The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote Friday to pass the CARES Act, a massive deal to respond to the national impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Here is what we know so far about what the deal means for education, unemployment, and more.

Michigan Senator Gary Peters also provided resources about the bipartisan act.

Education

The CARES Act includes an Education Stabilization Fund which would disperse billions of dollars to K-12 and higher education. The bill states that any state or school district that receives money from the stabilization fund “shall to the greatest extent practicable, continue to pay its employees and contractors during the period of any disruptions or closures related to coronavirus.”
The final package provides more than $30 billion in emergency education funding for colleges and universities, states and school districts. The Education Stabilization Fund allocates the following:

  • $13.5 billion for K-12 schools
  • $14.25 billion for higher education
  • $3 billion for governors to use at their discretion to assist K-12 and higher education

The CARES Act also includes:

  •  $15.5 billion for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program;
  • $8.8 billion for Child Nutrition Programs to help ensure students receive meals when school is not in session;
    • Note: Senate Democrats were unable to secure a 15 percent increase to household’s SNAP benefits. Congressional leaders acknowledge that they may need to provide additional rounds of food assistance in future legislative relief packages
  • $3.5 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grants, which provide child-care subsidies to low-income families and can be used to augment state and local systems;
  • $750 million for Head Start early-education programs;
  • $100 million in Project SERV grants to help clean and disinfect schools, and provide support for mental health services and distance learning;
  • $69 million for schools funded by the Bureau of Indian Education; and
  • $5 million for health departments to provide guidance on cleaning and disinfecting schools and day-care facilities.

Funding for Internet Access 

The proposal includes teleconnectivity and allowable use of the boarder fund, but does not direct funding directly through the already existing ERate program, so it will not completely help students who need access to close the “homework gap” – the term used to describe the difference between families with internet connections and equipment and those without. Democrats had wanted at least $2 billion to go directly to an FCC subsidy program that helps schools and libraries connect to the internet, while FCC Chairman Ajit Pai requested $50 million for a pilot program geared specifically toward helping schools.

Waiver Authority

The expedited waiver process announced last week by Secretary DeVos is included in the package. The legislation also includes waiver flexibility for states to get waivers on accountability – including publicly reporting various indicators under state accountability systems, waivers from reporting on progress toward long-term achievement goals, and interim goals under ESSA.

There are also a handful of waivers available at the state and local level re flexibility from sections of ESSA related to funding mandates. SEAs/LEAs can seek a waiver:

  • from ESSA’s requirement for states to essentially maintain their education spending in order to tap federal funds.
  •   to make it easier to run schoolwide Title I programs regardless of the share of low-income students in districts and schools.
  • from requirements governing Title IV Part A, which funds programs aimed at student well-being and well-rounded achievements. Caps on spending for different priority areas would be lifted, and schools would no longer be barred from spending more than 15 percent of their Title IV money on digital devices.
  • to carry over as much Title I money as they want from this academic year to the next one; normally there’s a 15 percent limit.
  • from adhering to ESSA’s definition of professional development.

State Funding Shell Game 

The bill, as currently drafted, includes language that would allow states to apply for a waiver for their maintenance of effort compliance. Meaning that while the federal funds would roll to the local level, they wouldn’t feel like relief because the state would be able to make cuts in state funding. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is; this shell game was widely documented in the 2009 ARRA package. The broad MOE waiver flexibility was not in the original senate bill and we are concerned and disappointed. This continues to double down on the fiscal burden schools face as states can pursue flexibility and LEAs are left on the hook to cover the shortfall.

Unemployment

The package includes increased unemployment benefits. People who are unemployed would get an extra $600 per week for up to four months on top of state unemployment benefits to make up for 100 percent of lost wages. Unemployment claims are also climbing in states across the country, and congressional negotiators acknowledge that benefits may need yet another boost through additional relief packages.

The package also includes the option for employers and those who are self-employed to defer the 6.2 percent tax they pay on wages used to fund Social Security. The deferred tax would have to be paid over the next two years.

Other

The legislation includes on item that has been a hot topic of discussion in recent weeks – checks for U.S. Residents.  All U.S. residents with adjusted gross income up to $75,000 ($150,000 for married couples) would get a payment of $1,200 ($2,400 for couples). They are also eligible for an additional $500 per child. The payments would start phasing out for earners above those income thresholds.