Children’s Health and Child Care Policy Changes in Florida Due to COVID-19

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Children’s Health and Child Care Policy Changes in Florida Due to COVID-19

On March 11, Governor Ron DeSantis issued Executive Order Number 20-52, declaring a state of emergency for Florida. The Florida Department of Education took the following actions related to school-readiness and voluntary preschool programs:

On March 17, Governor Ron DeSantis activated the Emergency Bridge Loan Program for Small Businesses Impacted by COVID-19:

  • The bridge loan program provides short-term, interest free loans for eligible for-profit businesses up to $50,000
  • Child care centers are invited to apply to the emergency bridge loan managed by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO)

UPDATE: As of April 11, the $50,000,000 allocated for the Emergency Bridge Loans was all distributed. No additional state funds are available at this time. Federal loans and grants are still available through the Small Business Administration.

On March 17, the Florida Department of Education and Office of Early Learning issued additional guidance for the remaining 2019-2020 school year:

  • Remaining assessments for school readiness and voluntary preschool were cancelled for the remaining of the 2019-2020 school year
    • Screenings are also cancelled for the 2019-2020 school year
  • The Florida Department of Education and Office of Early Learning have waived VPK provider accountability from the FLKRS assessment for 2020
  • Applications for Good Cause Exemption available to VPK providers on probation for three years are extended to be submitted by April 15th
  • All school readiness and voluntary prekindergarten programs will receive their full allocation of funding, which would allow for providers to be paid fully through June 30, 2020
  • School readiness and VPK providers will still be paid/reimbursed for accumulated child absences if the provider is still open and for those with temporary closures
  • School readiness and voluntary preschool programs were not mandated to close, but are asked to adhere to the CDC’s guidance for higher-risk populations by limiting students and employees to no more than 10 people convening in a single occupied space, therefore breaking students into groups as necessary, maintaining social distancing best practices and proper hygiene.
  • OEL will suspend termination of school readiness eligibility for families
  • OEL will extend the timeline for redetermination of school readiness eligibility to an additional 60 days
  • Parent copays and fees for all eligible school readiness families, regardless of income will be waived during the state of emergency starting on April 1st
  • Additional information can be found through the DOE and OEL Q&A.

On March 20, the Agency for Healthcare Administration released Telemedicine Guidance for Therapy Services and Early Intervention Services. Changes include:

  • Florida Medicaid will reimburse for Early Intervention Service sessions for the purpose of delivering family training designed to support the caregiver.
  • Medicaid will reimburse for screening and evaluation early intervention services when the service is delivered in accordance with federal and state law requirements.?
  • Over 80 new services will be conducted via telemedicine programs in Medicare, these services range from hospice check-ins to physical therapy.?
  • More information is available in the COVID-19: Florida Medicaid Frequently Asked Questions (updated 4/10/20).
On March 22, the Department of Children and Families issued the following guidance regarding child care training requirements:
  • DCF has given a 6 month extension for the completion of child care personnel competency exams
  • September 21, 2020 is the deadline to complete testing 
  • Training Coordinating Agencies and High Schools will be able to offer the child care courses online, while still meeting the requirement of instructor led through virtual teaching
  • Students who enrolled in child care training courses on or after January 28, 2020 are given additional time beyond the 45 allotted days to complete the course
  • Courses will be left open to review material before competency exams 

On March 25, the Department of Children and Families issued the following guidance:

  • DCF has issued guidance for childcare providers for health and safety measures during the state of emergency orders of COVID-19
  • Child Care Centers are to prohibit the entry of parents into classrooms or where children are cared for
    • Pick up/drop off must occur at the lobby or entry way of the center or designate an area for pickup/drop off away from classrooms
  • Before allowing entry, all children and staff must be screened per CDC guidelines
  • Each child must be given individual snack and meals, no family style meals
  • The Office of Child Care is processing variances or waivers to allow for centers to continue operating under different circumstances, such as change in staffing
  • Teachers whose centers have closed and would like to help others still serving families, may email their transcript, proof of background screening, and an email address to HQW.Child.Care.Licensing@myflfamilies.com
  • If an employer would like to provide child care on-site for their employees for free, licensure is not required
    • If an employer is interested and will be charging for temporary care they may email HQW.Child.Care.Licensing@myflfamilies.com for a temporary license
On March 27, Florida Healthy Kids, a critical component of Florida’s KidCare system, announced the following changes to ease the financial burden on families and strengthen children’s health care coverage:

 

  • To ensure affordability of medical care:
    • Waiver of all costs associated with COVID-19 testing
    • Waiver of copays for most commonly used services through April 30 (done in partnership with Aetna Better Health of Florida, Simply Healthcare Plans and Community Care Plan)
  • To improve access to care:
    • Relaxed prior authorizations for hospitals, physicians, home health and durable medical equipment
    • Allowance of 90-day supply of medications at retail and mail-order pharmacies (only for medications for which a 90-day supply is clinically appropriate)
    • Waiver of early refill requirements
  • To provide ample opportunity for eligibility and enrollment (upon a family’s request):
    • Retroactive enrollment for new applicants to the start of the month when the application is approved, and payment is received
    • Additional time to complete annual renewals
    • Additional time to pay premiums and retroactively enroll
On March 31, the Agency for Healthcare Administration announced the following changes to ensure continued coverage for Medicaid recipients (including Medicaid for Children):

 

  • During the duration of the state of emergency, no Medicaid recipient will lose Medicaid eligibility.
  • The agency is extending the timeframe for applicants to submit any necessary paperwork to 120 days from the date the Medicaid application was filed.

