The expansion of the federal Child Tax Credit brought an historic reduction in child poverty in 2021 by giving low- and moderate-income families a monthly, no-strings-attached cash allowance, which they used on basic necessities such as food, utilities or shelter. But the expanded CTC also improved the mental health of adults in the lowest-income families, according to a new report from Health Affairs. Akansha Batra, Kaitlyn Jackson, and Rita Hamad explain their findings: 

We found fewer depressive and anxiety symptoms among low-income adults. Adults of Black, Hispanic, and other racial and ethnic backgrounds demonstrated greater reductions in anxiety symptoms compared to non-Hispanic White adults with children. There were no changes in mental health care use. These findings are important for Congress and state legislators to weigh as they consider making the expanded CTC and other similar tax credits permanent to support economically disadvantaged families.

DCFS needs more caseworkers
The head of Louisiana’s beleaguered child welfare agency updated lawmakers on Wednesday about efforts to address staffing shortages amid continued reports of child neglect and abuse. Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services Secretary Terri Ricks told the state’s Senate Health and Welfare Committee that while her department had made progress toward hiring more caseworkers, it was still short of full staffing levels. The Advocate’s Andrea Gallo reports: 

“Our societal problems are bubbling up through our caseload, which means the children are not OK,” Ricks said. Ricks and Amanda Brunson, DCFS’ new assistant secretary of child welfare, said they are worried that even more children might need help. … Legislators questioned whether DCFS has enough money to continue to hire new staff and implement stopgap measures in hopes of stabilizing the agency. Undersecretary Eric Horent said DCFS has spent an extra $3.5 million so far on new projects and improvements, but has been able to use money from job vacancies to cover them so far.

Reality check: Years of budget cuts and low pay, combined with already high caseloads, have made it difficult for the agency to retain the caseworkers needed to respond to reports of neglect and abuse. 

Selling homes while Black
While the National Association of Realtors allowed Black people to join in 1961, it still lobbied against the Fair Housing Act, which aimed to end housing discrimination, eight years later. This type of racism in the real estate industry, which still persists to this day, has discouraged Black people from becoming agents and made the jobs of those who do much harder The New York Times’ Collette Coleman reports on the racism Black Americans face when selling homes. 

Today about 6 percent of real estate agents and brokers in the United States are Black, though 14 percent of Americans are Black. White real estate agents make almost three times as much as their Black peers, according to the N.A.R.. To make it in the industry, Black agents say they are taking precautions and making concessions, including changing their names or omitting their photos from promotional materials to hide their racial identities. The discrimination they face can be life-threatening: In August 2021, police officers in Michigan handcuffed and pointed guns at Eric Brown, a Black real estate agent, and his Black clients as he showed them a home.

SNAP linked to better health outcomes and lower health care costs
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is one of the most effective tools at fighting poverty. But a new report shows that SNAP benefits are linked to improved health outcomes and lower health care costs. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Joseph Llobrera reports on their research: 

SNAP participants are more likely to report excellent or very good health than low-income non-participants. Early access to SNAP among pregnant mothers and in early childhood improved birth outcomes and long-term health as adults. Elderly SNAP participants are less likely than similar non-participants to forgo their full prescribed dosage of medicine due to cost. SNAP may also help low-income older adults live independently in their communities and avoid hospitalization. … Infants and children in families participating in SNAP are more likely to see a doctor for periodic check-ups. Low-income adults participating in SNAP incur nearly 25 percent less in medical care costs than low-income non-participants.

Number of the Day
6.5% –  Increase in prices in December compared to the same time last year. Inflation has decreased for six consecutive months. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)