn, foster and relative caregivers face a range of issues while providing critical supports for the more than 437,000 children and youth currently in foster care in the U.S. Challenges include foster and relative caregivers not easily able to quarantine or self-isolate from children in their care, making plans for children should caregivers become incapacitated or hospitalized, keeping medical or behavioral health appointments, and obtaining medication for children in their care. Learn more.

Older Youth in the Child Welfare System
NCSL staff and child welfare experts expect many older youth in the child welfare system will experience disruptions in their lives due to social distancing measures necessary to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, many older youth and young adults who have recently exited the system will contend with housing and economic instability, including those who’ve lost their home or income as a result of college and university closures. Learn more.

Other NCSL Resources

External Resources

Early Care and Education

The effects of the novel coronavirus are being felt by our youngest demographic, from prenatal through prekindergarten, and their caregivers. Many infants and toddlers are not participating in their normal child care arrangements, and for those who are, they have new safety protocols to follow. Young families participating in home visiting programs are experiencing disruptions in service delivery due to social distancing. All this puts tremendous strain on families and the programs and services they rely on.

NCSL has identified child care, early interventions and home visiting as areas of great concern for the early care and education system and has developed the following information in response.

Child Care

In the best of times, high-quality child care for young children is both hard to come by and costly for parents. Child care providers, often owners or operators of small businesses, struggle to make ends meet by relying almost entirely on parent fees. COVID-19 has exacerbated these long-standing issues by adding additional financial hardships for both parents and providers.

Unlike K-12 schools, which have almost uniformly closed across the country, state government directives on child care closures have varied. Most states have designated child care as an essential service that can continue to operate during stay-at-home orders to serve essential workers.

Remaining open presents risks to the health of child care providers and their families, especially for providers reporting shortages of cleaning supplies, diapers and other essential materials. Providers that remain open are in many cases reporting significant revenue shortfalls due to declining attendance.

Prolonged declines in income for child care providers due to decreased attendance or mandated closures may lead many to close their doors for good, further undercutting the nation’s already short supply of child care. This will certainly add strain to parents and employers when stay-at-home orders have been lifted.   

State Responses

States are exercising new flexibilities with federal dollars that would typically go toward supporting access to high-quality child care for low-income families. Under new guidelines from the Administration for Children and Families, states can amend requirements and repurpose funds to meet the needs of families and providers during this crisis in the following ways:

  • Expand and extend eligibility for child care financial assistance.
  • Lower or eliminate parent copays.
  • Pay providers based on enrollment rather than attendance.
  • Increase rates for providers serving essential workers.
  • Issue grants and short-term financial assistance to providers.
  • Relax requirements to enroll new providers.

Many states have implemented emergency child care options for essential workers. Some are ensuring essential workers have access to existing child care providers, while others are opening temporary child care centers in response to the pandemic. Some states are making temporary regulatory changes or expediting regulatory and licensing procedures to quickly bring on new providers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have released guidance for child care centers that have remained open and those that are considering reopening for business. The guidance includes suggestions for maintaining healthy operations, such as ways to regularly monitor children’s and providers’ health, to maintain proper social distancing during programming, and to properly clean and disinfect the facility and program equipment.

Federal Actions

The CARES Act allocated $3.5 billion to the Child Care Development Block Grant program. Funds can be used to ensure providers who receive child care subsidies can continue to operate or reopen, provide child care assistance to essential workers regardless of income, and support child care providers with cleaning, sanitation and other activities necessary to maintain or resume program operation.

Child care providers may also be able to access additional financial support through the CARES Act, including small business loans, unemployment insurance, paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave.

The CARES Act also provides $750 million to help Head Start programs meet the needs of children and families.

In mid-May the House passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES). The act (HR 6800) includes $7 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grants as well as $850 million that can be used for child and family care services for essential workers. States can reimburse workers directly for care, directly pay care providers, and set up emergency child care assistance. The act also waives some Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) funding restrictions that prevent states from working directly with health care or other facilities providing care services. The Senate has not taken up the bill.

On June 2, the House of Representatives introduced the Child Care Is Essential Act, a $50 billion child care stabilization fund supporting child care providers affected as a result of the pandemic.

Early Interventions

Early intervention services include speech and physical therapy and other supportive services that help children up to age 3 with developmental delays or disabilities and their families. These services can greatly influence children’s abilities to learn new skills and succeed in school and later in life. The sudden, widespread closure of child care organizations and schools that provide these services to young children and their families threatens to interrupt participation in early intervention services.

