Senators Murkowski, Manchin, Burr, Murray, Sinema Send Letter to Education Secretary Cardona on Homeless Youth and Children Funding

Bipartisan Group Urges Secretary to Work with Them to Provide Broad Support for Youth and Children Experiencing Homelessness

U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Richard Burr (R-NC), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), sent a letter to Department of Education (ED) Secretary Miguel Cardona detailing priorities on the implementation of $800 million in K-12 funding from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act. The $800 million was included in the ARP through an amendment offered by Senator Murkowski and cosponsored by Senators Manchin and Sinema specifically to support children and youth who are experiencing homelessness through wrap-around services. The Senators called for continued collaboration between ED and the Senate to distribute the funds to support vulnerable homeless children and youth – a population whose issues have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In their letter to Secretary Cardona, the Senators speak to the importance of distributing these funds to ensure they address the highest needs of homeless youth and children in a timely manner, by ensuring states and local education agencies are engaging with community-based organizations to provide wrap-around services. 

“Children and youth experiencing homelessness need comprehensive, wrap-around services in order to recover from the loss and disruption caused by the pandemic. For these reasons, we ask ED to encourage flexible use of funds beyond what is typically allowed through the EHCY program, and make clear that SEAs and LEAs are encouraged to partner with community-based organizations through grants or contracts where it is advantageous to do so.

“We recognize the tension between the urgent needs that exist now and the imperative of planning for thoughtful, strategic use of funds over the next school year when we expect to see even greater levels of homelessness and student need. For this reason, we strongly encourage ED to explore a number of options for distributing these funds to ensure that both the immediate and larger, long-term needs are met.”

The Senators urged the Department to work with them to implement awarding these funds, and that state and local funding must be prioritized with all Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to identify and engage children and youth experiencing homelessness.

“State Education Agencies (SEAs) and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) must prioritize finding youth and families experiencing homelessness in order to help them access summer school, afterschool programs, mental health support, and all the other resources provided through the ARP and prior COVID-19 relief legislation. Identifying students and providing them access to services will require increases in staffing and support, such as communication devices and transportation.”

In addition, the Senators shined a spotlight on how the COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on rural communities, Tribal communities, and communities of color, and their commitment to ensuring that this dedicated funding serves these communities who experience disproportionate rates of youth and child homelessness.

“Tribal communities experience housing conditions that are substantially worse than for other U.S households; therefore it is essential that tribal consultations take place to ensure the best path forward for tribes to receive targeted funds. Rural communities have unique transportation and technological needs that make it difficult to identify and provide services to children and youth experiencing homelessness. As such, these communities must remain part of the conversation so their needs are fully understood. Across every measure — health, employment, housing, and education — the pandemic has taken a disproportionate toll on communities of color. In light of the disparities for rural and tribal communities and communities of color, we urge ED to prioritize equity in its directives and guidance, and assist SEAs in providing specific support to these communities.”

Full text of the letter can be found here.

Related Issues: COVID-19 Resource Page, Alaska Natives & Rural Alaska