Avoiding ACEs by Helping Families During COVID-19

April 15, 2020 | ASTHO Staff

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood and can have negative, lasting effects on health, wellbeing, and opportunity. These exposures can disrupt healthy brain development, affect social development, compromise immune systems, and can lead to substance misuse and other unhealthy coping behaviors. Examples of ACEs include experiencing violence, abuse, or neglect; witnessing violence in the home; and having a family member attempt or die by suicide.

Research shows that parents facing financial hardship are more likely to experience stress, depression, and conflict in their relationships and family, which increases the risk for violence and other ACEs. In the past few months--as governors issued stay at home orders and closed non-essential businesses to stop the spread of COVID-19--millions of Americans have lost jobs, experienced severe reductions in pay, or have had to take leave to care for themselves or sick family members. As a result, many are doing all they can to make ends meet but are struggling to pay for childcare, medical services, and housing. These financial hardships cause stress and conflict that puts children at risk for experiencing ACEs.

ACEs can be prevented by implementing policies that strengthen household financial security. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, states are working to strengthen economic support for families by proposing legislation to streamline the unemployment benefits process, increase access to paid family leave, and stabilize housing by prohibiting evictions or penalties for late rental payments. Below is an overview of state legislative activity to increase financial stability for families during the COVID-19 pandemic which may help to prevent ACEs.

Unemployment Benefits

Alaska’s legislature passed a bill preventing an otherwise qualified worker from being disqualified from unemployment insurance due to conduct by worker or employer related to COVID-19. The District of Columbia enacted legislation stating that affected employees are eligible for unemployment insurance. Maine passed a bill preventing individuals on quarantine or isolation from being disqualified from receiving benefits as long as they are able to work, are available to work, and maintain contact with their employer. Massachusetts enacted a bill waiving the one-week waiting period for anyone making a claim for unemployment benefits when separated from work due to COVID-19 or the emergency declaration. Washington enacted a bill stating that individuals under quarantine or isolation meet unemployment benefits requirements if the individual meets certain performance standards.

Arizona enacted SB 1694, which authorizes alternative benefit eligibility and employer contribution requirements for unemployment insurance. Arizona also proposed HB 2911, which would authorize a state agency to implement alternative benefit eligibility and employer contribution requirements for unemployment insurance program. A New Jersey bill would create a temporary lost wage unemployment program, allowing individuals to claim lost wages due to COVID-19 and requiring employers to pay wages to workers under quarantine.

Paid Family Leave

The District of Columbia, New York, and Washington enacted bills increasing access to paid family leave in response to the COVID-19 epidemic. The District of Columbia removed the one-year employment requirement for medical leave for employees in quarantine or isolation. New York bill (S 8091) establishes requirements for paid sick leave when employees are subject to a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation. Another New York bill (A 10153) requires employers to provide a specified number of days of paid or unpaid sick leave depending on the number of employees they have and their net income. Washington’s legislation authorizes agency heads to permit employees to receive shared leave if the employee or a household member is isolated or quarantined as a result of suspected or confirmed infection. Several additional states—Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Jersey (A 3847 and S 2285), and Ohio (HB 593 and SB 299)—are considering similar legislation.

California also introduced three bills addressing paid and unpaid family leave. AB 3216 would make it unlawful for an employer to refuse granting a request for family or medical leave due to COVID-19. The employer would not be required to pay for leave, but the employee could substitute accrued vacation or sick leave if diagnosed or quarantined because of COVID-19. Sick leave could not be used to care for a family member. AB 2887 would establish a program to provide paid sick leave for independent contractors and day laborers. Finally, SB 943 would provide paid leave for workers who take time off to care for a child whose school closed due to COVID-19.

Stable Housing

Several states—Alaska (HB 310, SB 242, and HB 312), District of Columbia, Massachusetts, New York (A 10183 and S 8125), Ohio (HB 564, HB 576, and SB 297), South Carolina, and Vermont—have enacted or proposed legislation to prohibit landlords from evicting tenants who have trouble paying rent as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Arizona enacted a bill calling on counties, cities, and towns to review eviction policies during the emergency declaration.

Many states are also considering and enacting legislation addressing the stress of paying for utilities. Alaska, the District of Columbia, Maine, and Ohio proposed and enacted legislation prohibiting electric, gas, and/or water companies from disconnecting service during the COVID-19 emergency and for a certain number of days after.

The above interventions are good examples of a “health in all policies” approach to state policy. Creating and sustaining safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for children and families can prevent and mitigate the health impact of ACEs and help children and families reach their full health and life potential. Health agencies have an opportunity to support policies that address the negative financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and increase the stability of families. For more information on preventing ACEs during this emergency, refer to our ASTHO brief.

ASTHO will continue to monitor this important public health issue during the COVID-19 pandemic and as state legislative sessions continue.