Education Department Gives Up on Effort to Divert COVID Relief Funds to Private Schools

On September 25, the Education Department announced that it will not appeal a U.S. district court judge’s decision that found that it illegally directed states to divert COVID-19 relief money from public schools to private schools. The CARES Act provided $13.5 billion for public and private schools, of which 90% was to be awarded based on federal Title I funding for low-income schools. However, the Education Department released guidance instructing school districts to share pandemic aid with private schools based on the total number of students they enroll, not just low-income students. This interpretation of the CARES Act would have resulted in $1.35 billion being diverted from public schools (which are obligated to serve students with disabilities) to private ones (which are not).

Senate Rejects “Skinny” COVID Relief Bill

On September 10, Senate Republicans failed to get enough votes to advance their pared-down version of the COVID-19 relief bill they introduced last month. This bill included a $300 unemployment benefit bonus; additional Paycheck Protection Program loans for businesses experiencing substantial revenue drops; additional education funding (including for private school scholarships); additional funding for development and distribution of vaccines, drugs, and other medical supplies; liability protections; and an expanded charitable tax deduction. This $650 billion bill did not include any of The Arc’s top priorities, which are:

  • Increased federal funding for home and community-based services (HCBS) under Medicaid
  • Increased access to personal protective equipment (PPE) for direct support professionals
  • Expanded eligibility for economic impact payments to adult dependents and another round of payments
  • Paid leave eligibility for family caregivers of adults with disabilities, including siblings and grandparents

We urge you to continue contacting your Senators here.

Federal Court Strikes Down Education Department Rule Increasing Funding for Private Schools

On September 8, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a decision striking down the Department of Education rule requiring school districts to distribute funding to private schools based on the total number of children attending private schools rather than the number of low income children who attend private schools. The Arc applauds this decision, which would ensure that approximately $1.3 billion from COVID-19 relief funding is not diverted from public schools. For more information click here.

Congressional Negotiations Stall on Next COVID Package; Trump Issues Proposals

With stimulus talks stalled, President Trump issued executive actions over the weekend to provide relief to Americans affected by the pandemic. The President proposed the following relief measures:

  • Unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. Up to $400 additional weekly federal UI benefit. States would be required to pay for 25% of the benefit.
  • Eviction moratorium. The order includes no new resources to assist renters and only directs federal agencies to “review all existing authorities and resources” and consider measures that are “reasonably necessary to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.” It does not extend the limited federal eviction moratorium that expired on July 24.
  • Payroll tax. The measure proposes to defer the portion of payroll taxes paid by employees for some low-wage workers from September 1 to the end of the year. There is no provision made to reimbursing the Social Security and Medicare trust funds for these losses and the taxes would need to be paid back after 2020. This measure would not help the unemployed and will hurt the finances of Social Security and Medicare, which are already under fiscal strain.
  • Student loans. The President’s memorandum directs the Education Department to extend by three months the student loan relief granted in previous COVID relief legislation until the end of the year. Student loan payments are presently paused and interest is suspended on federally-held student loans until the end of September.

Numerous questions have been raised about the President’s authority to undertake such actions without Congressional approval.

COVID Relief: Senate Releases Framework for Next Package; Advocacy Needed

Last week, the Senate released a framework for its fourth COVID-19 response bill. The package of bills, called the Healthcare, Economic Assistance, Liability, and Schools (HEALS) Act, fails to include all but one of the disability community’s priorities. The HEALS Act provides a lower extended federal unemployment benefit; funding for schools, child care, and COVID testing; another round of funding for the paycheck protection program; expanded tax credits; and waivers of liability for hospitals, schools, state governments, and businesses. While it would provide a $500 tax rebate for all adult dependents, unfortunately, it does not include The Arc’s other critical priorities: additional home and community based services (HCBS) funding, increased access to personal protective equipment for direct support professionals, or any expansion of paid leave. This framework is a starting point that will be subject to negotiation in the coming weeks.

See a blog post from Nicole Jorwic, The Arc’s Senior Director for Public Policy. We urge you to contact your Senators here.

Office for Civil Rights Releases Annual Report to Congress

On July 29, the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released its Annual Report to Congress for FY 2019. The report found that almost half of complaints filed with OCR in fiscal years 2017 and 2018 related to disability discrimination, with the most common complaint involving students not receiving a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Among other things, the report also highlights the Department’s restraint and seclusion initiative, including compliance reviews, data quality reviews, and technical assistance.

COVID Relief – Senate Bill Expected Today; Advocacy Still Needed

Senate Republicans have indicated that they plan to release their proposal for the next round of coronavirus relief spending today. While the details are not yet known, it has been reported that the $1 trillion package may include another round of direct payments to individuals, a lower expanded federal unemployment insurance benefit, and funding for schools and COVID-19 testing. The proposal will be used to begin negotiations on the next package.

The Arc’s priorities for the next package include:

  • Increased federal funding for home and community-based services (HCBS) under Medicaid
  • Increased access to personal protective equipment (PPE) for direct support professionals
  • Expanded eligibility for economic impact payments to adult dependents and another round of payments
  • Paid leave eligibility for family caregivers of adults with disabilities, including siblings and grandparents

See The Arc’s July 7 update here. We urge you to contact your Senators.

House to Vote on Affordable Child Care Bills

The House plans to take up two bills to make child care more available and affordable during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. The Child Care Is Essential Act (H.R. 7027), sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), would provide $50 billion in child care block grants to states to help subsidize care for low-income families. The Child Care for Economic Recovery Act (H.R. 7327), sponsored by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), would provide $10 billion in grants to renovate child care facilities; $850 million to help care for children of “essential” workers; and an estimated $77 billion over a decade for child care funding administered by the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. The package would also provide about $91 billion over a decade in tax benefits, mostly for expanded child and dependent care credits. The Arc supports both bills.

School Voucher Bill Introduced in Senate

On July 22, Senators Tim Scott (R-SC), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced the School Choice Now Act (S. 4282). This bill would provide a federal tax credit for donations to organizations that provide scholarships for private schools. Additionally, the bill creates a one-time appropriation to scholarship-granting organizations. The Arc opposes this bill because schools accepting scholarships indirectly supported by the tax credit will not be required to follow the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or the accountability provisions under the Every Student Succeeds Act. See The Arc’s position statement on education, including school vouchers.

Report Shows Most States Are Not Meeting IDEA Obligations

The U.S. Department of Education found that only 21 states deserved the “meets requirements” designation with regard to Part B for the 2018-2019 school year. Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia were placed into the “needs assistance” category. Two states were placed in the “needs intervention” category. The findings come from an annual mandatory assessment of state compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The ratings are based on how well states meet their obligations to serve students with disabilities ages 3 to 21.