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California’s Child Poverty Task Force Pushes for End to Deep Child Poverty

On Monday, December 3rd — swearing-in day for California’s new legislators — the Lifting Children Out Of Poverty Task Force held a press conference and public hearing at the Capitol to announce the release of its recommendations for ending deep child poverty in California.

Western Center’s Jessica Bartholow, Chairperson of the Safetynet Committee of the task force, was joined by End Child Poverty CA, the California Poor People’s Campaign, and coalition members to call on the new legislature to address the critical issue. Elected officials in attendance included Assemblymember Autumn Burke — author of AB1520, which created the task force, Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula, Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, Assemblymember Laura Friedman, and Senator Scott Weiner.

Priority recommendations from the task force include increasing CalWORKs grants to families with children, a child tax credit that would serve as a base-level income for families with children, and guaranteed child care for children ages 0-8 for low-income families. The full recommendations are available at the End Child Poverty in California website.

Bartholow’s full statement from the press conference is below. To see photos and video from the event, visit Western Center’s Facebook and Instagram pages.

Jessica Bartholow’s Comments – December 3, 2018

California has the 5th largest economy in the world, and we have a budget surplus in the billions. Yet, in spite of that prosperity, we also have a childhood poverty crisis.

Here in California, 450,000 children and their families live in deep poverty, and are unable to meet their basic human needs. When children live in deep poverty (defined as below half of the poverty line), they endure hardships that impair their ability to thrive,[i] impact their capacity to learn, and lead to increased hospitalizations and elevated death rates.

Deep poverty is particularly dangerous for children because their families are more likely to experience homelessness,[ii] or to have other basic human needs chronically unmet. They are deeply impacted by the toxic stress that results from chronically unmet needs,[iii] which undermines their long-term physical and mental health.[iv] What’s more, parents who are unable to adequately care for their children as a result of deep poverty experience higher rates of maternal and/or parental depression,[v] a condition associated with reduced parent-child interaction, which is known to undermine school readiness among poor children.[vi] 

Deep poverty harms a child’s brain development and early functioning, disrupting their ability to succeed in school and in life.[vii] These challenges have been documented to reduce the ability of children to cope during difficult situations — the very skill they need most as a child living in poverty, or as a young adult trying to escape it.  

Ultimately, deep poverty undermines a child’s chance to escape poverty and fuels an intergenerational cycle that damages our economy, our state’s budget health, and our democracy. Children who are born in deep poverty are three times as likely to be deeply poor at age 40 than children not born in deep poverty.[viii] One study found that growing up in deep poverty more negatively impacts a child’s life than neonatal exposure to cocaine.[ix]  

Our state has a moral and practical obligation to provide a stronger foundation for the children growing up here, and to help their families move toward greater safety, achievement, and success.[x] For those reasons, and because I have experienced multiple indignities of childhood poverty myself, I was so very proud to serve as Chairperson of the Safetynet Committee of the Lifting Children Out Of Poverty Task Force. The Task Force plan lays out the steps necessary to end childhood poverty altogether, starting first with the urgent steps necessary to end childhood deep poverty.

Among the immediate actions called for by the plan are that the Legislature pass and the Governor sign the following:  

  • A budget that makes the investments necessary to end childhood deep poverty among CalWORKs recipient families. Last year, the legislature began to address deep poverty for the 60% of impoverished families who receive a CalWORKs grant. With a current average grant at just $556/month for a family of three, which is 33% of the federal poverty level (FPL), these families’ monthly incomes are much too low to support the healthy growth and development of our state’s children.[xi] Led by Senator Holly Mitchell, the Legislature passed the single largest investment in grants ever made, but CalWORKs will need three times that investment to end deep poverty for families in the program.
  • A targeted child tax credit to be issued monthly to ensure that the 40% of poor families who do not receive CalWORKs are also given the ability to exit deep poverty. This tax credit, which acts like a guaranteed income for families with children, is not the robust guaranteed living wage income for all envisioned by Martin Luther King, Jr. in the first Poor People’s Campaign, but it represents an essential first step in that direction. The credit is targeted to impact Californians who need it the most and who have the most to benefit — our poorest families with children.

Giving families more money, and ensuring a guaranteed family income above deep poverty, will help families prevent harm and produce positive results for the most impoverished in our state. Doing so will be a first step to achieving an end to poverty for all people who call California home– strengthening our economy, our state and our democracy.[xii]

 

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[i] “Family Poverty, Welfare Reform, and Child Development.” Greg J. Duncan and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn Source: Child Development, Vol. 71, No. 1 (Jan. – Feb., 2000), pp. 188-196. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1132232
[ii] CW grants relative to housing costs: http://calbudgetcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/CalWORKs-Grants-Fall-Short-as-Rents-Continue-to-Rise.pdf  and http://calbudgetcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/CalWORKs-Grants-Fall-Short-of-Covering-Housing-Costs-02252016.pdf and http://calbudgetcenter.org/resources/the-calworks-grant-is-lower-than-cash-assistance-for-families-in-22-states-when-compared-to-housing-costs/
[iii] Evans, G. W. and English, K. 2002. The Environment of Poverty: Multiple Stressor Exposure, Psychophysiological Stress, and Socioemotional Adjustment. Child Development, 73: 1238–1248. doi: 10.1111/1467-8624.00469
[iv] Duncan, G and Magnuson, K. 2011. The Long Reach of Childhood Poverty. http://www.stanford.edu/group/scspi/_media/pdf/pathways/winter_2011/PathwaysWinter11_Duncan.pdf
[v] http://news.yale.edu/2013/07/29/no-money-diapers-depressing-reality-poor-mothers
[vi] http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/412199-infants-of-depressed.pdf
[vii] Harvard University Center on the Developing Child. Toxic Stress Derails Healthy Development.  https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/toxic-stress-derails-healthy-development/
[viii] Cuddy, E., Venator, J. and Reeves, R. 2015. In a land of dollars: Deep poverty and its consequences. Brookings Institution. https://www.brookings.edu/research/in-a-land-of-dollars-deep-poverty-and-its-consequences/
[ix] http://articles.philly.com/2013-07-22/news/40709969_1_hallam-hurt-so-called-crack-babies-funded-study
[x] Brain Studies Highlight Importance of Anti-Poverty Policies for Children: https://www.cbpp.org/blog/brain-studies-highlight-importance-of-anti-poverty-policies-for-children
[xi] CalWORKs Grants are Overdue for a Significant Investment: http://calbudgetcenter.org/resources/calworks-grants-overdue-significant-investment/
[xii] Summary of the research on topic of cash welfare benefits impact on outcomes: https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2018/03/welfare-childhood/555119/