As part of the Children’s Week activities, First Focus co-hosted a webinar on Thursday, June 18, 2020, with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, and the Century Foundation to address how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated conditions for millions of children and families.

CWLA President & CEO Christine James-Brown was one of the featured panelists. The webinar included a discussion on how to address urgent threats to children and our stubbornly high child poverty rates. Panelists discussed policies and programs that could significantly reduce child poverty in America.

In addition to CWLA President James-Brown, who was a member of the National Academies Study that produced A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty, other virtual panelist included Jeff Madrick, Director of the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative and author of Invisible Americans, and two other members of the National Academies of Sciences committee, Greg Duncan andAcevedo-Garcia. The discussion was moderated by First Focus on Children’s Vice President of Family Economics, Cara Baldari.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic child poverty was a moral crisis in the U.S. This pandemic and resulting economic crisis have served to expose and exacerbate inequities in our society. According to Columbia University research, child poverty could rise by as much as 53 percent as a result of COVID. Many of the solutions needed to address increases in child poverty due to the pandemic were necessary before coronavirus.

“Child poverty hurts us all, not only the children,” stated Madrick. Children in America have been in a precarious position long before the pandemic began. And that “money matters; it reduces poverty. “The National Academies report details how child poverty impacts minorities disproportionately and that child poverty cuts not only across poverty line and class lines but across racial and economic power.

In 2019, the National Academy released A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty, a non-partisan, evidence-based study that models a set of policy and program changes, that if implemented, would cut our child poverty rate in half within a decade. The policies in this roadmap, such as establishing a national monthly child allowance program, increasing SNAP benefits, housing vouchers, and other proven solutions, would ensure that families have the resources needed to support their children’s healthy development and support their long-term success.

The commissioners of the report were focused on short-term kinds of programs, not intergenerational programs, stated Acevedo-Garcia. The weight of evidence that federal programs addressing poverty have beneficial impacts on kids and these safety nets reduce child poverty. Employment related programs like expanding the earned income tax credit (EITC) and others poverty-reduction measures tended to have a positive impact on unemployment while expanding the SNAP (formerly food stamp program) had a more substantial reduction in child poverty. The National Academy report ultimately resulted in thinking about the benefit of packages for reducing child poverty.

The gaps in child poverty are discussed in the report including that poverty rates being much higher among Hispanic and black children. Today, Hispanic children are the largest group of children in poverty, stated Acevedo-Garcia. And the unemployment rate is nearly 19 percent today compared to 15 percent in April. She remarked that some of the solutions that were analyzed before the pandemic could work in the present situation.

This pandemic has illustrated the significance of looking at the contextual factors that would influence the ability of [safety net] programs to work for all children and families, according to Christine James-Brown. She discussed the ability to access programs and services, racial discrimination, treatment of those with criminal records, and positive neighborhood conditions as contextual factors that were outlined in the report and apparent during the pandemic as critically important.

The child allowance is a measure that can get the poverty down quickly, stated Madrick. “Cash can cover a lot of situations, and if you have more cash, it reduces stress for the family.” Cash is a significant factor when considering housing, neighborhood occupancy, and schooling for families remarked Madrick. And research shows that parents with a child allowance spend the money on their kids to improve their lives. The coronavirus is clobbering poor kids according to Madrick, and for a nation as rich as the U.S., we cannot tolerate neglecting or discarding 15 to 25 percent of our population. Christine emphasized that more money is important for families, but so is good health because poor living conditions and discrimination are resulting in negative impacts on children. “Somehow, this country has to learn how to walk and chew gum at the same time,” stated James-Brown, like addressing racism and poverty in America.

As a country that underestimates child poverty, the Committee was directed to use a supplemental poverty measure, which compared to the official poverty includes noncash sources of income, remarked Duncan. The benchmark for the study included the supplemental poverty measure. Counting child poverty is very important, and the report provided multiple social policy services and programs to consider for reducing child poverty by half in 10 years.