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Let’s ensure no child in the U.S. goes hungry and that every child has a safe and stable place to live

| November 15, 2022 |

This week marks Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, a time for action toward the goal of ensuring that no child in the U.S. goes hungry and every child has a safe and stable place to live.

Skyrocketing rent in many areas, combined with the high cost of food, gasoline, and other goods, has left many households with children struggling to make ends meet and at risk of eviction and homelessness. While increases in rent have slowed a little since the summer, rents are still up 7 percent from last year, and they are up much higher in certain metro areas. The cost of food has also increased by 11.2 percent since last year, making it difficult for many families to put food on the table. 

Compounding the problem is that most eviction bans are no longer in place, emergency rental assistance has dried up in many communities, and improvements to the Child Tax Credit expired at the end of 2021. For example, research has shown that the expiration of the Child Tax Credit increased food insecurity in households with children by 25 percent.

The past few years have shown us that hunger and homelessness is not an intractable problem. We were able to reduce food insecurity for families with children, prevent millions of evictions, and cut child poverty nearly in half through measures that put money directly into households to use for food, rent, child care, and more, and put legal protections in place that stopped many families from being kicked out of their homes.

There is much that policymakers can do in the fight to end hunger and homelessness to stop the backtracking of progress that is now occurring from the expiration of these programs.

First, policymakers must prioritize investments in and improvements to programs that help families afford the rising costs of food. Consistent access to enough healthy food is critically important for the development, learning, health, and well-being of children. Food insecurity inflicts long-term health and development damage on children and often compounds and exacerbates additional problems associated with child poverty. Federal food assistance and child nutrition programs provide critical support, filling in the gaps and fighting hunger and poor nutrition when low-income families struggle to put food on the table.

The pandemic has shown that government investment in federal food assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and the National School Lunch Program, positively impact the lives of low-income families, especially those with children. However, as aid continues to expire, successful programs like boosts to SNAP benefits and free school meals for all are also ending, causing many families to once again struggle to make ends meet.

Second, Congress must act immediately to renew improvements to the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit made in the American Rescue Plan. The Child Tax Credit reduced poverty, food insecurity, and material hardship in 2021 for families with children through improvements to the credit that significantly increased the amount of the credit, delivered it monthly for half of the year, and allowed families with little or no income to be eligible for the full credit for the first time. The Child Tax Credit also helped to narrow the poverty gap for Black and Hispanic children in 2021 compared with white children.

Third, federal, state, and local policymakers must act to do more to prevent evictions. Families with children are evicted at much higher rates than those without children, and evictions are particularly harmful to children, causing upheaval that negatively affects their health, education, and overall development. Children who experience eviction often move frequently and face homelessness or unstable living environments that inhibit their education, physical health, mental health, and interpersonal relationships.

Finally, we must do more to reach children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness or living in precarious housing situations, who often are ineligible or not prioritized for rental or homelessness assistance. Over the past few years, eviction moratoriums often did not protect families staying in hotel or motel rooms, or temporarily with others, and were also not prioritized for COVID emergency rental assistance or homelessness assistance.

Without being on a lease or being considered legal tenants, homeless families staying temporarily with others or in motels continue to face great difficulty qualifying or being prioritized for rental assistance. And while families and children in these situations are considered homeless by other federal agencies, they do not meet the definition of homelessness used by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), making them ineligible for federal homeless assistance services. These children fall through the cracks of both the rental and homeless assistance systems.