 

On April 2, Governor DeSantis issued Executive Order 20-91 directing everyone to stay at home for 30 days. The Department of Education and Office of Early Learning took the following actions:

  • Under the executive order, childcare facilities are exempt from the stay at home order and may remain open as long as CDC guidelines are followed and believe it is safe to do so under the following mandatory actions:
  1. Childcare must be carried out in stable groups of 10 or fewer (inclusive of childcare providers for the group).
  2. Children and child care providers shall not change from one group to another.
  3. If more than one group of children is cared for at one facility, each group shall be in a separate room.
    1. Groups shall not mix or interact with each other.

 

On April 8, the Department of Children and Families issued the following guidance:

 

  • Implement social distancing strategies – work with your county health department to determine a set of strategies appropriate for your community’s situation.
  • Intensify cleaning and disinfection efforts, including devising a schedule, and focus on toys, games, and other objects and surfaces that are frequently used.
  • Maintain an adequate ratio of staff to children to ensure safety; ensure groups are 10 or fewer (inclusive of child care providers).
  • Children and child care providers shall not change from one group to another.
  • If more than one group of children is cared for at one facility, each group shall be in a separate room and not mix or interact with each other.
  • Providers who remain open during the pandemic should follow the supplemental guidance considerations from the CDC

Guidance regarding cleaning and disinfecting after individuals suspected/confirmed to have COVID-19 have been in the facility:

  • It is recommended to close off areas that the individual entered or neared.
  • Open outside doors and windows to increase air circulation in the area. If possible, wait up to 24 hours before beginning cleaning and disinfecting.
  • Staff should clean and disinfect all areas (e.g., offices, bathrooms, and common areas) used by the individual, focusing especially on frequently touched surfaces.
  • Observe/evaluate staff and children who may have come into contact with the individual in question for early signs or symptoms.
  • If there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 at the child care program, the local county health department will provide guidance and next steps. In addition, the facility should close temporarily and reopen at the direction of the Department of Health. To be clear, if there is a confirmed positive:
    • Coordinate with the local county health department.
    • Dismiss children and child care providers for several days.
    • Communicate with parents and providers.
    • Clean and disinfect thoroughly.

On April 10, the Office of Early Learning and the FL Department of Education issued the following update:

  • The Office of Early Learning is prioritizing child care options for first responders and health care workers for children up to age 13.
  • Child care options will be provided and prioritized regardless of income
    • Eligibility requirements for children are:
      • Child(ren) are US citizen(s) or legal resident(s)
      • One or both parents is/are a first responder or healthcare worker
      • Child Care Application & Authorization form completed by employer
      • Attendance at a contracted School Readiness provider
      • Florida resident
  • First responders and health care workers seeking care must obtain a child care application and authorization form from their HR department
  • To locate and connect with a child care center serving health care workers and first responders, contact your local ELC
  • The child care application and authorization period has been extended to June 30.
On May 13, the Department of Education issued Emergency Order 2020- EO-02 to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 and promote the health, safety, and welfare of education programs, including VPK and School Readiness:
  • Children who have completed 70% or more of their VPK program may transfer to another VPK provider that is open through the end of the 2019-2020 school year.
  • Public and private providers may have less than four children enrolled in their program through the end of the 2020 Summer VPK Program.
  • Parents or caregivers who are searching for a job are now able to establish School Readiness eligibility through August 1, 2020.
  • The 30-day deadline for parents and caregivers who are on the waiting list and are required to submit additional documentation to establish eligibility now has been extended to 60 days through September 30, 2020.
  • The 20 hours per week work/education requirements for families’ initial eligibility has been suspended.
    • Parents and caregivers are authorized to validate their hours prior to March 1, 2020, and if full time status is demonstrated, enrollment for services is allowed. 
      • This validation may be accomplished with an employment verification form or a review of four weeks of pay stubs prior to March 1, 2020, through August 1, 2020.
  • The deadline to implement new School Readiness program curriculum has been extended to September 30, 2020.
  • Programmatic monitoring of VPK providers by {Rule 6M-8.301, F.A.C., and the 2019-2020 Outreach, Awareness, and Monitoring Initiative Grant Agreement} coalitions is suspended through June 30, 2020.
  • The requirements that School Readiness programs use no more than 5 percent for administrative costs and a total of 22 percent for a combination of administrative, quality and non-direct services are suspended as long as the funds are used for purposes of emergency recovery and direct support to providers through June 30, 2020.

 

On May 22, Governor Ron DeSantis issued Executive Order Number 20-139 and is a modification to allow organized youth activities, including child care.

  • All organized youth activities may operate as defined as youth sports teams and leagues, clubs, programs, and child care