Emergency Legislation for Homeless Children/Families is Introduced: What it Could Mean for WV

Kelli Caseman, Executive Director

Today, Think Kids joined a number of national and state organizations in support of S. 3293, the Emergency Family Stabilization Act. This bipartisan piece of legislation, introduced by Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and our own Senator Joe Manchin, creates a new, flexible funding stream for community-based organizations to help meet the needs of kids, youth, and families who are experiencing homelessness– a growing consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, why is this funding needed, particularly in West Virginia? To make the case, let’s go back before COVID-19 was around.

You may remember around this time last year, the Charleston Gazette wrote this story: Data shows more than 10,000 homeless students in WV’s public schools.  These numbers became a big deal; they remained in the public discourse for months. A few legislators discussed it during the 2020 session. People were surprised that there were so many homeless students in our state, even though there’s a very good chance that the number is actually underreported (another blog post for another day).

These 10,522  students are children/youth who are counted and receive resources through the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, the federal law that is the primary piece of legislation related to the education of children and youth who are experiencing homelessness. You can find a map the number of students reported in your county here. You can find the name of the Homeless Liaison Director in your county’s public school who work with these students here.

Now, a year later in the midst of a pandemic, you can be sure that the number of children, youth, and families who are experiencing homelessness has dramatically increased. This legislation will include services to those kids who meet the definition of McKinney-Vento. This is good news, because this definition includes children/youth/families who are temporarily living with other people, as well as those in motels, shelters, or unsheltered spaces.

The Emergency Family Stabilization Act funding can have a variety of uses– emergency child care, help in accessing stimulus payments and unemployment compensation, housing-related needs, and an constant challenge in our state– transportation.

Local agencies that receive Administrative for Children and Families (ACF) grants or have experience in working with youth experiencing homelessness are eligible to apply. Many groups in our state qualify. And 36% of the grant funding is designated for rural areas.

And so, the funding could travel down well worn paths through our state, if it passes, and these organizations apply. We’ll soon see if there’s an appetite in the U.S. Senate to move it forward.

If you’re a supporter of the legislation, you can take action here.

One last thing– Do you remember how some policymakers were dismissive when the”over 10,000″ number of homeless students was reported in the news last year? We need to make sure we’re not as dismissive of this same population of students as we plan to reopen schools in the fall. They’ll have special needs that, hopefully, this funding could address.