As rent and food prices increase, eviction bans and emergency assistance end, and families continue to bear the ongoing physical, emotional, economic, and interpersonal trauma caused by COVID, we fear that homelessness, housing instability, and food insecurity will only continue to rise unless Congress increases investments and acts decisively by:

  1. Renewing 2021 improvements to the Child Tax Credit;
  2. Passing a robust and comprehensive Child Nutrition Reauthorization to improve and modernize child nutrition programs for the first time in nearly 12 years;
  3. Improving access to free and reduced-price school meals by expanding the Community Eligibility Provision;
  4. Modernizing and investing in the WIC Program to increase participation and improve health outcomes; 
  5. Establishing a permanent Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) Program that helps feed children during the summer months and school closures, a time when child hunger typically spikes;
  6. Passing the bipartisan Eviction Crisis Act (S. 2182), which would establish a permanent emergency rental assistance program, support landlord-tenant community courts, and improve data through the creation of a national database on evictions; 
  7. Establishing a national renters credit that fills current gaps in housing assistance and delivers resources directly to the households who need it most;
  8. Creating a new grant program within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to allocate funds for wraparound support to children, youth, and families experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness. 
  9. Allocating another round of $800 million for assistance for homeless students in Fiscal Year (FY) 2023, which helps school districts identify, enroll, and support homeless students, as well as significantly increasing funding for Runaway and Homeless Youth Act programs.

Fact Sheet: Hispanic Voters Strongly Support Investments in Our Children & Grandchildren

| November 9, 2022 |

Based on a nationwide poll conducted by Lake Research Partners of 1,000 likely voters with oversamples of parents, Black, and Hispanic voters in May 2022, voters expressed strong support for making increased investments in children and prioritizing the education and health of children and in alleviating child hunger, child poverty, child homelessness, and child abuse and neglect.

By a wide margin, Hispanic voters believe the U.S. is spending too little on children (58% too little to 11% too much).

When it comes to more specific policies, the percentage of those who believe we are spending too little often rises. For example, the margin rises to 10-to-1 when it comes to reducing child poverty (70-7%).

On other issues, such as accessing mental health services (66-8%), reducing child abuse and neglect (61-7%), reducing child hunger (61-10%), and reducing child homelessness (64-10%), Hispanic voters overwhelmingly believe we are spending too little rather than too much on children.

Hispanic voters also believe that we are spending too little rather than too much on public education (61 too little to 16% too much), assistance for child care expenses (60-12%), and early childhood education (50-10%), and providing affordable child health coverage (50-10%).

Furthermore, although the poll was conducted before the shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Hispanic voters believed we were making too little investments for children on the issue of preventing gun violence by a 49-16% margin.


Fact Sheet: Black Voters Strongly Support Investments in Our Children and Grandchildren

| November 9, 2022 |

By a wide margin, Black voters believe the U.S. is spending too little on children (68% too little to 6% too much).

When it comes to more specific policies, the percentage of those who believe we are spending too little often rises. For example, the margin rises to 24-to-1 when it comes to early childhood education (73-3%). Black voters also believe we are spending too little rather than too much on public education (69-8%), and assistance for child care expenses (72-7%).

On other issues, such as reducing child poverty (76% too little to 8% too much), reducing child abuse and neglect (77-4%), reducing child hunger (80-0%), reducing child homelessness (73-7%), or even the more general helping families with low incomes meet basic needs (71-2%), Black voters overwhelmingly believe we are spending too little rather than too much on children.

Black voters also believe that we are spending too little rather than too much on ensuring access to mental health services (66-8%), providing affordable child health coverage (64-15%), and even though the poll was conducted before the shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Black voters believed we were making too little investments for children on the issue of preventing gun violence


Fact Sheet: Young Adult Voters Strongly Support Investments in Our Children…and so Do Senior Citizens

| November 9, 2022 |

By wide margins, young voters under age 30 believe the U.S. is spending too little on children (65% too little to 7% too much). By a more than 4-to-1 margin, senior citizens also believe government spend too little versus too much (42-10%).

When it comes to more specific policies, the percentage of those who believe we are spending too little often rises. For example, the margin rises to more than 12-to-1 when it comes to reducing child poverty (74% too little to 6% too much).

On other issues, such as reducing child hunger (71-4%), reducing child abuse and neglect (65-4%), and reducing child homelessness (65-9%), young voters overwhelmingly believe we are spending too little rather than too much on children.

