In honor of National Children’s Week, on Tuesday, June 12, First Focus on Children, Comic Relief USA, and Child Poverty Action group hosted Spotlight on Child Poverty in America. The event featured Members of Congress, thought leaders, advocates and service providers who are all actively working to address child poverty on the national, state, and local level. Many of the speakers mentioned the importance of the recent National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Board on Children Youth and Families Consensus Study Report: A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty and the importance of using the data collected from this study to guide action and legislation as we move forward with the goal of cutting child poverty in half in the next decade.
Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI) explained how the End Child Poverty Campaign in Wisconsin helped cut child poverty by approaching the moral issues surrounding child poverty in order to bridge partisan divides around the issue. She further discussed how feeding children with SNAP benefits has increased their success in the classroom, creating more affordable housing has decreased health problems among children, and how the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) has helped children by giving their parents more funds to support them. Currently 62% of those in poverty in the United States are children and 13% of American children are currently living in poverty. Representative Moore further discussed that many other countries including Canada have cut child poverty in half in less than ten years, so the goal is attainable if policies are made that focus on investing in children.
Congressman Jim McGovern (MA-D) cited more of the statistics surrounding child poverty, notably that the average SNAP benefit is only $1.40 per person per meal, which is not sufficient and that 28% of Latinx and 33% of African American families are in poverty. He noted that this creates perpetual problems and affects minority communities’ disproportionate. Child poverty is estimated to cost the economy $1 trillion a year, whereas the estimated cost of alleviating the problems is $110 billion a year.
Karrie Brown, Vice-President of Comic Relief talked about the successes of Red Nose Day in bringing awareness to child poverty. This year, over $46 million was raised for child poverty which helps fund immediate relief for children and education about poverty within schools across the nation to help destigmatize poverty. Brown says that the high engagement with Red Nose Day demonstrates that the American public does care about child poverty and there is visibility of the issues, which could make it easier to enact policy change. Chef Jose Andres shared his humanitarian work of fighting child hunger and how we must invest in true solutions and not forget about the children. He stated that the system is not getting better specifically that charity work should be about “the liberation of the receiver and not the redemption of the giver.”
In the final discussion, the speakers elaborated on the difference between rural poverty and urban poverty, including the difficulty of getting resources to rural areas. The lack of transportation and infrastructure are both barriers to helping children in rural areas and in creating policy, it is important to remember these barriers to ensure that rural children can also get the necessary services. Even currently, WIC services are distributed off of the back of a pickup truck in rural areas, according to Reverend Douglass Greenway, the President and CEO of the National WIC Assistance. He also mentioned the importance of educating legislators on the issue of child poverty so that progress can be made. Congresswomen Roybal-Allard (D-CA) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) discussed the drive behind pushing for Congress to authorize the National Academies study and how children should have a larger piece of the budget. This inexcusable tragedy in our country, stated Congresswoman Roybal-Allard, has lifelong impacts on children and their families. In addition, the Urban Institute released a report “Does Supportive Housing Keep Families Together?” that looked at families involved with the child welfare system and found that many families face deep poverty.
Homelessness and unstable housing for children and families have huge implication for social services agencies and communities. Supportive housing has proven to reduce child poverty especially when intensive wraparound services like the housing first model are provided to help parents and children with other persistent needs.