Education Support and Clinical Coaching Program
More than 65,000 Pennsylvanians live in over 1,200 personal care homes and assisted living residences throughout the Commonwealth, and these facilities care for some of the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians. Unlike nursing facilities, they normally lack clinical staff, and so direct care workers in these settings may feel ill-equipped to deal with COVID-19.
DHS, in partnership with health care systems and the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, is launching the Educational Support and Clinical Coaching Program to help these facilities during the COVID-19 public health crisis. The educational support component of this program includes weekly webinars hosted by the Jewish Healthcare foundation on important topics for personal care homes and assisted living residences. Our first webinar was scheduled for April 7, and so many people signed up for it that we needed to expand the technological capacity of the webinar.
The Office of Long-Term Living is also reaching out to personal care homes and assisted living facilities to conduct preliminary needs assessments. When needs are identified, they are referred to the five health systems that are partnering with DHS for this initiative: Temple University, University of Pennsylvania, Penn State Hershey Medical Center, the Wright Center, and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Outgoing calls from these health systems are slated to begin this week, where the health systems will provide clinical coaching on how to prepare and manage COVID-19. Health systems are also holding daily office hours for individual facilities that need extra coaching, explaining the latest guidance from DOH and CDC.
This is a frightening time for these DHS-licensed facilities and the vulnerable residents they serve. But we have their backs. Collectively, we believe that with the additional educational support and clinical coaching that we are providing, personal care homes and assisted living residences will finally have the support they need.
As we discussed last week, we are aware of the ongoing concerns around fingerprinting requirements and limited access to IdentiGo scanning sites because of closures related to COVID-19.
We, in collaboration with the Departments of Education, Aging, and General Services, sent a letter to “Enroll Your Own” fingerprinting sites (approved by the fingerprinting vendor Identigo) asking that they reopen additional locations. Some of these sites have agreed to open up and we will be updating the list of open fingerprinting sites as that information becomes available. Additionally, we understand some Identigo locations are beginning to reopen, so I encourage anyone needing fingerprints to call the closest locations to verify whether they are or aren’t operating as this may begin to change. As a part of our efforts with other agencies, we were able to produce a map that shows the open fingerprinting sites across the commonwealth. We continue to monitor and update this map.
We are not able to broadly waive this requirement from the state level because it is contained in numerous federal laws like the Family First Prevention Services Act, the Adam Walsh Act, and the Child Care Development Block Grant Act. However, we continue to work towards solutions that can alleviate the challenges presented by this.
We released guidance on waiving licensing requirements in Personal Care Homes and Assisted Living Residences, but understand that this guidance does not align with information just issued by the Department of Aging. We are working with the Department of Aging to address the discrepancies and will provide clarification.
We know that there are many more people who first obtained clearances in 2015 following changes to the Child Protective Services Law who will need to renew these clearances this year. We are open to temporarily delaying the five-year requirement, but this would need to happen through legislative action. DHS and the Governor’s Office are working with the legislature to try to accomplish this, but we know this cannot be our only option. We are also pursuing potentially opening additional, temporary fingerprinting sites that can help us meet this need as we work through the public health crisis.
We will keep you informed as this moves forward and appreciate your patience as we navigate the challenges that arise due to this crisis.
Bureau of Juvenile Justice Services (BJJS) Admissions
Youth in the intake unit will have access to a temporary counselor, psychological and medical services, physical activity, and other individualized recreational activities. Social distancing will be enforced, and youth will be able to maintain contact with their family through phone calls, video conferencing, and letters. Youth will be transported to the YDC or YFC following 14 days without testing positive for COVID-19, without symptoms, or without contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
Transfers to the intake unit will be accepted based on the number of YDC/YFC beds projected to be available 14 days after intake begins and will be based on each program operating at 100 percent capacity. Youth and staff safety is our first priority, so this shift will allow us to maintain our responsibility to provide an option for youth who need these services while recognizing the risk presented by COVID-19.
Federal Funding Requests
Many of you have reached out regarding issuance of funding contained in the federal stimulus bill. At this point, we do not have a timeline for when these funds will become available, but I assure you that as soon as we have more information to share, we will communicate that.
