By Amanda Menas
On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate joined the House by approving the Families First Coronavirus Response Act with strong bipartisan support. The bill, signed into law last night, takes several steps that NEA members support to keep many working families from suffering extreme financial hardship.
Educators are uniquely impacted by this legislation, as more than half our nation’s K-12 students and educators are affected by school closures—and that number continues to grow.
“America’s public schools are the economic engines of tens of thousands of communities that provide not just education, but also jobs and community-sustaining economic benefits. The path to our nation’s recovery runs through our classrooms. Congress and the Trump administration must do their part in getting the American people back on track in this global crisis,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.
The Families First Act is an important first step in addressing the unprecedented public health and economic challenges brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Key provisions to help everyday Americans face the crisis include:
Free coronavirus testing
Every individual deemed qualified for a test, including the uninsured, will be able to receive a free test. According to the Centers for Disease Control, schools are vitally important to preventing the spread of the virus. “Schools, working together with local health departments, have an important role in slowing the spread of diseases and protecting vulnerable students and staff, to help ensure students have safe and healthy learning environments.”
NEA encourages staff and students whose schools are still open to stay home and see a healthcare provider if sick. Schools should work with the school nurse or designee to develop a plan to identify and isolate students and staff who arrive at school sick.
Paid emergency leave
A new federal emergency leave benefits program has been created, defining an “emergency leave day” as one on which an individual cannot work due to diagnosis, quarantine, or care for someone impacted by COVID-19.
The legislation mandates that individuals working in the 30 days before they were impacted by the novel coronavirus receive up to three months of paid family and medical leave. All employers are required to allow employees to accrue seven days of paid sick leave, and to make an additional 10 sick leave days immediately available due to COVID-19, or any public health emergency.
Enhanced Unemployment Insurance
The legislation, in some cases, provides fully funded federal emergency unemployment insurance for a limited period—a first step to help furloughed workers.
NEA Members have access to a variety of job layoff resources, including an income protection insurance plan. Members in need of assistance should call 1-800-637-4636.
Strengthened food security initiatives
Given the economic impact of COVID-19, many more families will struggle with food insecurity in the coming months. The Families First Act enables the Department of Agriculture to issue nationwide school meal waivers, eliminates paperwork for states, and increases schools’ flexibility in distributing meals.
The legislation also enables state plans for providing emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) assistance to families with children who would have received free or reduced-price school meals, and suspends the work and work training requirements during the coronavirus crisis.
Increased federal funds for Medicaid
To help states face increased costs, the legislation begins to increase the federal medical assistance percentage for Medicaid.
Now, Congress must take additional steps to protect everyday Americans.
“To avoid laying off educators as the economy struggles, Congress needs to inject tens of billions in state budgets through a state stabilization fund and ensure that families can stay home without fear of losing income for being sick,” said García.
“There must be safeguards to ensure that the more than 20 million children who rely on school meals will not go hungry. That’s why we are urging members of Congress to expand food assistance for students and families, and ensure flexibility in the school meals program to keep children fed.”
The NEA is calling on Congress and the Trump administration to implement immediate financial support measures first, along with regulatory relief that students desperately need from the Department of Education.
Among the top measures, NEA is advocating for: immediate stimulus checks to all households; a State Stabilization Fund to prevent educator layoffs; guaranteed paid family and medical leaves; state Medicaid funding; canceled monthly student loan payments; remedies to the “homework gap” for students without WiFi and devices; comprehensive food assistance for students and families; and prevention of housing instability and homelessness.
As further legislation is introduced, NEA recommends providing additional federal support for Medicaid to prevent states from cutting back health care services, raising taxes, or cutting other programs to meet balanced budget requirements. Following the suspension of Immigrations and Customs enforcement, Medicaid options should also be extended to undocumented immigrants.
NEA urges members of Congress to pass additional measures to confront the public health, educational, and financial fallout of the pandemic. Email your senators and tell them to urge Senate leadership to take action—children and families need help NOW!