Young voters also believe that we are spending too little rather than too much on public education (68% too little to 13% too much), assistance for childcare expenses (72-6%), and early childhood education (68-15%), providing affordable child health coverage (55-4%), and accessing mental health services (65-10%).

Furthermore, although the poll was conducted before the shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, young voters believed we were making too little investments for children on the issue of preventing gun violence by a 59-11% margin.

Senior citizens also feel we spend too little on these issues: child poverty (52% too little to 7% too much), child hunger (66-5%), child abuse and neglect (58-5%), child homelessness (58-6%); public education (53-13%), early childhood (51-6%), child care (48-18%), health coverage (42-6%), mental health (61-8%), and gun violence prevention (53-12%).


Fact Sheet: Parents Support a Positive Child and Family Agenda

| November 9, 2022 |

By a more than 5-to-1 margin, parents believe the federal government is spending too little on children (63% too little to 12% too much). That gap rises to 66-9% among mothers.

When it comes to more specific policies, the percentage of those who believe the federal government is spending too little often rises. For example, the margin rises to 13-to-1 when it comes to reducing child hunger (65-5% overall and mothers at a near-unanimous 68-1%).

Parents also believe the federal government is spending too little rather than too much when it comes to reducing child poverty (67-16%), reducing child homelessness (69-13%), and reducing child abuse and neglect (67-10% overall and 76-6% among mothers).

On other issues, such as early childhood education (63-9% overall and 67-8% among mothers), assistance for childcare expenses (61-11% overall and 70-8% among mothers), providing affordable health insurance coverage (52-12%), accessing mental health services (64-14%), and preventing gun violence (52-20%), parents believe the federal government is spending too little rather than too much on children.

With respect to public education, parents believe we are spending too little rather than too much by a 60-19% margin.

In sharp contrast, the “parent rights” movement advocated by groups like Moms for Liberty seeks to exclude engagement with government under the mantra “we don’t co-parent” in all decision-making. This movement calls upon parents to govern and direct all matters involving their children and includes an agenda to privatize public schools, impose speech codes upon teachers, whitewash history and science curriculum, and ban books from public school libraries.

This agenda, particularly the banning of books, are unpopular with the American people. For example, a February 2022 CBS News/YouGov poll showed that voters opposed banning books for “criticizing U.S. history” (17% yes, 83% no), “political ideas you disagree with” (15-85%), “depicting slavery” (13-87%), and “discussing race” (13-87%).

These numbers highlight strong interest in a “Child and Family Agenda” that is inclusive of the role of the government in providing key supports and functions to parents for our children rather than the government enforcing censorship and limits on free speech in response to the so-called “rights” of certain parents.

If, in fact, the government is failing, it is in providing “too little” support to children and families and not because it chooses not to censor teachers and ban books and free speech.


Keeping up with progress: How the U.S. can follow the world’s lead on child poverty

| November 7, 2022 |

The United States has historically had a higher level of child poverty than many other wealthy countries because we have failed to invest in our children. We spend much less than other countries on cash benefits for children, which have a bigger impact on reducing child poverty than any other mechanism. 

This dismal trend in child poverty changed in 2021 when Congress made significant improvements to the Child Tax Credit. Lawmakers substantially increased the amount of the credit, especially for families with the biggest barriers to financial stability, who previously were excluded from accessing a full or even partial credit. Families with children were able to receive the credit monthly for the first half of 2021, helping them to meet monthly bills. These improvements led to the lowest U.S. child poverty rate on record — cutting child poverty nearly in half in 2021, narrowing the racial poverty gap for Black and Hispanic children, and significantly reducing food insecurity and material hardship.

So how does our child poverty rate compare to other countries now? 

New research from Columbia’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy finds that after accounting for the impact of an expanded Child Tax Credit, the United States child poverty rate is still high, but it is closer to that of other wealthy European countries. 

Specifically, before the improvements to the Child Tax Credit, the United States ranked 31 out of 34 countries (on a scale from lowest to highest child poverty rates). After accounting for the Child Tax Credit improvements, the U.S. now ranks 24 out of 34.  

