Faculty Commentary: Children and Families Deserve a Permanent Stimulus
By: Adele Robinson
It’s not a temporary crisis for millions of children and families – now is the time to enact permanent solutions
The late Senator Barbara Jordan, one of the most astute and eloquent American policymakers of the last century, said “A nation is formed by the willingness of each of us to share in the responsibility for upholding the common good.” The pandemic has put a spotlight on our investment in children, and how in the best of economic times, so many children in immigrant families, communities of color, tribal nations, and rural localities are excluded due to harmful policy choices and inadequate funding.
Catchy campaign phrases such as “children are our future” need an immediate shift from rhetoric to political action. As each level of government tries to resuscitate the economy, each decision should be weighed by how it will address the condition of all children and families not just today but for the future.
More than the Great Recession of 2009, Americans now understand what it means to suddenly lose a job and find themselves needing to live paycheck to paycheck with the high levels of stress income fragility brings to them and their children. The disparate impact of the virus on people of color highlights the inadequate, inequitable, policy and public funding choices of decades.
While applauding the Families First and CARES stimulus bills, and with hope that the next stimulus bill will have a laser focus on children and families, it is important to remember that these are largely temporary measures. Like the federal stimulus of 2009, these are intended to quickly return us to the status quo pre-Covid 19.
The status quo, however, has failed millions of children living in struggling families and communities, especially communities of color. Even in recent years with a strong national economy, roughly one in six of all children in the United States lived in poverty. The most recent data found that 1.5 million school-age children were homeless. Only one in five eligible children received help to pay for child care so that their parents could keep working and children would be safe, nurtured, and learning. Eleven million children are food insecure. With the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid expansion and Children’s Health Insurance Program in place, the uninsured rate for children dropped to five percent but it is rising again.
Yes, the recent appropriations bills had some increases, but these are guaranteed only for a year. The current Administration has been cutting ties in the social safety net with proposed and enacted new regulations that make it harder for legal immigrants, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities to have access to the affordable housing, food assistance, income support and medical care.
There’s hope that the growing public awareness of these disparities can transfer to advocacy and demand political will to shift from stopgap temporary responses to permanent, comprehensive, equitable investments in our children, with special attention to those who having been living at the margins of opportunity.
At a minimum, the federal government in partnership with states and local governments, must:
- Raise the federal minimum wage that reflects a living wage.
- Expand Medicaid and Medicare to ensure affordable access to health and mental health care and to maintain a strong health system infrastructure.
- Invest in affordable, quality child care, afterschool and summer programs that meet the needs of working families and the support children’s social, emotional and cognitive developmental potential from birth through school age.
- Increase SNAP benefit levels to ensure food security with nutritious meals throughout the month.
- Provide housing assistance that matches the true costs of the local housing market, free from discrimination, requires owners and landlords to maintain safe and healthy living conditions inside and around the building.
- Halt implementation of the 2019 changes to the Public Charge rule.
- Finance infrastructure modernization, including access to the internet in homes and schools.
- Require stronger protections for workers safety and health with paid family and medical leave, paid sick days, and paid days off without regard to the number of employees.
- Reform revenue and tax expenditure policies to garner a fair share contribution by wealthy individuals and corporations to the public good.
Each of us has a voice. There is no better time to use it for children and families than now.
- Social Policy