Federal action temporarily but dramatically reduced child poverty across America, as low- and moderate-income families received monthly Child Tax Credit checks for the last half of 2021. At the end of last year, however, Congress allowed this aid to expire, leaving families without this critical resource just as the fifth wave of Covid-19 hit. Chuck Marr of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shares reports from news stories about what the monthly checks have meant to families:
“For us people that live in poverty, life is so expensive…. Rent is expensive, getting to work is expensive. Babysitters are expensive. It’s all so expensive when you are not making enough money.” –Lydia Coe, mother of two. “Your children watch you, and if you worry, they catch on to that…. With that extra cushion, we didn’t have to worry all the time.” –Anna Lara, mother of two. “Having that money every month was a big help because we allocated that money directly to her”–Matthew Taylor, father of two; he and his wife are using the payments for after-school classes for their daughter, who has autism.
Covid’s silent toll
From learning disruptions to job loss, the pandemic has hit communities of color especially hard as families of all backgrounds struggle against another highly infectious wave of Covid. As the pandemic wears on, many children are now facing a grief that doesn’t show up readily in the numbers we usually look at to monitor the state of the pandemic, as they mourn the loss of parents and caregivers killed by the virus. Julie Kaplow of the Children’s Hospital New Orleans Trauma and Grief Center writes in The Advocate about our new generation of grieving kids:
Nearly two years into the pandemic, we are now facing a silent epidemic of grief in children, or what I refer to here as “psychological long COVID.” Across the nation, over 167,000 children experienced the death of at least one parent or caregiver to COVID, including 2,887 youth in Louisiana. The majority of these losses have taken place among Black and Hispanic families, many of whom were facing health disparities and higher death rates even prior to the pandemic, making them even more vulnerable to mental and behavioral health issues.
Invest in families
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant is supposed to provide families with a financial cushion when they fall on hard times, and assistance in finding and keeping well-paying jobs. But Congress has underfunded the block grant for years, while the state Legislature has used the federal money to cover shortfalls in areas of the budget that should be financed with state dollars. The result is that only 4 in 100 Louisiana children in poverty receive cash assistance through the program. While the state recently doubled the modest amount Louisiana provides to families and is building new investments in other forms of short-term cash assistance, the state’s cash benefit is still insufficient to meet the needs of children in poverty—in part, a consequence of bad federal policy dating back to the 1990s. Diana Azevedo-Mccaffrey And Ali Safawi of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities provide analysis:
While TANF provides inadequate support for all children, it does a particularly poor job of aiding Black children, who are more likely than white children to live in states with the weakest TANF programs. Black children also experience poverty at twice the rate of white children, owing to historical and continuing barriers to economic opportunity faced by Black families. American Indian and Alaska Native, Asian, and Latinx children also experience higher poverty rates than white children. States can promote equity by redirecting TANF funds toward providing higher cash benefits to more families. (…) While states can act now, ultimately, federal action to change TANF’s funding structure is needed to ensure that all children live in states that will support them if their families face hard times.
Omicron: Stay home or work sick?
The pandemic has shined a light on the burden that people in low-wage jobs—disproportionately people of color—carry. These jobs not only offer lower compensation, they offer fewer benefits and protections, including few if any paid sick days. But while 14 states and the District of Columbia require employers to provide paid sick leave, Louisiana does not. What’s more, the Louisiana Legislature preempts local governments from mandating this basic benefit. As a result, low-wage workers are often left with the ridiculous choice of whether to stay home for the sake of public health, or to work sick to keep food on the table. Anne D’innocenzio and Dee-Ann Durbin of The Associated Press lay out the consequences of this policy failure.
Low-income hourly workers are especially vulnerable. Nearly 80% of all private sector workers get at least one paid sick day, according to a national compensation survey of employee benefits conducted in March by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But only 33% of workers whose wages are at the bottom 10% get paid sick leave, compared with 95% in the top 10%.
Number of the Day
93% – Estimated share of Louisiana households earning below $35,000 that used monthly child tax credit payments for basic necessities and education. The U.S. Senate let those credits expire at the end of last year, affecting an estimated 187,000 Louisiana children. (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)