These comparisons use the relative measure of poverty applied by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which identifies a household as poor if their income falls below 50% of national median household income. This measurement differs in many ways from our Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), including by setting a higher and more accurate threshold of poverty than the SPM. As you can see from the figure below, using the OECD’s relative measure results in a higher baseline of children in poverty than the SPM before taking the Child Tax Credit improvements into account. (A higher poverty threshold + the United States’ fairly high median household income = identifying more children in poverty). 

It is important to note that researchers measured the impact of CTC improvements using poverty data from 2016-2018, because those years featured more usual economic conditions than 2019-2021, where data collection and economic conditions were skewed by the impact of COVID-19. 

Despite the significant impact of the improvements to the Child Tax Credit, they expired at the end of 2021, and since then we have seen increases in child poverty and food insecurity.   

We should learn from our other countries and urge Congress to: 

  1. renew these improvements without delay;  
  2. establish a national child poverty reduction target with the ultimate goal of ending child poverty in the United States. 

Other countries provide us with useful lessons on the positive impacts of cash benefits and setting child poverty reduction goals (United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland). The United States should follow suit and implement policies to end child poverty and help all children thrive.


Watch: 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline – One Size Does Not Fit All

| October 21, 2022 |

This afternoon, First Focus on Children hosted a webinar on 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline entitled One Size Does Not Fit All: Ensuring 988 and mobile crisis response are designed to serve children.

Below are some of the top takeaways from our conversation about what effective 988 and crisis response systems look like for children:

  • The act of a parent or other adult picking up the phone and calling a public system to ask for help is significant – we must recognize the importance of that act so that we don’t miss opportunities to help children and their families.
  • We must intervene at numerous points before an emergency room becomes a default option for care. 
  • A crisis must be defined by a family and not the person receiving the call.
  • Children are not little adults and we cannot take an adult system and apply it to children
  • We must center the voice of the child or young person in crisis, and face-to-face intervention is necessary in order to do that.
  • It is important to build the confidence of parents in behavioral health systems and ensure they have positive experiences so they are more likely to use the behavioral health resources available to them. 
  • To better respond to the needs of specific populations, including LGBTQ, Black, and brown children and those in the child welfare system, we must invest in culturally sensitive education and training for those involved at all points of the crisis response system. 
  • It is vital to keep children in their own homes, communities, and schools and to avoid residential placements. 

Links and Resources Referenced in the Session:

Resources from our panelists:

This conversation was part of a weeklong series of virtual briefings and advocacy to mark the first anniversary since the Children’s Hospital Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry declared the kids’ mental health crisis a national emergency and launched the Sound the Alarm for Kids Campaign.  The campaign seeks to raise awareness of the national emergency in child and adolescent mental health accelerated by the pandemic. First Focus on Children is a partner in this campaign, which supports policies that promote social and emotional health for children from infancy through adolescence and enhance their access to culturally and developmentally appropriate mental health care when they need it. As partners, we stand together to call for bold action to meet the challenges of this crisis and build a future where all children can receive the mental health support they need to learn, grow, and thrive.


How Congress can reduce economic hardship & stabilize families now

| October 19, 2022 |

Photo by Greta Hoffman

We learned recently that improvements to the Child Tax Credit enacted in 2021 through the American Rescue Plan Act nearly cut our child poverty rate in half last year, leading to the lowest child poverty rate on record in the United States. This dramatic result meant that households had more money to provide food, clothing, and diapers for their children. It meant more money for child care, gas, and car repairs that helped parents get to work. It meant more money for educational resources, music or soccer lessons, or a trip to the zoo. 

It also meant reduced stress for many parents and caretakers, who reported that it gave them some breathing room, relieving them from the constant fear and distraction of how to meet the basic needs of their children.

Research out of the University of Washington suggests that this collective impact of tax credits for families may lead to a reduction in child maltreatment reports. Following receipt of the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit for the 2015-2018 tax seasons, new findings show a 5% decline in reports of maltreatment in the five weeks after distribution for each additional $1,000 that families received in refunds. 

