September 12, 2012
Washington — Responding to U.S. Census Bureau data released today, showing that both child poverty and uninsurance did not increase in 2011, the bipartisan children’s advocacy organization First Focus called on Congress to protect critical investments that have protected children from the recession’s worst effects.
“The Census numbers show that kids are still reeling from the recession, but they also show that government investments make a difference. So do government’s choices: the decisions our leaders in Congress will make over the next few months will have immediate impact and lasting consequences,” said First Focus President Bruce Lesley.
The Census Bureau’s annual analysis shows that, in 2011, more than one-in-five (about 22 percent of) children in the United States lived in poverty. That number is roughly the same as in 2010. The agency also reported that the number of uninsured children in America also remained unchanged in 2011.
The poverty numbers would have been significantly worse, were it not for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit. Together, these family tax credits lift five million children out of poverty.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) also protects children from poverty, by reducing out-of-pocket food costs. U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows that SNAP reduced overall poverty by nearly eight percent in 2009 and had an even greater poverty reduction effect on families with children. First Focus’s partner organization, the First Focus Campaign for Children, released a comparison of SNAP legislation pending in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.
Responding to the uninsurance statistics, First Focus also released a list of reasons for state governments to pursue Medicaid improvements available under the Affordable Care Act. Those recommendations also underscored the linkage between health care access and poverty, observing that covering parents and children protects families from out-of-pocket health care costs that could otherwise contribute to financial stress.
A recent First Focus report highlights a government decision that may affect child poverty this year. The report examines the consequences of Congress’ decision to terminate an important anti-poverty investment: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Supplemental Grants. That analysis found that states — already facing tight budgets and constitutional budgeting constraints — have passed the loss of federal funding on to families, by making cuts in three broad areas: income supports for poor families; “welfare-to-work” initiatives; and child abuse and neglect prevention and response.
“We know what Congress can do to protect kids from the recession’s fallout: make TANF an effective shield against child poverty; protect family tax credits — the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit — and SNAP; extend and enhance the Children’s Health Insurance Program, so it can work with Medicaid to cover uninsured kids. Congress knows what they can do — the question is whether they’ve got the will to act,” said Lesley.