Beyond the CARES Act: Lessons Learned in Responding to a Pandemic

Authors: Jeff Hild & Milena Berhane, Center for Community Resilience Policy Lab

After months of on-again, off-again negotiations, Congress overwhelmingly passed another package of COVID-19 relief and response (H.R. 133) on December 21st. This approximately $900 billion package follows up on a set of legislative responses that became law in March 2020, most notably the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”).

Dr. Wendy Ellis shares the Pair of ACEs tree.

The pandemic has deepened existing racial inequities, with Black, Latino, and Indigenous communities impacted with higher rates of infection, hospitalization, and death than whites. Additionally, while unemployment and poverty have gone up across racial groups, they have increased most for minority groups and financial stress is highest for Black and Latino workers. Through our work with the Center for Community Resilience (CCR), we have sought understand what these inequities look like at the community level and how effective federal policy responses have been in addressing them.

With support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, CCR has provided technical assistance and guidance to communities as they worked to respond to the pandemic. We also sought to better understand the impacts of the federal response on the communities where we work, specifically how the federal response has supported child, family and community resilience and recommendations for supporting an equitable recovery. We collected quantitative and qualitative data across six of our partner sites, and published the findings in a white paper “Community Implementation of Federal COVID-19 Response: Results and Recommendations.” We hope that this work will be both useful to other communities as they think about how to best leverage federal funds and flexibilities as well as to federal policy makers and advocates as they think about future actions related to response and recovery.

Among other key findings, we learned the importance of federal supports that provided flexibility to allocate resources using an equity lens and that communities with existing equity indicators and/or established community engagement were better able to allocate funds to those most in need. While flexibility in some funding streams was useful, communities pointed to the lack of targeted supports for the most vulnerable (such as those not eligible for direct stimulus payments or small businesses lacking the savvy to access PPP funds) as being particularly problematic. In addition, communities expressed concern about the increase in exposure to ACEs and the long-term health impacts that will have for children, particularly those isolated from regular support structures such as school or child care.

The paper includes a number of recommendations for federal policy makers, state and local governments, and the philanthropy sector and several items in H.R. 133 align with recommendations from CCR communities:

· Protecting direct economic relief payments, from garnishment including for state-owed child support

· Targeting Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) supports to smaller employers, minority-owned businesses, and those working in low-income areas

· Extending deadlines (in this case until 12/31/2021) for state and local governments to utilize funds from the CARES Act

· Supporting targeted outreach to minority communities for vaccine distribution and information

· Direct economic assistance in the form of enhanced and expanded unemployment benefits, direct payments, and increases in nutrition programs (particularly SNAP)

· Funding for internet access in the form of direct subsidies to low-income households as well as investments in future broadband connectivity in underserved areas

· Additional supports for school districts and child care providers to account for increased costs related to COVID safety as well as to support the mental and behavioral health needs of students through trauma-informed supports

· Increased support for key Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), including Project AWARE and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network that support work to prevent and respond to child trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences in educational and other care settings.

· An extension of the CDC eviction moratorium and additional funding for rental assistance and eviction prevention.

The scope of devastation caused by the pandemic will require a significant and sustained response well into the 2021 that includes not just macro-economic stimulus, but also targeted supports for those communities and populations, particularly Black, Latino, and Native American communities, most impacted. Failure to do so will only deepen existing inequities along lines of class, race, and geography and continue to drive adversity in our communities and trauma in our children with disastrous long-term impacts on health and well-being.

Passage of a new round of COVID relief (H.R 133) was essential, but is almost certainly not enough to either fully meet the immediate needs of many families and communities or ensure the longer-term recovery is equitable and focuses on those populations and communities most impacted. It will be critical for communities to continue pushing for additional and significant support in the coming months and years and for elected officials to respond with bold actions. We hope that the work of the CCR network can continue to inform the policy response.

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Center for Community Resilience

A Milken Institute School of Public Health collaborative seeking to address the root causes of childhood & community adversity.