What are the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit?

The term “child maltreatment” covers instances both of “child neglect” (where kids do not have the material items, supervision, education, or care that they need) and “child abuse” (which includes physical, sexual, psychological/emotional, and medical abuse). According to 2018 national data, more than 60% of children who were victims of maltreatment experienced neglect, while 10% suffered from physical abuse and 7% were sexually abused.

Child Maltreatment and Poverty are Too Often Conflated

The University of Washington findings build on substantial existing evidence regarding the impact of household financial difficulty on reports of child maltreatment. Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago’s synthesis of existing research on the role of economic hardship in child maltreatment found evidence that even modest economic supports can help to stabilize families.  A 2019 landmark study on child poverty from the National Academy of Sciences cites several studies that find that economic hardship results in increased psychological distress of parents, leading to harsh or detached parenting that can negatively affect children’s development and increase the risk of maltreatment.

A parent’s financial instability and hardship creates an increased risk of child neglect almost by definition. Economic hardship can strain a parent’s ability to provide for their children across multiple domains. When a family is struggling to pay for housing, they may also be struggling to obtain food for their children. Even searching for a higher paying job can put struggling parents in a bind, leaving them to decide whether to pay for safe, reliable child care or to leave the child unsupervised so they can pay for other necessities. 

However, neglect and poverty are too often conflated. Many reporters who misunderstand, or perhaps have a bias, report “neglect” when the real issue is poverty and lack of resources. Child Trends reports that nearly half of states do not specifically exempt poverty-induced deprivation from their definitions of child maltreatment, which makes children from poor families in these states more susceptible to being reported, investigated, and substantiated for child neglect. Children and households of color are at particular risk, and experience a much higher rate of child protection reports and investigations than their white peers.  

Very few reports of neglect are ever substantiated, meaning that upon an investigation, the agency cannot find enough evidence to include that a child was abused or neglected. 

Child protection services agencies, which operate in every state and in many counties, create a child maltreatment report when they receive sufficient information that a child (under 18) may have been abused or neglected. This information usually comes into the agencies’ child abuse hotline from mandated reporters (such as teachers, pediatricians, law enforcement), community members, parents, family members, and even children and youth. After creating a report, the agency will investigate the allegations and determine whether the evidence supports the allegation or not. If the agency finds that the child is at imminent risk of serious harm it can file a petition with the court to have the child removed from their home and placed into foster care or with a kin caregiver.

The research out of the University of Washington shows the impact of the CTC and EITC was most notable for child maltreatment reports and less strong for cases of substantiated child maltreatment due to the small number of substantiated cases that they captured. This is consistent with national trends.  

Other studies have found a reduction in certain types of substantiated maltreatment when parents and caregivers receive support: 

Child Maltreatment Reports are Disruptive and Traumatic for Families 

Families that earn less than 200% of the federal poverty line ($43,920 for a family of three in 2021) make up nearly 85% of families investigated for child abuse or neglect. In light of the existing data, this University of Washington study suggests that child neglect reports will decrease when parents have more economic resources. Decreasing child neglect reports is an important outcome that could generate multiple other positive outcomes for children and their families. 

Reducing the number of child maltreatment reports would decrease the number of children and families that experience the extremely disruptive and often traumatic event that is a child protection investigation. Investigations frequently involve government workers asking uncomfortable and invasive questions of children and their caregivers. Sometimes parents are frightened into consenting to strip searches for their children. Parents frequently have to miss work or other obligations to make themselves available to workers for interviews and home visits. Investigators search the homes of nearly 3.5 million children a year without obtaining warrants. Rarely do parents and children have legal counsel to support and advise them through the investigatory process which has very high stakes — the potential for the child to be removed from their home. Even if the allegations in the report are eventually unsubstantiated, the investigatory process takes a serious toll on the emotional, financial, and relational stability of families that are often already struggling. This is especially true for children and families experiencing poverty and living in areas of concentrated poverty whose families and social networks may also lack resources to help them weather difficult times. 