State Responses

Some states—including Colorado, Louisiana, Texas, Rhode Island, North Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin—are enabling early intervention professionals to continue serving families by phone and video conference. In Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Emergency Fund for Stabilization of Early Education is awarding grants up to $20,000 to support organizations providing early intervention and other services to young children and their families that are struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Federal Actions

The U.S. Department of Education released a statement March 21 saying that school districts closed to combat the spread of COVID-19 should continue providing special education and related services through technology-based strategies. Some of these strategies include:

  • Distance instruction.
  • Teletherapy and tele-intervention.
  • Virtual meetings.
  • Web-based data tracking and documentation.
  • Instructional packets, projects and written assignments.

Home Visiting

Home visiting is a prevention strategy used to support pregnant moms and new parents to promote infant and child health, foster educational development and school readiness, and help prevent child abuse and neglect. Because home visiting by definition has involved trained staff conducting in-person visits with families, visitors and families alike are learning how to continue visits while social distancing requirements are in place. 

Home visiting experts and program administrators are requesting flexibility in how they conduct home visits and make programmatic decisions amid the pandemic, and the leading evidence-based home visiting models have begun sharing guidance in the following areas:

  • Virtual visits in lieu of in-person visits.
  • Relaxation of reporting deadlines.
  • Ability to use programmatic dollars for emergency supplies for families, including diapers, formula and cleaning supplies.
  • Funding to bolster online connectivity (e.g., hardware and internet subscriptions).

In response to the pandemic, more than 70 internet service providers have signed a public pledge to support low-income families and small businesses as their reliance on the internet increases during this time of social distancing. Additionally, many companies have temporarily lifted data limits on low-cost cell phone and internet plans.

Federal Actions

Home visiting was not addressed in any of the previous federal COVID-19 response packages. In mid-May the House passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES). The act (HR 6800) includes $100 million for in-person and virtual home visiting under the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program. The Senate has not taken up the bill.

Other NCSL Resources

  • COVID-19: State and Federal Responses to Education and Child Care | Podcast
  • COVID-19: Education, Child Care and Nutrition | Webinar
  • Public Education’s Response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic | Issue Summary

External Resources

Economic Security

The economic consequences of the COVID-19 crisis are affecting individuals and families at all socio-economic levels. Employers are closing their doors—some temporarily, some forever—as a matter of personal and economic survival. Millions of workers have already been laid off or furloughed, and scores more are at immediate risk.

The intensity of the economic pain will be experienced most acutely by the same populations that were disadvantaged going into the crisis. Race, ethnicity, occupation, social status and the presence of a disability have been the historic drivers of economic disparity in the United States, and COVID-19 has laid them bare again. People of color are suffering the health consequences of COVID-19 at significantly higher rates than their white counterparts, and in many cases, it is the lowest paid among us who are still at work, on the front lines, exposing themselves and their loved ones to the deadly virus.

Lawmakers at all levels are being called on now to address the basic economic needs of millions of Americans of all ages and backgrounds. In the weeks and months ahead, constituents will be looking to legislators and other elected officials for strategies to rapidly connect people to a brighter future through employment, education, training opportunities and work supports.

Return to this page for updates on and analysis of state and federal responses to this crisis and the opportunities it presents.

State Responses

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, two-generation strategies, also known as whole-family approaches, were gaining traction in some states. These initiatives typically align existing policies, programs and funding to more efficiently and cost-effectively improve the well-being and economic security of families. While not a panacea, two-generation strategies provide legislators with a holistic framework for tackling persistent social and economic strategies.

The Whole Family Approach to Jobs initiative in New England is a nontraditional approach to improving the lives of children and families. By bringing together federal, state and regional leaders from the public and private sectors to end “business as usual,” the six states are improving child well-being and family economic security while also addressing prepandemic workforce shortages. Reducing benefits cliffs is one of the clearest examples from this work of how aligning state and federal policies across public benefit programs can simultaneously improve family economic security, child well-being and government efficiency.

Federal Actions

The CARES Act provides an estimated $2 trillion stimulus package to battle the harmful effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Read NCSL’s summary and a detailed analysis of the CARES Act related to human services and housing.

