Our policy priorities are grounded in 20+ years of Children’s HealthWatch research and policy analysis as well as consultation with our numerous policy and research partner organizations. Given the realities of policy making, these will change over time and be updated accordingly.
Policy Relevant Findings
Young children cannot advocate for policies that meet their needs. By bringing evidence and analysis from the front lines of pediatric care to policy makers and the public, Children’s HealthWatch seeks to promote the healthy development of young children in low-income families. Targeting programs that serve young children currently in need is an investment in the success of our nation.
Access to nutritious and culturally appropriate food, particularly in early childhood, is essential for keeping current and future generations healthy throughout their lives. However, millions of Americans are food insecure and lack consistent access to enough food for an active and healthy lifestyle. Food Insecurity can result in a number of severe health consequences, and disproportionately affects low-income families, families with children, and communities of color.
Nutrition assistance programs can help alleviate this burden for affected families. To maximize the impact of nutrition assistance programs, necessary improvements include increasing access and ensuring benefits and funding is adequate to meet nutritional needs. However, these programs alone are not enough to eliminate food insecurity; ultimately, food insecurity is driven by poverty, joblessness, low wages, insufficient support for people with disabilities, inadequate public income programs, structural racism, lack of affordable housing, and other factors. Investment must be made in policies and strategies that strengthen the federal nutrition programs, address the root causes of food insecurity, and promote equity.
Policy Recommendations for Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act
Extend WIC to age 6 (instead of current age 5) to cover children falling into the gap of neither being age-eligible for school and therefore school meals nor eligible for WIC
Sustain and expand the efficacy of WIC:
- Extend the certification period for infants to two years
- Maintain minimal administrative burden by continuing automatic eligibility for SNAP recipients and by covering all citizen children
- Maintain best possible birth outcomes for future Americans by ensuring access to WIC for all income-eligible pregnant women
- Recommend health care facility licensing practices that facilitate WIC offices on site in hospitals/neighborhood health centers that primarily serve low income women and children as well as co-locating in Head Start and Early Childhood settings
- Facilitate access for working parents by extending WIC office hours and creating alternate locations
- Continue to ensure WIC is in line with best, current scientific evidence: continued breastfeeding intervention and a food package congruent with scientific evidence and not shaped by commercial pressures
- Continue to develop innovative delivery methods for WIC nutrition education
- Give states the option to increase the certification timeframe for both breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding women to two years postpartum
- Recommendation #3
Sustain and expand CACFP as a crucial support for low-income working families, both those who are child care providers and those whose ability to maintain work or study depends on child care:
- Ensure healthful meals are consistent with current science can be provided
- Provide an additional meal or snack for children in full-day childcare
- Evaluate the per meal cost necessary to meet USDA dietary guidelines and the degree of current shortfall for CACFP providers
- Streamline administrative barriers including reducing the area eligibility requirement from 50% to 40% of children in the area qualifying for free or reduced price school meals, encouraging bulk purchasing, and reducing administrative burden
- Reduce barriers to enrollment and participation in the federal nutrition assistance programs and streamline access through optimized enrollment of eligible families
- Expand Income and other eligibility requirements for federal nutrition programs and eliminate all asset tests
- Increase funding for and benefit levels of federal nutrition programs to ensure benefits accurately reflect the real cost of healthy foods and adequately meet household’s needs
- Ensure that children have access to healthy meals while in school and child care and during out-of-school months
- Improve outreach and awareness to ensure that all families receive the benefits for which they are eligible
The connection between housing and health is clear: when children live in safe, stable, quality affordable homes, they are better able to thrive. Children living in stable homes have better physical and mental health outcomes, better educational achievement, decreased risk of hospitalization, and are less likely to experience other economic hardships. On the other hand, housing instability (i.e. being behind on rent, multiple moves, past or present experience of homelessness) harms the health of children and families and is associated with increased risk of other hardships, including food and energy insecurity.
Housing instability disproportionately affects families of color, and is a result of centuries of racially oppressive and discriminatory policies and practices. This has hindered the health, educational achievement, and upward income mobility of these individuals, resulting in cycles of poverty, and poor health outcomes for these individuals and families.
