ASCH: Address child poverty

In Congress our representatives should be seeking to eradicate child poverty, not to make it worse

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Congress has taken steps during this session that could possibly lead to a dramatic increase in child poverty rates.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

For the first half of President Donald Trump’s term in office, a lot of issues have had their day in the sun, but one that desperately needs attention in this country is child poverty. In the United States, 11.8 percent of children are living in absolute poverty, and 21 percent of American children are living with incomes below the federal poverty threshold.That is an unacceptable number for a rich country like ours and far beyond the child poverty rate in other Western countries. Though the U.S. has made progress toward reducing its child poverty rates through government policies such as the Child Tax Credit, Congress has taken steps during this session that will reverse that good work and could possibly lead to a dramatic increase in child poverty rates.

One example of Congress’ lack of commitment toward addressing child poverty was when it let funding temporarily lapse for the Children’s Health Insurance Program last year — putting 9 million children in danger of losing healthcare. However, more sinister actions have been taken lately to put many of America’s children at risk. Provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill that recently moved forward in the House of Representatives are a prominent example. In the bill, there is a section that would strengthen work requirements for those receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. 

The proposed changes are a dramatic tightening of the program’s eligibility requirements. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 1 million people would be kicked out of SNAP if these work requirements were put into place. This is obscene, especially since SNAP is working, evidenced by the child poverty rate being cut in half. SNAP is also largely responsible for contributing to the long-term health of its recipients. This is the opposite direction that we should be going in, especially when considering that investing in the health of children is important to the long term health of our country . 

To sharply reduce the number of children living in poverty, Congress should establish a child allowance program. Establishing this program would bring the U.S. in line with countries that have dramatically lower child poverty levels and would drastically increase America’s investment in our children. This program could take many shapes — it could be entirely universal or phase out over time — but it is essential that it be established in some form. 

Though it is true that Congress did attempt to increase benefits to working families when it recently expanded the Child Tax Credit in its 2017 tax reform bill, the credit does not go as far as a child allowance would to lift many of America’s children out of poverty. In fact, some assessments of the recent CTC expansion note that while it expands eligibility and raises benefits, it may not be as beneficial to children as it was made out to be. Additionally, other reforms to the tax system put into law in the tax reform bill shrink the newly expanded CTC’s benefits. When taken as a whole, the newly expanded tax credit does not do a great deal to reduce the number of children living in poverty. 

Child poverty is clearly something policymakers should focus more on, not just because of moral reasons, but because of the potential benefits to American society. Even with America’s severe lack of a social safety net for children, studies show that existing programs that reduce poverty among children lead to several positive outcomes. Programs like the CHIP helped increase the rate at which children graduated high school and college, which in turn actually increased the amount of tax money many of these recipients returned to the system. Studies on the Earned Income Tax Credit suggest there is a connection between the program and an increase in test scores among school children. These benefits should not be ignored and should, in fact, be expanded upon.

Child poverty in America is an extensive problem, so it will take drastic solutions to correct. The United States should join the rest of the world and introduce some sort of child allowance program that will reduce child poverty even further. Children are a nation’s most valuable resource and more needs to be done to invest in them. It is clear that these policies are beneficial to children and society as a whole, so not strengthening the social safety net for children is incredibly irresponsible. It is essential that we urge our representatives to reverse their recent actions and instead invest more in our nation’s most vulnerable children. 

Jacob Asch is an Opinion Editor for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at j.asch@cavalierdaily.com. 

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