Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced a first-of-its-kind grant program Monday that will help families with disabled children recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Transforming Opportunities for Toddlers and Students (TOTS) program will use $5 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to help those families meet everyday expenses. Recipients will receive $5,000, and applications for the grants are available now.
“Never before have we invested this much money directly into our kids with disabilities,” Sisolak said at a news briefing in Henderson Monday morning.
The switch to remote learning forced many students with special-education needs to lose access to necessary services and programs, the governor said.
“The effects of this isolation caused by the pandemic have exposed gaps in our mental health system and in social safety nets, and we need to do everything we can to make sure our most vulnerable residents can recover as strong as possible,” he said.
It is the first grant program in Nevada to receive money from the American Rescue Plan, a federal COVID-19 relief package passed this year. The Nevada Legislature previously approved the spending for the grant.
State Treasurer Zach Conine said the program is the first of its kind in the nation. The grant money can be used for expenses such as education, transportation, housing, technology and other disability-related expenses.
“For far too long, we’ve undervalued and under-resourced people with disabilities and the people that care for them,” he said.
Money from the new grant will be distributed through special state-administered savings accounts for people with disabilities. Those accounts help people save money without putting them at risk of exceeding eligibility thresholds, such as income caps, for other benefits.
No other program in the country puts grant money directly into such accounts, said Erik Jimenez, chief policy deputy for the treasurer’s office. Other states are now looking to follow Nevada’s lead and create similar programs, he said.
To qualify for the grant, recipients must be Nevada residents under 18 who were negatively affected by the pandemic and who have a qualifying disability.