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Contact: Ed Walz
Phone: (202) 657-0685

New Report on Strengthening the Safety Net for Children

Poverty & Family Economics

Ed Walz
(202) 657-0685 (office)

Washington – The bipartisan children’s advocacy organization First Focus today released a new report offering recommendations to close gaps in the federal safety net for children. A Stronger Safety Net for America’s Children, authored by John Quinterno of South by North Strategies, Ltd., and funded by the Foundation for Child Development, is particularly timely given ongoing debates over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps), anti-poverty tax credits, and other critical safety net initiatives.

“This report shows that the safety net is even more critical for kids in the wake of a recession, so the stakes for kids couldn’t be higher,” said First Focus President Bruce Lesley.

The analysis examined eleven federal safety net initiatives. That list includes benefits initiatives like SNAP, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and the National School Lunch Program, as well as tax policies like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. It identifies three gaps in this safety net:

The Eligibility Gap – When children’s families need help but are not eligible under current law;
The Coverage Gap – When eligible children do not get the help for which they are eligible, often because of confusing eligibility rules, burdensome paperwork requirements, or simply because governments failed to invest in outreach; and
The Hardship Gap – When eligible children receive help through safety net initiatives, but the resources provided are insufficient to provide a solid foundation for parents climbing the economic ladder.
“This analysis confirms what parents experience every day – there are too many obstacles today for parents trying to meet their children’s basic needs,” said Lesley.

The author makes concrete recommendations to close those gaps. Because many safety net initiatives are federal-state partnerships, these recommendations include simplifying eligibility polices to eliminate duplicative or onerous requirements, streamlining procedures to reduce paperwork burdens on both families and state governments, and improved workflow and information technology management. For federal policymakers, the report recommends:

Maintaining investments in safety net initiatives, to avoid widening the eligibility and hardship gaps;
Reducing the need, by raising the minimum wage and improving access to health care and other benefits characteristic of what the author terms “good jobs;”
Setting a minimum “benefit floor” for initiatives like TANF that are administered as federal-state partnerships, thereby ensuring that parents can meet children’s basic needs in any state;
Steering supports toward children who most need them, such as very young children or children living with a disabled adult; and
Supporting state efforts to close eligibility, coverage, and hardship gaps for children.

“Congress decides whether and how well these investments in kids actually work. If Congress doesn’t lead, kids will continue to fall through the gaps in the safety net,” said Lesley.

The Foundation for Child Development funds targeted analyses focused on areas of child well-being and development where there is little to no research. Additional information and resources is available on the Foundation for Child Development website.

“Solving the problems facing children starts with understanding the problems facing children,” said Lesley.


First Focus is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. For more information, visit