Reducing the number of child maltreatment reports also would allow agencies to redirect resources to accurately identify and appropriately respond to cases of substantiated maltreatment. When agency workers are required to investigate so many allegations rooted in poverty and a lack of material resources, they miss the opportunity to direct that time, expertise, and money toward thoroughly investigating allegations of abuse. The scarcity of time and resources can lead investigators to miss important pieces of evidence that can either separate children from families unnecessarily or leave children in situations that pose a serious risk of harm.

Congress: Please Act to Help Stabilize Families Without Delay

These findings should motivate Congress to take steps to reduce economic hardship and stabilize families. 

First, Congress needs to renew improvements to the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit without delay.

  • Improvements to the Child Tax Credit made in 2021 greatly increased the amount of the credit, made payments available monthly for half of the year, and allowed families with the greatest barriers to economic security to be eligible for the full credit for the first time. The expiration of these improvements at the end of last year has caused millions of children to once again experience poverty and hardship.  
  • Expansions to the Earned Income Tax Credit in 2021 made current and former foster and homeless youth (even if they are part-time students) eligible at age 18 rather than age 25, which could benefit an estimated 380,000 to 500,000 former foster youth. Expansions also lowered the age to 19 for other transition-age youth workers who are childless, and increased the amount of the credit for all childless workers. 

Second, Congress must follow the bipartisan lead of Reps. Carol Miller (R-WV) and Judy Chu (D-CA) who introduced the “Helping Households And Neighbors Distribute Services (HANDS) for Families Act,” which would provide a creative funding stream to increase access to family preservation services in the community.

Lastly, Congress should initiate an inquiry into the relationship between youth’s contact with the delinquency and criminal court systems and familial economic security generally, and the receipt of the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit, specifically. The costliness of court system involvement and the poor outcomes experienced by youth who enter are prime reasons for our nation’s leaders to address prison pipelines that start in childhood.


It’s way too early to declare victory over child poverty

| September 20, 2022 |

Child poverty in this country last year dropped to the lowest rate ever recorded and, according to new research, has declined by nearly 60% over the last three decades. This astounding news dramatically illustrates the power of poverty-fighting initiatives and proves a single, profound truth: Ending child poverty is a policy decision. 

One that many lawmakers still haven’t made. 

According to the Supplemental Poverty Measure, which includes government assistance such as tax credits, income supports, and nutrition assistance, U.S. policies cut the national child poverty rate nearly in half in 2021, dropping it 4.5 percentage points to 5.2%, the biggest year-to-year decline on record. The research organization Child Trends has tracked a 59% decline in child poverty since 1993. Both analyses identify multiple factors in these declines and highlight the outsized role of public policy improvements through government action. 

The proven ability of lawmakers to cut child poverty nearly in half in a single year, especially in the midst of a pandemic, provides evidence that we know how to reduce child poverty and that we have the tools to end it completely — if we choose. The news of these historic declines should not allow lawmakers, advocates, and policymakers to declare victory, but rather pledge to finish the job.

What we know: 

Tax credits wield extraordinary power to cut child poverty. 

In 2021, Congress temporarily improved the Child Tax Credit by raising the amount of the credit, offering it monthly for half the year, and making children whose families have little or no income eligible for the full credit for the first time. These improvements are largely responsible for reducing child poverty by 46% in 2021, lifting nearly 3 million children — including 1 million children under age 6 — above the poverty line. They also contributed to narrowing the racial poverty gap, reducing poverty levels for Black, Hispanic, Asian and American Indian, and Alaska Native children to the lowest on record.

Families spent their Child Tax Credit on food, child care, clothing, educational materials, and other basic necessities for their children. Some parents and caretakers reported that this additional money gave them a lifeline, others said it gave them a cushion so they weren’t constantly worried about making ends meet. They said it made them feel like lawmakers cared about them, and felt that their struggle was finally being recognized. Increased household income also reduces parental stress, giving parents more time and mental energy for their kids.