- Dramatically increase funding for rental assistance to ensure all families with low incomes — especially families with young children– are able to afford safe, stable homes
- Adequately fund emergency assistance through permanent resource to stabilize families in housing that they can afford and consequently prevent them from becoming evicted and/or homeless
- Improve the quality of housing to ensure all residents live in safe and healthy homes
- Increase supportive housing models with wraparound services needed to help families address health and economic needs
- Actively address systemic racism in policy and practice that has historically oppressed and excluded families of color from stable housing and home ownership
- Promote investment in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty in order to increase opportunities for children living there to thrive
Lack of health insurance is a fundamental barrier to getting care and can result in negative health outcomes for children and their families. Access to comprehensive, high-quality health care services is important for promoting and maintaining health, preventing and managing disease, reducing unnecessary disability and premature death, and achieving health equity for all who live in the United States. When health care services are affordable, children are better able to access preventative care services such as well child visits and immunizations. Ensuring that all people in the United States have access to affordable, high-quality health care is necessary to ensure a more healthy, just and productive society.
- Provide health insurance to all families and children, regardless of immigration status, to ensure that people are able to access medical care and prescriptions when they need them without having to sacrifice other basic needs or accrue medical debt
High-quality, nurturing, and affordable early education and child care is essential to support children and their parents. Access to high-quality child care allows parents to work and/or further their education in order to achieve economic mobility while giving them peace of mind, ensuring that their child is being well cared for in a safe environment. This can be particularly impactful for those with low incomes, and those harmed by systemic barriers.
While for these services is high, early educators– disproportionately women of color and immigrant women– are paid very low wages. This is a result of a historic lack of public investment in a financially stable, equitable child care and early learning system. It is imperative that these programs receive the funding they need in order to support the child care workforce as well as parents’ ability to earn income and participate in the economy.
- Provide universal access to high-quality child care beginning in infancy
- Invest in a comprehensive child care and early learning system that provides all children with high-quality, accessible and affordable care
- Ensure that child care and early learning settings are available that meet all types of family needs; including location, hours and diversity
- Provide child care and early learning professionals in all settings with the necessary resources to deliver high-quality care and compensation that allows them to support their own families
Despite the direct link between income and health, wages in the US remain inadequate to meet the rising costs of living, and income equality at its peak. Unequal income growth rates have persisted for over 30 years, and have resulted in alarming income disparities that affect nearly every aspect of American life. This particularly impacts households of color, actively contributing to the disturbing disparities seen in health outcomes seen in these communities.
The most simple and effective approach to fight economic inequality and financial instability is to put more money back in the pockets of the people who need it most. In order to alleviate economic hardship and promote the health and wellbeing of every child and family living in the US, we must actively dismantle systems of institutionalized discrimination and inequity at the root of these hardships, and target the inequitable distribution of wealth and income.
Income Building Policy Goals
- Enable working families to afford basic needs by raising the federal minimum wage to accurately reflect the cost of living in the US
- Recurring direct cash payments during economic downturns to stabilize families’ health and finances
- Enhance and expand federal and state working family tax credits to reduce poverty and increase financial stability, namely the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit
- Establish a direct federal jobs guarantee program
Wealth Building Policy Goals
- Eliminate asset tests across all public assistance programs
- Provide every child at birth a child savings account with seed funding to ensure all children have a fair chance of economic mobility
- Examine and disburse reparations to address historical disenfranchisement of BIPOC families that perpetuate racial and health inequities
Maintaining consistent utility services, or energy security, is critical for children’s health and safety. Energy insecurity can put households at risk for increased hospitalizations, asthma, respiratory infections, and mental health issues. This issue especially affects households with children, low-income residents, and people of color. Federal programs such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP can be very effective in alleviating families and individuals burdened by energy insecurity.
- Fund the federal LIHEAP at a level that meets the needs of eligible families
- Support consumer shut-off protections that protect families with children from extreme weather conditions.