Poverty in America would decrease by nearly a third – including 4.8 million children – if America’s safety net programs were fully funded and had 100% participation rates. That’s according to a new report from the Urban Institute, which found that a lack of funding is a main reason why the federal government’s seven benefit programs do not reach all eligible people. Route Fifty’s Molly Bolan explains what would happen if we fully funded our safety net services. 

According to a recent report from the think tank in Washington, D.C., only about half of the people eligible for housing subsidies and programs that supplement food, energy and child care costs receive them. Even families that receive benefits don’t receive the full amount they could. “At current levels of funding and participation, the amounts that families are eligible to receive but are not currently receiving sum to $266 billion across the seven programs,” the report said. That estimate, however, doesn’t take into account how the benefits affect each other, so that estimate is likely a little higher than it would be in reality. 

Footnote: A 2019 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found that child poverty alone costs the U.S. economy at least $800 billion a year. But the report also noted that we can cut child poverty in half by investing more resources in proven programs such as child tax credits, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. 

Push for more early childhood education investments 
High-quality early care and education programs can pay lifelong dividends by putting children and families on a path to a brighter future. Fortunately, new state investments in early childhood education may be a sign that state leaders are finally prioritizing our youngest learners. Ashley Ellis, outgoing 5th district representative for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, in a letter to The Advocate, urges voters and our next crop of leaders to push for more resources for this vital area. 

I urge our next governor to select individuals with early care and education backgrounds to at least one of the three appointed BESE seats. Early care and education provide the learning foundation for so many students. Two-thirds of our children under the age of 5 have both their parents, or their single parent, in the workforce. But when only 15% of our most in-need children can access a publicly funded, quality early care and education program, is it any wonder that only 40% of all our kindergarten students arrive meeting key benchmarks on day one? For Louisiana to thrive, we must focus on education, beginning not on the first day of kindergarten, but on the very first day of life.

Pro-life bonafides in clemency fight
At the direction of Gov. John Bel Edwards, the Louisiana Pardon Board has scheduled hearings for 20 of the 56 death row inmates seeking commutation to life sentences. The move predictably garnered praise and pushback from people on opposite sides of the criminal justice system. Gambit’s Clancy DuBos explains why clemency makes sense. 

In the last 20 years, six Louisiana death row inmates have been exonerated — and more than 50 other death penalty sentences have been reversed. … “[T]he question is not whether these individuals should be set free,” Edwards wrote, “but whether a state-sanctioned execution meets the values of our pro-life state.” Edwards is right. And his pro-life bona fides are real. Are ours?

Fixing America’s maternal health crisis
America is an outlier in the high number of women who die during or shortly after childbirth. While some steps are being taken to address our nation’s maternal health crisis, such as extended postpartum coverage that Louisiana has taken advantage of, more needs to be done. The Washington Post editorial board lays out their policy recommendations, including prioritizing equity. 

According to the CDC’s 2021 data, the maternal mortality rate for Black women was 2.6 times higher than that for White women. Also, American Indian and Alaska Native women are twice as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than White women. Some of this discrepancy has to do with the interlocking challenges facing Black women and other women of color — a type of “chronic stress” that University of Michigan professor Arline Geronimus called “weathering.” And it’s true that differences in maternal health outcomes will persist as long as disparities in housing, income, physical safety, health and treatment do.

Note: Louisiana has the fifth-highest maternal mortality rate in the nation.

Number of the Day
4.8 million – Number of children that would be lifted out of poverty if America’s safety net programs were fully funded and had 100% participation rates. (Source: Urban Institute)