As documented by Child Trends, the role of the social safety net in reducing child poverty grew substantially from 1993 to 2019, with the expansions of the Earned Income Tax Credit responsible for much of the decline in child poverty along with standout economic and labor market factors including overall lower unemployment rates, increases in single mother labor force participation, and increases to state-level minimum wage. However, Child Trends finds that even though the social safety net currently lifts more children out of poverty than in the 1990s, their economic well-being is roughly the same. Because the EITC is directly tied to earnings, it is much less helpful for years when families experience significant stretches of unemployment or very low earnings. Given the volatility and unpredictability of the labor market for low-wage, hourly workers who do not control their schedules and often receive few or no benefits such as paid family leave, sick days, or other supports that make it possible for a parent to maintain work, the EITC must be paired with a fully refundable CTC so that children have consistent access to resources, particularly critical during tough economic times.

Work requirements don’t work: 

More than 25 years of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and findings from a 2019 nonpartisan, landmark study from the National Academy of Sciences confirm that tying work requirements to benefits does not reduce poverty or boost economic security for families. Instead, these requirements create bureaucratic hoops for parents or caretakers who often already are working, with no flexibility for the volatile nature of the job market, particularly the low-wage job market, and no support for families to overcome the barriers they face to obtaining employment that will provide them with economic stability. Work requirements have drastic consequences for children, undermining access to programs that improve children’s health and educational outcomes.

The past year also demonstrated that expanding the Child Tax Credit significantly reduced material hardship and household food insecurity with “no significant differences in the changes in employment between December 2020 and December 2021 for adults who received the payments and adults who did not receive the payments.” In fact, the Child Tax Credit helps families, especially single mothers, increase their labor force participation by allowing them to afford child care, transportation, and other necessities that help them get to work. 

The dramatic spike in unemployment rates in the early part of the pandemic alongside school and child care closures make clear that parents and caretakers experience unexpected changes in their employment circumstances, and children in households with frontline, low-wage workers who lack access to affordable child care, paid sick days or paid family and medical leave suffer the most during economic downturns. One of the lessons we must take away from the COVID crisis and its economic fallout is that instead of attaching burdensome work requirements to benefits, we need a system that provides consistent support to children as they undergo critical stages of brain development, and at the same time helps parents and caretakers obtain and maintain employment that provides a steady household income by providing access to paid family and medical leave, affordable child care, transportation support, job training, affordable higher education and more.

Parenting and Caretaking is work

Our society’s view on the type of work that “deserves” compensation is also deeply flawed. Child rearing and caretaking of family members results in large gains to the collective whole, yet goes uncompensated. Elderly grandparents caring for grandchildren, parents with disabilities, or parents caring for children with disabilities or special health care needs have particular barriers to economic security. We can become a nation that values our families by recognizing these contributions and the way they underpin our country’s economic success.

“Deservedness” standards deliberately create winners and losers 

The anti-poverty programs created prior to the pandemic helped significantly reduce child poverty over the last three decades, as Child Trends points out, but the assistance landed largely on children whose caretakers were able to maintain their employment. This program design specifically — and deliberately — excludes children with the greatest needs, creating winners and losers, and perpetuating disparities and injustices that are entwined with our country’s long history of systemic racism and discrimination. In contrast, the improvements Congress made in 2021 — in particular, the expansion of the Child Tax Credit — help get aid to the children who need it most. 

Children of color, including Black, Hispanic, American Indian, and Alaska Native children, continue to experience poverty at a higher poverty rate than their white peers. Children in immigrant families face higher poverty rates than their nonimmigrant peers because they often remain ineligible for assistance due to drastic exclusions passed in the 1990s. Children living in Puerto Rico and the other U.S. territories are not accounted for in federal poverty data and they lack equal access to federal benefits as part of a long history of racism and discrimination against Americans living in the territories.

