Questions & Answers: Pandemic Emergency Assistance Fund (PEAF)
States, Territories, and Tribes
Is there flexibility in the duration, types and number of NRST benefits that a state, tribe, or territory may provide to a family using PEAF dollars?
NRST benefits are different from “assistance” under TANF, that is, they are not intended to meet recurrent or ongoing needs. If a family needs ongoing help (meaning the family needs help for more than four months to meet basic needs), the family may be better suited to receive TANF assistance.
The four-month limit on NRST benefits does not mean the benefits must last for the full four months, nor that any benefits must be provided in monthly installments. Providing one benefit in a lump sum payment may be sufficient and appropriate to mitigate the impact of the pandemic. In other situations, multiple payments may make more sense, depending on the needs of families resulting from the pandemic.
A grantee may provide separate NRST benefits for separate needs and the time periods of separate NRST benefits may overlap. For example, a family may be eligible for a cash payment in relation to the COVID-19 crisis and also be eligible for clothing vouchers for children when schools reopen.
A grantee may wish to plan the distribution of emergency funds in coordination with the timing and availability of other federal resources. For example, the IRS is scheduled to provide monthly child tax credit payments from July through December, 2021.
While PEAF may limit NRST benefits to no more than four months, it did not limit the types or number of NRST benefits a grantee provides, how much it may allow for NRST benefits, or apply any lifetime limit for eligible families. Those limitations are at the discretion of a grantee to establish. Further, the grantee may define “needy” differently for the purposes of PEAF-funded NRST benefits, NRST benefits defined in the TANF plan, and TANF assistance. Again, if a family needs help for more than four consecutive months, it may be better served under the regular TANF program.
Who is eligible to receive a PEAF-funded NRST benefit?
As we explained in our recent program instruction TANF-ACF-PI-2021-02 (The Pandemic Emergency Assistance Fund), the recipients of PEAF-funded NRSTs must be needy families with children, but they do not necessarily have to be eligible for TANF cash assistance. A grantee has the flexibility to determine what both “family” and “needy” mean for each NRST benefit and may wish to alter those definitions or to set a higher standard than it does for TANF cash assistance, such as aligning with SNAP or Medicaid income eligibility criteria.
Thus, a state, tribe, or territory may use the standards it has developed for needy families to receive TANF-funded NRST benefits or may opt to set a different standard for PEAF-funded NRST benefits that better suits the pandemic situation in its service area. Because PEAF is not TANF assistance (as defined in the regulations at 45 CFR 260.31 and 45 CFR § 286.10) the TANF assistance requirements and prohibitions do not automatically apply. The grantee may decide to align the benefit with TANF, but does not have to align them. Depending on the eligibility criteria that the grantee establishes for PEAF-funded NRST benefits, it may provide benefits to families not otherwise eligible for TANF assistance, including:
- Families that have been sanctioned under TANF
- Families that have reached the federal or other time limit on receiving TANF
- Families with more income or assets than the standard for TANF, but who are currently in need
- Families that have reached a TANF NRST benefit lifetime or annual limit
States, tribes, and territories do not need to amend the TANF plan to provide these benefits with PEAF funding, however, we do recommend they make a record of criteria and guidance they use for PEAF.
We remind grantees that, regardless of how they choose to set PEAF NRST benefit eligibility, the criteria in their TANF plans for TANF-funded NRST benefits continue to apply for those benefits unless they amend their TANF plans. As we stated in TANF-ACF-PI-2020-01 (Questions and answers about TANF and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic):
"The rules for states and tribes with respect to TANF plan amendments are modestly different. A state has 30 days to submit a plan amendment and, thus, a state does not need to request approval or submit a plan amendment before making program changes, but it should seek guidance from ACF on whether a particular action is allowable under program requirements if the state has any questions. Under 45 CFR § 286.165(b), a tribe should submit an amendment at least 30 days prior to approval; however, we want tribes to make choices that protect the health and safety of their TANF beneficiaries. In the event that a tribe proceeds with implementing activities that require a plan amendment, tribes must seek preliminary approval from ACF. Tribes may do so by sending an e-mail to their regional point of contact… ACF will grant retroactive approval of the plan amendment for any changes that received preliminary approval."
Also, please note, because the PEAF-funded NRST benefits have limited applications (no child care or education and training may be funded, for instance), a grantee may find that, in some cases, TANF-funded NRST benefits are more suited to a family’s need.
Are there situations where we can serve families with no children in the home?
