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There are 11.4 million children in the United States, and about 1 in 5 is raised by a family living in poverty.
But whether families are eligible for direct assistance from the state depends largely on where they live, a challenge that the Zero to Three organization raised in its recent “Children’s Status” report.
The Zero to Three report assesses states based on indicators of a child’s well-being, their family strength, and whether they have a positive primary education experience.
This year’s report comes at a particularly challenging time for families with children: a nationwide shortage of baby formula was exacerbated when a core manufacturing plant stopped production due to pollution problems. The plant is the largest owned by Abbott, one of only three companies providing formula to low-income families through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program (WIC) for Women, Children and Infants. According to the Washington Post, families that rely on WIC benefits make up about half of all child formula recipients.
But the lack of sources is just one problem facing families. Zero to Three reports that the ongoing epidemic continues to widen the disparity between low- and high-income families.
The agency looked at children under the age of 3 and households with incomes 100 percent or below the federal poverty line, which was $ 21,720 for a family of three in 2020, when the figures were collected. Although many of these families are eligible for temporary assistance for needy families, or cash assistance from TANF, only 18.5 percent of households in national poverty receive it.
TANF uses a mix of federal and state dollars to help poor families, but eligibility for this program varies from state to state. In California, about 66 percent of families with young children living in poverty receive cash assistance from TANF, but only 2.8 percent of Georgia households receive it, one of the lowest rates in the country.
One reason for the gap is that states with lower rates often spend less of their share of TANF funds for direct cash assistance to households. States are allowed to spend money to cover other assistance, such as childcare, tax credits, work programs, or administrative costs.
In Georgia, a family of three can receive direct assistance of $ 280 per month if their monthly income does not exceed $ 784, which is less than 50 percent below the federal poverty line.
In fact, since the program began in 1997, states’ spending on direct assistance with TANF funds has fallen sharply overall – from 71 percent of funds to 22 percent – while the actual amount received by states remains the same.
Effe Floyd, a policy analyst at the Georgia Institute for Budget and Policy, said low rates of TANF support were common in the south.
“Not only do states decide to spend it flexibly, but there is also a lot of flexibility in how states determine eligibility for the program, and Georgia has some of the most limited eligibility policies in the country,” Floyd said.
Georgia, like many states, requires families to prove that they are looking for work before they can get any benefits. This can be difficult for families in an emergency, Floyd says.
“Policies are meant to be tougher to get people back to work and to stop helping people,” Floyd said. “Some states have tried to change some of these policies so that people are more stable and are joining the ranks of meaningful work to help them find better jobs. Some states are moving in that direction, but not Georgia, and not many states in the south, midwest, and southwest. “
Poverty has long been associated with worsening outcomes, including deteriorating children’s physical health, declining academic achievement, and difficulty finding work in adulthood. At the behest of Congress, the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine reported in 2019 that being poor is not the only cause of these problems – it is their cause, especially when poverty occurs in childhood or is chronic.
This is one of the reasons why families are increasingly interested in cash assistance in recent years. For half a year during the epidemic, millions of children were lifted out of poverty before the end of the direct assistance program in the form of child tax credits.
Miriam Calderon, chief policy officer for Zero Two Three, said the policy was “extremely successful in lifting families out of poverty.” “And we let it expire.”
Calderon said some states have implemented their own plans to help families of young children – such as universal pre-K and comprehensive child care programs – but he said that was not enough.
“We have information that many children and families in this country, especially those with low incomes and castes, are not getting the support they need to start the strongest potential in life. These indicators are not moving, “Calderon said.” In the end, to see significant progress in the states, we need bold policies at the federal level to complement our states’ efforts, especially near the end of inequality, “he said.
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