First a little background. What are the CARES Act Funds? The CIL CARES Act funding went to the federally funded (Part C) centers for direct response to the COVID-19 crisis among people with disabilities in their service area. They have until September 30, 2021 to spend the funds in a way that 1) addresses the needs raised by the virus, in keeping people with disabilities safe and healthy and 2) in efforts that are allowable with federal funds as described in 45 CFR 75.
Notice that the spending must still be in keeping with regulations that oversee the Federal grants. You will be familiar with some of the most common potential expenses that are not allowed with federal funds. Lobbying and alcohol are the most widely known, but there is a list at 45 CFR 75.420 of some specific costs and their allowability. This regulation applies to all federal funds, including the CARES Act funds. The cost must be allowable under federal regulations. That is why you see the term “life-sustaining food” to describe potential food purchases under the Act. Food for entertainment purposes is not allowed, but life-sustaining food is. It is the responsibility of the center to determine the allowability of the cost. And as with all expenditures of federal funds, the purchase must be reasonable, necessary and properly allocated across funding sources (see 45 CFR 75.404). As always, prior approval is needed for any equipment purchase that exceeds $5,000.
I get a lot of questions from the field about whether something is or is not allowable under the CARES Act funds, and I will repeat, it is up to the Center to determine allowability. In addition to being an allowable expense with federal funds, the CARES Act funds must be spent as a direct response to the COVID-19 crisis.
The Centers were directed to utilize the entirety of the funds to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and the surge of needs of individuals with disabilities to access or reconnect with services and supports they need to remain safely in their communities. This is not a way to fund the Center’s “wish list” unless the purchase is directly related to a response to COVID-19.
One of the things most centers are addressing is how to use technology to enable and support the core services provision from home-based offices, since most offices are closed and most staff are working from home. In some situations this meant beefing up services or equipment so that staff could be effective in doing their jobs from home. Sometimes the type of internet service to their offices was not sufficient to carry the load of everyone working remotely. In some cases the staff had been using desk top equipment, some of it too old to allow web-based conferences, and needed to replace it. Likewise to serve the consumer, the consumer had to have access to the internet from a phone or tablet or computer. We have seen some significant improvements in the infrastructure needed for remote services to happen.
Supplies needed for people to be healthy and safe are also allowed, so centers have purchased masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap, paper towels, toilet paper, and more for both the staff and consumers. When consumers have personal care in their homes, they can now require the personal care-givers to take all the needed precautions and can provide them with supplies when in their home providing their care.
I know a center that is working with the food bank and their own resources to create food boxes together with recipes and plan to hold drive through cooking classes, outdoors in the parking lot They will set up stations with handwashing, cutting boards, knives, and food ingredients. Masked instructors from six feet away will walk them through a recipe and they will take home the item in carry out containers along with the rest of the food. I have also seen cooking classes by ZOOM, combining on line instruction with food delivery. Combining food provision with independent living skills training seems like an excellent approach.
The Frequently Asked Questions document from ACL lists these appropriate areas of emphasis for CARES Act funds:
• Service coordination during and after the COVID-19 pandemic;
• Services and activities that assist individuals with disabilities who are at risk of being institutionalized to remain in their communities;
• Services and activities that assist individuals with disabilities to move from an institutional setting to a home in a community-based setting;
• Services and activities that address the shortage of accessible housing;
• Partnerships with local agencies that address food insecurity; and
• Systems advocacy to ensure health equity in medical settings.
Notice that three of these items are related to getting/keeping people with disabilities out of congregate living. Look at the statistics. Most of the COVID-19 cases are people in some sort of congregate living — detention centers, prisons, nursing facilities have more than half the cases in the area where I live. There has never been a more important time to get people out and keep people out on institutional living situations. CARES Act funds can be used to accomplish this important goal for the health and safety of people with disabilities in your community.
Check out specific guidance for the Independent Living programs here: https://acl.gov/COVID-19