Maine Musings – Yes on Question 4
Last Friday I spoke at a press conference at the YWCA in Lewiston on increasing the minimum wage – Question 4.
Here are my comments:
Every day in Maine, workers, who despite working full-time jobs, are struggling to get by on wages at or just above the minimum wage. They face painful choices.
Do they put food on the table or buy the winter boots their children so desperately need?
Do they pay the rent or the utilities this month?
Do they fix the car so they can get to work or buy oil for the furnace so their family can stay warm?
These are the decisions that must be made by the hard working parents who serve us our food, care for our children and aging parents, clean our homes and our offices, and sell us our retail goods.
People who work full-time or cobble together several part time jobs should not have to worry about not being able to feed and take care of their children or themselves. A full-time minimum wage job cannot keep a three-person family out of poverty.
This is particularly disturbing in light of the fact that child poverty in Maine has risen at an alarming rate over the past decade. Maine’s children are the poorest people in our state – and the younger they are, the worse off they are. The child poverty rate in our state currently stands at 19% (48,000 children). And for children under the age of five growing up in a family with a female head of household, that number climbs even higher.
Studies have found that when parents are struggling and stressed, often working more than one job, have no time off (as is often the case in minimum wage jobs), and still don’t earn enough to cover bills, their children are deeply affected.
The effects of child poverty are extremely damaging – especially to children’s health, nutrition, education, housing, safety, and future earnings. Even temporary spells of poverty can have negative long-term effects on child development. When looking at child poverty today, low paid work is as significant as unemployment.
By increasing the minimum wage we are investing in Maine families.
Investing in families who need help with sustaining the basic necessities to grow healthy, productive children is also an investment in Maine’s future. Strong, self-sufficient families produce children who are better prepared for school, work, and life.
This is why Every Child Matters in Maine supports voting yes on Question 4.
I hope you will join us in supporting an increase in the minimum wage.
Every Child Matters in Maine
From our friends at Talk Poverty is this article by Megan Martin and Shadi Hoshyar.
3 Safety Net Improvements That Could Help Keep Families Together
There is a common narrative about the families who are involved with child welfare systems—one that portrays parents as abusive and unfit (or unwilling) to care for their children. But reality is more nuanced than that. The truth is, nearly half of the families who have children removed from their homes cannot meet their basic needs and require additional supports in order to provide for their children.
This is especially true for the parents of young children. The birth of a child is one of the leading triggers of poverty in the United States, and since young children have unique costs—like diapers, formula, and child care—poor families often struggle to make ends meet.
Research continues to confirm what we already know: Children do best when they are raised by their families and in their communities, as long as it is safe. The trauma children experience when they are removed from their parents unnecessarily can have significant and life-long effects, which can be particularly damaging for young children.
Current safety-net programs—including income support and child care and nutrition assistance—are essential for low income families, but if they were modified to be more family-centered, responsive, and flexible, we could prevent unnecessary system involvement and make it easier for families to care for their children safely at home.
Three key strategies could improve existing programs so that they better meet the needs of young children and families.
- More flexible funding sources to support families facing multiple barriers
Most safety net funding is narrowly focused on providing a specific service, such as food, rent, or utility assistance. These programs are crucial, but the limited focus of each results in gaps across the safety net that can leave families vulnerable.
Nearly half of the families who have children removed from their homes cannot meet their basic needs.
For example, one of the most common reasons that families become involved with child welfare is because caregivers are often forced to leave children at home—without adequate supervision—so that they can go to work or appointments. If families had cash resources to provide for unexpected costs such as backup child care, parents of young children could juggle multiple demands and attend work, school, or appointments while still keeping their children safe.
Funding sources that provide benefits to families through tax programs and direct cash transfers help meet this need. That’s why the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit, which lifted 9.4 million people out of poverty in 2013, are so crucial for millions of low- and moderate-income families. Child allowances, which provide cash benefits to families with young children, would provide even greater flexibility —and have the potential to significantly reduce poverty.
- Coordinate between the programs that are designed for young children and families
For families who are navigating multiple benefit programs, overlapping, duplicative, or contradicting eligibility requirements can make it difficult to access the supports they need. For instance, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) work requirements are often not aligned with the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). That can make it difficult for families who rely on TANF to participate in WIOA work or training opportunities, since they do not always “count” as work for TANF work participation rates.
In addition, data sharing across programs—along with other information technology enhancements—would help families get the most out of safety net programs. Many states now use document imaging systems to save and file household verifications, and provide call centers for clients to call in and report changes to their status or benefits needs. This can simplify the eligibility determination process and allow states to create a single process for determining eligibility across a number of programs.
Several states participating in the Work Support Strategies demonstration project have implemented these strategies to better integrate various procedures for major safety net programs including Medicaid, SNAP, and child care subsidies. These states are improving coordination on intake, verification, and periodic redetermination of eligibility to create a more cohesive and easy to navigate set of work supports.
- Make services available in locations that are convenient for families
Providing services and supports in the places where families already spend time—such as child care centers, libraries, schools, and pediatricians’ offices—makes it more likely that families will receive the essential services that they need.
For example, Project DULCE provides parents of infants with support in addressing stress, building resiliency, and developing a nurturing relationship with their young child, while simultaneously linking families to legal and other community resources—all during the course of standard well-child visits. An evaluation of Project DULCE has shown that the intervention contributes to improvements in preventive health care delivery and accelerated access to concrete supports, such as nutrition or utility assistance, among low-income families.
Safety-net programs that are flexible enough to meet the needs of families, are well-coordinated, and offered in environments that are comfortable and convenient are critical to ensuring that children can thrive at home with their families.
Did You Know…
Families living in poverty have a significantly higher likelihood of experiencing crises. While the majority of poor families never come to the attention of the child welfare system, poverty is still the greatest threat to child well-being and the best predictor of abuse and neglect.
(Source: Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS–4): Report to Congress.)