The government’s definition of “poverty” also poses problems. The poverty threshold in 2021 stood at roughly $30,000 for a family of four with two children. The Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budget Calculator shows that in most areas of the country, a family of four with two children needs at least $80,000 a year to have an adequate standard of living — and in many places, they need much more. By these standards, even families who live at double the poverty threshold cannot make ends meet. A realistic view of material hardship and deprivation must figure into calculations of progress to ensure that anti-poverty measures are making a meaningful impact.

Conclusion

While this recent progress on child poverty is unprecedented and worth celebrating, it is not the final word. According to Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy, roughly 4 million children slipped back into poverty in January 2022 after Congress allowed the improvements to the Child Tax Credit to expire. The expiration of the CTC improvements and other aid, combined with high food costs and rising rents, sent many families with children back to experiencing significant material hardship. Congress must immediately extend the CTC improvements to avoid further backtracking on this historic progress

American voters agree: By a 72-21% margin, likely voters polled in a recent survey by Lake Research Partners support the 2021 improvements to the Child Tax Credit, with the majority expressing intense support. A large majority of voters —a 6-to-1 margin — also believe the country invests too little in reducing child poverty.

Fortunately, First Focus Campaign for Children’s Congressional Champions continue to insist that improvements to the CTC are included in any end-of-the-year legislative measure that would provide tax breaks for big corporations. In a joint statement, Senate Democrats Brown (OH), Bennet (CO), and Booker (NJ) and Democratic Representatives DeLauro (CT), DelBene (WA), and Torres (NY) urged passage of CTC improvements before the end of the year: “We should have never allowed this critical program to lapse, and we should not extend corporate tax breaks at the end of this year without also extending the expanded Child Tax Credit.”

Maintaining recent progress is just a start. Even one child in poverty is one too many. Congress must also codify a national child poverty reduction target to build the political will needed to reach all children.

We are not only morally obligated to end child poverty, but it also makes smart economic sense for us to do so. The National Academy of Sciences confirms that reducing child poverty not only has direct benefits on individual children’s healthy development but also delivers a significant return on investment for the U.S. economy.

Our baseline cannot be the status quo. It must be what lawmakers, academics, advocates, media, and the American public now know — clearly and definitively — is possible.


Free school meals are a clear win for children & families

| August 10, 2022 |

School nutrition is a vital part of a child’s education and their overall health, well-being, and development. Without the proper nutrients, students are more likely to develop learning disabilities and struggle mentally and physically. However, too many children in this country do not have consistent and affordable access to healthy food. Nearly 17% of children live in homes affected by food insecurity and this has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Children who participate in school meal programs under the National School Lunch (NSLP) and School Breakfast (SBP) Programs rely on the meals for roughly half of their daily calories. When schools shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, school nutrition programs served as lifelines for struggling families, and were able to continue providing meals to students in creative and efficient ways, such as Pandemic EBT. However, these programs continue to be challenged by widespread supply chain issues and inflation, which has made it more difficult and expensive for schools to purchase and serve food. According to the School Nutrition Association, on top of food shortages, 95% of schools have staff shortages

President Biden has signed the Keep Kids Fed Act, extending some school meal flexibilities through the next school year. The law extends meal delivery options through the summer and increases federal reimbursements through the next school year, which will provide schools with extra funding to help fight the rising costs of food and labor. But many fear it does not go far enough as many children will lose access to free or reduced-price school meals in the coming school year, forcing schools to redetermine whether millions of students are eligible for the program and creating even more administrative burden for strained programs.

Overall, the best solution would be to provide free school meals to all students, regardless of income. Healthy school meals for all would ensure students have consistent access to school meals, even as prices rise and nutrition programs face staffing shortages. Schools provide meals for more than 30 million children daily. These meals often are the most nutritious meals a child has access to, and research has shown that school meals led to a decrease in obesity among children in poverty. Free school meals help food-insecure children in all aspects — healthy eating helps children academically, physically, and mentally. Free school meals are a clear win for children and families.