Children’s HealthWatch takes a holistic view of health – there are many factors that affect how well a child grows and develops. Each child grows up in the context of his/her family and, therefore, we feel it is important to monitor a wide range of policies that are the underpinnings of a family’s ability to provide for survival needs: income, housing, energy, nutrition, health care & child care.
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.
Food and nutrition assistance programs are an essential cornerstone in supporting the health and well-being of low-income families. A large body of research affirms the important role nutrition plays in supporting young children’s healthy growth and development. Research by Children’s HealthWatch has shown that children living in food insecure households are more likely to have a history of hospitalizations, poor health and iron deficiency anemia. Comprehensive Solutions:
- Streamline program access by expanding categorical eligibility and single point-of-entry programs and by increasing direct certification (cross-program automatic enrollment for eligible families).
- Improve outreach and awareness to ensure that all families receive the benefits for which they are eligible.
- Enhance access to healthy, affordable foods for low-income families with national, state and local policies that encourage and ease purchase of fresh foods.
- Children’s HealthWatch research, along with the research of others, links SNAP to positive health outcomes. Our infographic highlights those health benefits. Click here to read more.
- SNAP is our nation’s largest defense against food insecurity, providing resources for families to afford food every day in households across the country. Children’s HealthWatch and our partners at the Center for Hunger-Free Communities, recommend evidence-based improvements to the program that reduce barriers, expand access and benefits, and ensure SNAP remains a strong public health program. Click here to read more.
- Fund WIC at a level that adequately supports states in meeting the needs of eligible women, infants, and children.
- Provide the full complement of WIC foods recommended by the Institute of Medicine. Current food packages do not meet suggested levels of fruits and vegetables for children.
- Accommodate the needs of working mothers by extending WIC office hours and allowing some nutrition education to be done electronically.
- Improve the nutritional value of CACFP meals by promptly implementing recommendations from the Institute of Medicine’s CACFP Meal Pattern report.
- Increase and simplify CACFP meal and snack reimbursement rates to offset the high cost of healthy foods.
- Add a third meal or snack option to meet the nutrition needs of children in care for longer hours.
- Increase participation of family child care providers by allowing automatically eligibility for providers in neighborhoods where 40% percent of elementary school children qualify for free or reduced price school lunch (currently this is set at 50%).
Food Insecurity Measurement Improvement:
- Begin measuring rates of food insecurity for children under the age of three.
- Increase coordination across agencies, such as the Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, and Labor in order to better serve low-income families.
- Calculate the U.S. poverty thresholds using up to date data on household expenditures (current threshold is calculated using an outdated estimate of families’ spending 30 percent of income on food, when, in actuality, the average U.S. consumer spent under 10 percent of their income after taxes on food).
Maintaining consistent utility services for families is critical for children’s health and safety. Research by Children’s HealthWatch has shown that energy insecurity is associated with poor health, increased hospitalizations and risk of developmental delay in very young children and that energy assistance can be effective in protecting children’s health.
- Fund the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), at the maximum authorized level in order to meet the needs of more eligible families.
- Support consumer shut-off protections that protect vulnerable populations—the disabled, the elderly, the sick, and young children—from extreme weather conditions and high energy prices.
- Expand home weatherization programs for low-income families.
- Carefully consider impacts of legislation dealing with greenhouse gas emissions and global climate disruption to ensure energy price increases do not fall disproportionately on low-income families.
- Ensure that energy insecurity data is collected in the same uniform, annual manner currently used to track food insecurity to understand the magnitude of the problem at a national level.
Research by Children’s HealthWatch has shown that stable housing, in which families are not crowded or doubled up, supports healthy growth and development in young low-income children.
- Expand the stock and limit any reduction in the number of public and subsidized housing units.
- Reduce local barriers to the development of housing that is affordable to low-income families and accessible to transportation services and affordable, healthy food.
- Meet the nutritional needs of families on the waiting lists for subsidized housing by making sure they are enrolled in safety net programs, such as WIC and SNAP.
- Fund the National Housing Trust Fund in order to address the severe shortage of affordable rental homes for the lowest income families.
- Expand efforts to stabilize families in housing that they can afford and consequently prevent them from becoming homeless.
Housing Insecurity Measurement Improvement
- Monitor prevalence rates of housing insecurity at both the national and state level.
- Assess housing subsidy accessibility and enrollment rates, data which is not currently captured consistently.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Children’s HealthWatch endorsed the Massachusetts Principles For Healthy And Affordable Housing. Policy action from our elected and appointed leaders is crucial to meet this challenge. In particular, we believe that state action is urgently needed to advance these goals:
- Increase resources to produce and preserve more housing that is affordable to low and extremely low income families and individuals
- Improve the quality of housing to ensure all residents live in safe and healthy homes
- Ensure protections for tenants and low-income households facing eviction and displacement
- Expand rental supports for low-income households, and
- Increase low-barrier supportive housing with the services needed to help individuals and families with complex physical and behavioral health challenges.