The Pandemic Emergency Assistance Fund (PEAF) is limited to families with children. However, PEAF-funded non-recurrent, short term (NRST) benefits may be used for a range of family types. Examples may include child-only cases, such as cases where non-needy caretakers are looking after needy children, kinship placements recognized by state or tribal law, and non-custodial parents that are members of TANF-eligible families. A pregnant woman with no other children in the home may also receive PEAF-funded benefits. Additionally, grantees have the flexibility to define who is a member of the family.
States, tribes, and territories may also provide PEAF NRST benefits for a family if the child(ren) are temporarily absent from the home. The temporary period is not specified in law (as it is for TANF “assistance” for states and territories), but the period a grantee selects should be reasonable and the grantee should have a written policy and rationale supporting it. An example of when a grantee may wish to provide an NRST benefit for a family is in a child welfare situation, where the child is temporarily outside of the home, but the family is engaged with the child welfare system, has a reunification plan, and is within the reunification period the grantee has established.
May PEAF be used to provide burial assistance to families without children?
No. Unfortunately, PEAF NRST benefits may not be used for burial assistance for families without children. However, FEMA is reimbursing funeral costs up to $9,000 for COVID-19 deaths that have occurred since January 20, 2020.
Under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (the same legislation that created PEAF), FEMA is providing financial assistance for COVID-19 related funeral expenses incurred after January 20, 2020. Applications began on April 12, 2021. Individuals interested in applying may call 844-684-6333 | TTY: 800-462-7585 during the hours of operation: Monday — Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern Time. At this number, applicants can get a COVID-19 Funeral Assistance application completed with help from FEMA's representatives. Multilingual services will be available. For additional information, see the FEMA Funeral Assistance FAQ page Visit disclaimer page.
Additionally, tribes may administer BIA burials assistance programs as well, which do not require the family to have children.
In families with children, PEAF may be used for burial assistance. However, PEAF must supplement, not supplant other sources of funding, so, if the funeral qualifies, both the FEMA funding and BIA burial assistance should be applied first.
May a grantee use PEAF funds to help a family pay for internet service for up to four months or to purchase a computer or other information technology device?
Yes, a grantee could use the Pandemic Emergency Assistance Fund (PEAF) to create a non-recurrent, short-term (NRST) benefit to pay for internet for up to four months to help families experiencing short-term difficulty in meeting basic needs due to the pandemic. Similarly, a grantee could help pay for a computer or other IT device with a PEAF-funded NRST if the pandemic caused the need for the computer. In our program instruction TANF-ACF-PI-2021-02 (The Pandemic Emergency Assistance Fund), we explained that we determined that NRST benefits that meet Purpose One (provide assistance to needy families so that children may be cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives) are in line with the PEAF and we did not think benefits meeting the other purposes were. Internet service and devices that allow needy families to use the internet have become necessities for many aspects of daily life as a result of the pandemic and, as such, we think paying for them generally fits under Purpose One. For example, without the ability to access the internet, a family may be unable to communicate easily or efficiently with a case manager or participate in virtual human service programs, particularly during the pandemic when many facilities are closed and it can even be hard to reach someone by phone.
The state, tribe, or territory should make sure that the service it designs meets all the requirements for NRST benefits and, for a PEAF-funded NRST, that it does not supplant federal, state, tribal, territorial, or local funds.
In addition, we recently became aware of a program run by the Federal Communications Commission called Emergency Broadband Benefit (https://www.fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit Visit disclaimer page) that provides help to eligible families who cannot afford internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic. Grantees may wish to assist the families they serve in applying or share the link to the program with them. The Final Rule is available at 86 FR 19532. Please contact the FCC for more information about this program.
Can we assist tribal members outside our service area with PEAF?
Yes you may provide PEAF NRST benefits to tribal members who live outside your Tribal TANF service area as long as you take some precautions to ensure they do not receive duplicative benefits.
As we stated in TANF-ACF-PI-2018-02 (revises and supersedes TANF-ACF-PI 2005-03), a tribe with an approved Tribal TANF plan may provide Tribal TANF benefits to its own members wherever they reside, even if those members are not in their approved TANF service area. Similarly, you may provide non-recurrent, short term benefits with the Pandemic Emergency Assistance Funds (PEAF) to members who live outside your service area. Keep in mind that the tribe’s PEAF funds are limited. Further, the tribe must ensure that members to whom it provides benefits do not receive duplicative assistance from another state or tribe administering PEAF where the members reside. This typically requires coordination with the TANF program where the tribal member resides, such as an agreement to share data.