Help Families Get CalFresh

Cal_FreshMay is “CalFresh Awareness Month,” a campaign to raise awareness of this important benefit which many people don’t know they’re eligible to receive. CalFresh, the federally funded program formerly called Food Stamps, helps children, families, and individuals put nutritious food on their tables each day.

In Contra Costa County, half of CalFresh recipients are children. Household hunger hurts children’s intellectual, physical and emotional development and puts them at greater risk for obesity, diabetes and other diseases.

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Three Charts About Child Poverty in Contra Costa

Could your family make ends meet with an annual income of $23,850? That’s the 2014 Federal Poverty Level, and more than 131,000 Contra Costans (12.5% of the population) live in households earning even less. 38,000 are children.

Many families who live in poverty are at greater risk for experiencing social stressors and isolation that negatively impact children’s health, learning and development. At our recent Strategic Planning retreat, First 5 Commissioners reviewed the latest data on children in poverty in Contra Costa County. Here’s what we learned:

The county’s ethnic diversity has increased since 2000. Latino children make up the largest percentage of children under age 6.

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Ensuring Opportunity, Not Poverty

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As the economy recovers from the Great Recession, the gap between rich and poor is widening, leaving poor families and individuals further behind. This is true in Contra Costa County, where nearly 200,000 Contra Costa residents live in poverty and even more struggle to make ends meet.

In a county with a median annual income of $78,000, you might be surprised to learn that:

  • More than 65,000 families and individuals receive CalFresh (food stamps); half are children, many are seniors and most are working. 48,000 more are eligible, but not enrolled.
  • The Food Bank serves 149,000 people every month.
  • On any given night, 4,000 individuals and families seek shelter, yet there are only 382 beds available in homeless shelters. One-third of the homeless are children.

Poverty is hard for everyone but particularly toxic to children, who account for 20% of Contra Costa’s low-income population. When babies and toddlers are raised in poverty, they are much more likely to experience excessive, traumatic stress that interrupts healthy brain development. This disadvantage starts early and sticks. Continue reading

The High Cost of Child Poverty

Over the years, I have seen a number of brain development experts show a slide of two brain scans depicting the difference between a normally developed infant and one deprived of stimulation and a loving relationship.

brainscanIn the well-developed brain on the left, rich areas of red and orange depicting high activity; on the right, a few lobes of orange in a sea of black empty space where there should be active tissue.

The deprived brain was that of a Romanian orphan in the 1990s. Rarely held or snuggled, much less removed from her crib, this poor child’s brain never had the kind of stimulation it required to grow appropriately.

I thought of this recently when I read a new report on poverty by Educational Testing Service that found the U.S. has the second highest rate of child poverty among the 35 richest nations. Only Romania has a greater proportion of its children in poverty than the U.S.

In the last ten years alone, there’s been a 35% increase in child poverty in the U.S., affecting more than one in five kids. The rate is even higher for Latino children (1 in 4) and African American children (nearly 1 in 3).

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A Roadmap to Cut Poverty

The Annie E. Casey Foundation released its annual Kids Count Data Book and once again California ranks 41st nationally on child well-being. How is it that California, considered one of the top ten economies in the world, can’t make it out of the bottom ten states in the country when it comes to the well-being of our children?

CASEYThe data do show that improvements have been made in health and educational outcomes for children. But alarmingly, when it comes to poverty, children are doing worse in every category.

Just about one in four children in California now lives in poverty. That means a quarter of our children are likely to be too hungry to grow, too distracted by overcrowded housing to learn, or too stressed to be healthy. This is the legacy of the Great Recession that will affect an entire generation of Californians if we do not address it quickly and emphatically.

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We Need to Invest in Little Kids, Too

childcareblogThe annual State of American Preschool report found that state spending for preschool is at its lowest level in a decade.

Years of state budget cuts, coupled with the sequestration, have decimated the infrastructure of the nation’s early care and education systems. California alone has reduced its early education budget by more than a $1 billion in recent years resulting in 110,000 children losing child care and preschool.

With the release of his May Revise to the 2013-14 state Budget yesterday, Governor Brown isn’t proposing to restore and rebuild California’s child care system any time soon.

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The U.S. Downgrades the Future of our Children

“Yesterday, the stock market dropped over two hundred points on news that child welfare in the U.S. worsened in the last year. Forecasters don’t see any improvement in children’s health or education in the coming months as such key indicators as childhood obesity, per-pupil spending and high school dropout rates continue to worsen.  Investors consider such indicators a sign of the quality of the future American workforce and will continue to be bearish on American stocks until childhood conditions improve.”

Can you imagine if this were true?  If Wall Street were so concerned about children that they would make daily investment decisions based on children’s welfare? They should. The high school class of 2023 is starting kindergarten this month and there is every indication that the workforce emerging from that class will be as challenged and underprepared as the one that just graduated in June. Continue reading