Pass the HEROES Act to Protect Kids and Families

August 5, 2020
Martine Singer

The economic effects of COVID-19 are widespread: 30 million people in the U.S. are currently receiving unemployment and millions more are struggling to pay for food and rent. The pandemic – and the widespread protests following the death of George Floyd – underscore long-standing inequities in healthcare, education and opportunity. While the virus does not discriminate, people of color and those living in extreme poverty bear its impact disproportionately. And nothing less than a new federal relief package can move us forward.

At Children’s Institute in Los Angeles, we provide critical services in communities with child poverty rates as high as 70 percent, where trauma is so prevalent that residents might not even mention it when describing their everyday lives. Toxic stress from abuse, racism, community violence or living in chronic poverty has dramatic and lasting consequences to mental and physical health, as well as school and job performance.

Since mid-March, we’ve responded to an overwhelming number requests for food, rent and other basic needs. The most pressing come from families that are undocumented and/or work in hotels, restaurants and other service businesses that have been shuttered. Even those who put their lives on the line every day for low-paying, frontline jobs often lack the basics.

Facing a $54 billion deficit, the California Legislature and Governor Newsom passed a balanced budget in late June that continues to safeguard essential programs like early education and childcare. This was a welcome bit of news, but without additional federal funding, the state can’t continue to support these services – and they’re more vital now than ever before. To prevent further devastation, the U.S. Senate must pass the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions, or HEROES Act, which already passed in the House, and step up for our most vulnerable children and families.

Last week, the Senate introduced the Health, Economic, Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act. The Senate proposal and the House’s HEROEs Act have varying priorities and will need to be reconciled in one bill to pass another COVID-19 federal relief package to support families. As an organization, we support the HEROES act.

How can HEROES help California?

  • CHILDCARE: Without it, how will Californians go back to work? We join leaders around the country in calling for a $50 billion investment in early childhood education in the next legislative package.
  • STUDENT SUPPORTS: Programs like community schools integrate such critical services as mental health and family supports in schools, mitigating the impact of toxic stress and reengaging students and families with learning after months of suboptimal schooling.
  • SUPPORT FOR UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS: One million undocumented immigrants live in Los Angeles. We celebrate the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on DACA, but additional action must be taken to protect undocumented families, who represent a critical sector of our economy. These families don’t qualify for federal assistance and as a result their children suffer from hunger and lack basic resources. California was the first state to offer disaster relief for undocumented adults, upwards of $1,000 per household, but this fund reaches only 150,000 adults statewide. Federal assistance in the HEROES Act is essential to ensure undocumented immigrants can provide for their families.
  • FOSTER YOUTH: The needs of foster youth also continue to increase during this crisis. In addition to stable housing and mental health services, they need laptops, cellphones and internet for distance learning for the foreseeable future. Fortunately, the HEROES Act removes institutional barriers for youth to qualify and access extended foster care services.

Now more than ever, we must demand a just system that centers on equity and promotes policies that protect all children. Let’s work together to end the disparities that have been magnified in recent weeks and months. We implore Congress to step up and advance the HEROES act.