Involving Families in Public Policy Innovation to Reduce Cost-Driven Moves and Related Disruption

This is a commentary to Moving Because of Unaffordable Housing and Disrupted Social Safety Net Access Among Children by Kathryn M. Leifheit et al. Click here to read the original article.

In this issue of Pediatrics, Leifheit et al present timely findings on the consequences of cost-driven residential moves on social safety net disruption among families with children <48 months of age. The authors of this study demonstrate how disruption in 1 facet of family life can have a marked impact on multiple programs affecting family budget and wellness. Cost burden is when households spend >30% of their income on rent and utilities; if they spend >50%, households are classified as severely cost-burdened. Cost-burdened households have fewer resources for other critical needs, such as food, transportation, and childcare. According to the US Census Bureau, the number of renter-occupied households considered cost-burdened increased from 46.3% in 2019 to 49.0% in 2021. That means that just under one-half of all renter-occupied units in the United States were cost-burdened in 2021.

In this study, Leifheit et al specifically examine moves precipitated by families reporting difficulty paying rent or a mortgage, eviction, foreclosure, becoming home- less, or lack of housing subsidy. Housing instability is a broader construct that can encompass circumstances that may precede or include a cost-related move, such as having trouble paying rent, overcrowding, multiple moves, or cost burden, and is a known risk to maternal and child health. Additionally, being housing unstable may make it harder to access health care.

Leifheit et al found that young children and their families who experienced cost-driven moves were significantly more likely to have disrupted participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and Medicaid. Novel in Leifheit et al’s findings are both the careful comparison of those with cost-related moves not only to those who did not move at all but also to those who moved for more positive reasons like searching for a bigger home or a better neighborhood.