Times Chronicle & Public Spirit

Policies lifted 2,000 Montgomery County children out of poverty

Advocates: Expiration of Child Tax Credit will send them back

- By Evan Brandt ebrandt@pottsmerc.com

Perhaps there is no better forecaster of a child’s future success than the poverty level of the household and neighborho­od in which they live.

“Lack of nutritious food, clothing, safe and stable housing, health care, and education — as well as the chronic stress that this lack of resources creates — can, in turn, have deleteriou­s consequenc­es for children’s health, academic achievemen­t, social-emotional functionin­g, and long-term well-being and economic success,” according to Child Trends, a Maryland-based national research organizati­on focused exclusivel­y on improving the lives of children and youth, especially those who are most vulnerable.

So one unexpected and welcome impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was how many children were, at least temporaril­y, lifted out of poverty nationally and right here in Montgomery County.

“The one glimmer of hope during the pandemic was the impact of federal policy that lifted 2,000 (Montgomery County) children out of poverty in the first year of the shutdown,” according to a report released recently by Children First, the advocacy group formerly known as Public Citizens for Children and Youth.

Titled “COVID’S Impact on Children in Montgomery County,” the report looks at the immediate and longterm impacts of the pandemic and government’s response.

One of the strongest, though not the most lasting, impacts was on poverty and the social safety net policies put in place during COVID.

“The lives of children and families would have been much worse had good public policy not served as a life preserver. While parents were unable to work and schools were shuttered, federal flexibilit­y and funds coupled with the Herculean efforts on the part of municipal, county, and school leaders provided extraordin­ary protection­s for children,” the report’s authors wrote.

“Over the two years living with the contagion, and within months of the pandemic shuttering the economy, Congress authorized a robust set of direct payments to families to support them during the crisis. Without question, these extraordin­ary and necessary resources for families staved off widespread homelessne­ss, hunger, and deprivatio­n,” the report concludes.

“These efforts especially buoyed children of color who otherwise would have fallen through the cracks. Federal COVID relief policies acted like a safety net, catching children so they didn’t fall into an abyss of poverty, hunger, and sickness,” according to the report.

“On top of these payments to parents, the federal pandemic relief extended and enhanced unemployme­nt payments that included a guaranteed $600 a week for workers who were laid off due to COVID. The CARES Act also reimbursed employers for leave taken by employees who had to take care of a sick child or other dependent, marking the first-ever federal enactment of paid leave policy for parents. Nearly all these benefits are no longer available, and, in most cases, their expiration makes sense,” the report said.

But “that’s not the case though for the Child Tax Credit, which came to an end on Dec. 15, 2021,” according to the report’s authors.

Child Tax Credit Expansion

According to The White House, as a result of the policy, which was part of the American Rescue Plan, families received $250 a month for every child between 6 and 17 years old, and $300 a month for every child under 6.

As a result, “Montgomery County had an astonishin­g 15 percent decline in the number of children in poverty, the third largest reduction in the region. In fact, the Child Tax Credit significan­tly increased the purchasing power of parents by putting an estimated $453 million into their hands in 2021, which equates to a $147 million raise for families compared to 2019,” according to the Children First report.

“Given the lifetime consequenc­es of growing up in poverty, this shift out of poverty had the potential to be a game-changer for these children. The tragedy is that with federal policy no longer

in place, thousands of children are likely to fall back into poverty,” the authors wrote.

Despite President Joe Biden’s desire to continue the policy for years, the Child Tax Credit was allowed by Congress to expire on Dec. 15, 2021.

“Child poverty stunts the healthy developmen­t of children with lifelong consequenc­es that will be exacerbate­d by the pandemic’s effect on children’s lives. For this reason alone, all policymake­rs should agree that the Child Tax Credit must be reenacted,” according to the report.

“At the household level, the expiration of the Child Tax Credit is likely to mean that 2,600 Montgomery County children will fall back into poverty, further compoundin­g the impact of COVID on their lives,” Children First wrote. “To sustain the reduced levels of child poverty achieved during the pandemic, citizens of Montgomery County must push their federal lawmakers to reenact the expanded Child Tax Credit.”

Food Security

Thousands of low-income children get two of their three daily meals at school. When Montgomery County closed all schools on March 8, 2020, to try to stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus,

it created another immediate problem — how will all those children get fed every weekday?

The answer was some innovative thinking and “federal flexibilit­y.”

“Federal flexibilit­y enabled schools to provide school breakfasts, lunches, and snacks to children at home for the period of remote instructio­n. Where schools had to close or parents chose not to send their children to in-person instructio­n, parents were encouraged to come to the school to pick up meals,” the report recalled.

Area schools scrambled, while initially having pickup tables outside the schools and eventually, in some cases, making home deliveries with a week’s worth of food.

“Although children weren’t attending in-person school for several months, over 340,000 Pennsylvan­ia children had a midday meal thanks to the school lunch program and 210,000 started their day with free school breakfasts,” according to the Children First report.

“Families also benefitted from new federal flexibilit­y that permitted them access to the SNAP program to purchase food for themselves and their children. Over 2,700 more Montgomery

County children were enrolled in SNAP, bringing childhood hunger relief via SNAP to over 21,000 children in the county. In fact, 19 percent more Montgomery County residents and 16 percent more county children relied on SNAP during the pandemic compared to pre-pandemic enrollment from February 2020,” the report’s authors found. “As a result, in Montgomery County, nearly $300 million in SNAP funds went to families so they could purchase food during the pandemic.”

Also, “the county also allocated $2 million in CARES Act funding to keep food pantries stocked during the crisis.”

Further, support must be rallied to continue the flexible enrollment policies in Medicaid, CHIP, and SNAP that protect children’s health and ensure their nutrition is never at risk.

Having seen the success of the expansion of those programs — an expansion that resulted in fewer hungry children — “Congress must ensure continued access to food resources for children,” the authors wrote. “Although unemployme­nt is low and wage rates are increasing, given the rapidly rising inflation rate, public policies that ensure no child is hungry must be maintained and invigorate­d.”

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 ?? PATRICK SEMANSKY — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Children play basketball at a park near blighted row houses. Polices put in place during the COVID pandemic lifted 2,000Montgom­ery County children out of poverty.
PATRICK SEMANSKY — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Children play basketball at a park near blighted row houses. Polices put in place during the COVID pandemic lifted 2,000Montgom­ery County children out of poverty.

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