Other NCSL Resources


External Resources

Housing and Homelessness

Safe, stable and affordable housing yields a multitude of opportunities that improve quality of life and increase economic vitality. Similarly, the absence of it undermines individual and collective efforts to safeguard the well-being of children, youth and adults and increase economic prosperity through education, training and employment.

The shortage of safe, stable and affordable housing in the United States was severe before the COVID-19 pandemic, and with millions of workers losing their incomes, many more adults and families are now unable to make rent and mortgage payments. By some estimates, 7 million more affordable housing units are needed for extremely low-income families. This shortage also negatively affects the rental market as nearly 11 million renter households—roughly 1 in 4 renters—spend over half their income on rent. This makes it difficult to then afford food, transportation, medical care and other necessities.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, no state has an adequate supply of rental housing to meet the demand of low-income renters. Among the 50 largest metropolitan regions in the country, the supply ranges from a low of 14 available rental homes per 100 extremely low-income renter households to 51 available rental homes per 100 extremely low-income renter households.

The insufficient supply of safe, stable and affordable housing for low- and middle-income households is linked to rates of homelessness across the country. In 2019, the Department of Housing and Urban Development found that 552,830 individuals—17 out of every 10,000 people in the United States—experienced homelessness on any given night in 2018.

People of color are significantly more likely to experience homelessness than white people. Despite people of color making up only 13% of the U.S. population, African Americans make up roughly 40% of the total number of homeless individuals, according to the annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress. The disparity was even larger for homeless people with children, with African Americans representing 52% compared to for 35% for whites.

State Responses

At least 16 states and Puerto Rico have introduced 96 bills addressing housing and homelessness in response to the COVID-19 crisis: Alaska, Alabama, California, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont and Wyoming. Most of the recently enacted legislation prevents residential tenant eviction, although some states, including North CarolinaNew YorkMinnesota and New Jersey, have introduced legislation to provide relief for landlords or require rental assistance for tenants affected by COVID-19 to be paid directly to landlords. To date, no state has introduced legislation specifically pertaining to youth experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 crisis.

Alaska has introduced HB 312/SB 242 to prohibit evictions during the COVID-19 outbreak when tenants are unable to pay rent. California has introduced legislation to prevent the eviction of commercial tenants during the COVID-19 state of emergency declared by the governor. Ohio has introduced legislation that would prohibit foreclosures and evictions of both residential and commercial tenants during the COVID-19 state of emergency. Most legislation pauses evictions for nonpayment of rent; however, the rent typically is still due once the epidemic has ended. New York has introduced legislation that would provide rental assistance in the form of vouchers to assist tenants affected by the COVID-19 epidemic. All payments would be paid directly to the landlords.

At least two states have enacted housing and homelessness legislation to help combat the effects of the COVID-19 epidemic. Arizona has enacted legislation to establish the Crisis Contingency and Safety Net Fund to provide funding for housing assistance, homeless services, economic assistance to small businesses and funding for food banks during the governor's declaration of a state of emergency. New Jersey has enacted legislation to prohibit residential tenants from being evicted during emergency circumstances and for residential foreclosure when a public health emergency or state of emergency is declared by the governor.

States are also showing interest in rent and eviction moratoriums that limit or prohibit landlords from evicting tenants for unpaid rent during the pendency of the COVID-19 epidemic. Rent moratoriums typically pause rent payments for tenants during the COVID-19 crisis. Eviction moratoriums prevent landlords from then evicting the tenants for the unpaid rent. These moratoriums have positive and negative implications for both tenants and landlords. For tenants, they get a reprieve from making rent payments during the epidemic, yet the rent will still become due once emergency orders are lifted. For landlords, who themselves may have mortgages to pay and property to maintain, the rent moratoriums may cause financial hardship if protections are not put in place to protect landlords as well. States have also shown interest in the effect of rent moratoriums on tenants’ credit reports. Legislators are also considering the effect of eviction moratoriums on individuals and families who live in motels.

NCSL has launched a new housing and homelessness database that tracks legislation in all states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. Numerous subtopics are grouped by 1) safe, stable, healthy and affordable housing, 2) adult and family homelessness and 3) youth homelessness. COVID-19-related legislation is easily found under “Emergency Response.”

Federal Actions 

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 27, provides funding and flexibilities for states to respond to the housing and homelessness fallout from COVID-19. NCSL’s breakdown of the housing and homelessness components of the bill are available here and as a PDF.

Other NCSL Resources

External Resources