We also wanted to make sure you were aware of three key elements of the federal CARES Act. For those of you that have less than 500 employees, there are the Small Business Administration (SBA) grant and Economic Injury Disaster Loan programs. Also available is the Payroll Protection Program that is available through SBA-approved banks. These programs offer a limited amount of loan forgiveness and other benefits that are designed to keep staff employed. Please consult with your accountant to see if these are right for your situation.
Low Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP) update
The LIHEAP program provides assistance with heating needs through the heating season. It was scheduled to close on April 10, and that is the last day we will accept applications for the current season.
DHS knows how vital this program will be to help those who have been financially impacted by the COVID emergency. Because of this, we started to plan a recovery program that would be made available to assist with accumulated bills. We have met with representatives from the PUC, the Energy Association, local community groups, Rural Electric, the Petroleum Association and others to discuss how this program can best be designed to meet the needs of those who need help to recover economically.
To further assist these households, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act included additional funding for the LIHEAP program. Pennsylvania anticipates receiving approximately $50 million in additional LIHEAP funding. This funding can go a long way to helping people in the economic recovery process.
We are working with partners to further develop this plan so that it will meet the needs of as many as possible. We will provide updates as this program becomes more final.
We’ve previously discussed requests made to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Services regarding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – better known as SNAP. As of today, we’ve requested the following changes to SNAP:
- We sought to delay implementation of rule affecting work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents – also known as the ABAWD rule. This request was negated by provisions in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
- We requested a waiver of the requirements for face-to-face interviews and interviews for expedited SNAP applications. FNS provided a blanket waiver of all SNAP interviews including expedited, application and renewals.
- We requested an extension of SNAP certification periods so households will not lose access to benefits during this public health crisis, which was also waived at the federal level by FNS.
- We are currently awaiting response on two waivers: one that would allow SNAP education providers to assist with distribution of national school lunch program meals, and another that would waive college student eligibility criteria so students and families with college students can receive their own benefits or additional benefits for the household so needs are met during this period.
- We received approval from FNS to issue emergency allotments to all ongoing SNAP households as part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This approval will allow us to increase the current monthly allotment up to the maximum monthly allotment for a household of that size. The approval is for March and April and we will make this as one payment that will be issued on a staggered basis beginning April 16 through April 29. This payment is in addition to their normal April benefit issuance that’s made in the first half of the month.
We will continue to keep you all informed as we receive a response on outstanding waivers and if future changes become necessary.
CAO Operational Update
As I’ve mentioned over the past few weeks, concerns have been raised due to CAO employees continuing to work from the office during this time. I’m aware that there have been questions of whether we would close offices.
CAO staff are the backbone of our public assistance system, and we are committed to keeping them safe as they perform their critical role. Without their work and efforts, benefits applications would not be able to be processed. As we face growing economic challenges in the wake of this public health crisis, assistance programs that help people and families access health care and keep food on the table will be vital in helping Pennsylvania recover. Programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, (SNAP), Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Medicaid will be necessary as we weather this public health crisis. We cannot eliminate this function, and we have taken numerous steps to protect the health of these workers as all essential sectors are doing at this time.
Social distancing and staggered shifts were implemented and offices are being cleaned and sanitized regularly. The Department of General Services has been in regular contact with lessors regarding this expectation. We are also working to scale up teleworking for CAO staff as quickly as we can. This week, more than 90 employees were transitioned to telework as part of a pilot, and our goal is to significantly ramp up the number of staff teleworking over the next few weeks so thousands of our staff will be able to work from home in the very near future. Additionally, over this past weekend, DHS delivered masks to CAOs in all of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties so that CAO staff were equipped on Monday morning with cloth masks to help protect against the spread of the COVID-19 virus consistent with the latest guidance from public-health professionals.
Keeping our staff safe is an utmost priority, and we will continue to do all we can to make this possible so operations that allow us to maintain our vital safety net can continue.
Support & Referral Helpline Update
Finally, last week we used this call to announce the launch of our Support & Referral Helpline – a resource for anyone struggling with anxiety, mental health challenges, or other difficult emotions due to the COVID-19 crisis. In the first week since this was launched, the helpline has received nearly 1,300 calls – people who may not have known where to turn without this resource.
The Support & Referral Helpline will continue to be available toll-free, 24/7 throughout this public health crisis, and helpline staff will refer callers to local resources in their community that can continue to help if needed. It can be reached at 1-855-284-2494 or through TTY at 724-631-5600.
Thank you all who have helped us promote this resource, and I hope you’ll continue to spread the word for those who need it.