The CARES Act funds for COVID-19 relief became available to Part C centers this past week. I would like to suggest some things to think about before you begin spending. If you plan well, your reporting and documentation will be more complete. These steps will not delay very long, but will help make sure your center is following guidance from ACL and good practices as you work on COVID-19 relief with these funds. Refer first to the FAQ. It is your bible re: what is allowable. I have expanded with some of my personal suggestions as you implement the FAQ and begin getting support out to your community.
- Make sure your accounting system is set up to keep these funds separate and to maintain records so that you can justify expenses. If an expense is non-allowable under Part C, it is not allowable under these new funds. If it is allowable with Part C funds, it is allowable here as long as all expenses are reasonable and necessary and meet the requirements of 45 CFR 75. You have the responsibility to document how they are reasonable and necessary.
- CARES Act activities should align with the CIL CARES Act FAQ guidance. Most importantly, records should always clearly differentiate a Part C expense from a CARES Act expense.
- You must use procurement policies and procedures that agree with 45 CFR 75. These should already be in place for your Part C and other federal funding. Procurement levels and approvals in regulations are the same, and you should follow your current policies unless you the approval levels are less than what is required in federal regulations and you feel they might delay essential emergency support. In that case you must update your policies and procedures no later than May 31, 2020 and can backdate them to January 20, 2020.
- Develop or update any policies and procedures related to paid disaster leave for staff and make sure the board approves them before you take any action. The policy must be approved and in place by May 31, or you will not be able to spend any of these funds on paid leave. If your policy is in place you can backdate to January 20 or the day you began responding to the COVID 19 crisis. Again, these payments must be reasonable and necessary.
- Never forget that the CARES Act funds are for the COVID-19 response only. Again, refer to the CIL CARES Act FAQ if you have questions. Whether or not you can use CARES Act funds to pay of a line of credit, buy a bunch of office furniture or in any way use the funds for regular operations depends heavily on whether or not any of these examples have a direct tie to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- If your staff need additional equipment or other capacity to provide services remotely, address that need with these funds. Make sure they have the technology to contact and work with consumers from home. We suggest a specific policy/procedure on working remotely if you don’t already have one in place.
- Develop or at least review any intake policies, and make any changes needed. Any direct support to individuals requires that they be consumers. You may also want to add an income criteria to make sure this support goes to those who need it most.
- While personal support – personal protective equipment, life-sustaining food, rent — may be allowed, some other things are also required. Any individual assisted must be a consumer, and if they are not already a consumer, must go through whatever intake process you use, including affirming a significant disability, agreeing to or waiving an IL plan, and having an established, measurable goal or goals. During this intake process you will learn if there are other needs that might be addressed. All support with CARES Act funds MUST be directly related to COVID-19.
- Be strategic and when possible, utilize other resources. This is not a requirement – in fact, there are very likely life critical situations where waiting to facilitate other resources would fail to meet the immediate need for health and safety for the consumer. You do need to be aware of the current resources available through the local food bank, for example. Some business owners may be eligible for other support. In some states there is rent or mortgage protection or relief. Most people have received a personal stimulus check. Assist people with disabilities in gaining equal access to other benefits available, but first and foremost assist with the immediate and life critical needs.
- You need an internal criteria – an approved, written policy — for determining who gets direct support of some kind. The support must clearly be directly related to the COVID-19 efforts. Your criteria for who gets direct financial aid might be income based, or some other determination such as eligibility for SSI (no more than $2000 in the bank, low income). Whatever criteria you develop, it must be applied to all beneficiaries following your written and approved policy and procedures.
- Typically staff and board would not be eligible as this direct cash aid may result in a conflict of interest. The CIL should have concrete policies and procedures in place to assure a conflict of interest does not occur. In other words, your policy should address how you assure that board or staff receive services in the same way as others; the steps to assure this lack of favoritism should be documented.
We will continue to discuss these issues as the next months unfold. Hopefully these tips will give you a strong and effective start to providing services through the CARES Act Funds to benefit the disability community.