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Posts Tagged ‘Poverty’

This post was written by Paul Shinn, CAP’s Public Policy Analyst.

CAP Tulsa recently published the second issue in our Better Benefits for Oklahoma Families series, covering Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). TANF is the only program that provides cash assistance to very low-income families with children. Too many Oklahoma children go without this essential support and are thus at risk for child maltreatment, poor health, and not succeeding in school.

Since federal welfare reform in 1996, Oklahoma has dramatically reduced its help to these most needy of families and children, even though there has been no drop in child poverty. As the chart below shows, Oklahoma only provides TANF cash assistance to 4,100 poor families, down from more than 30,000 in 1996. While TANF participation has fallen across the nation, Oklahoma’s drop has been much more severe.

TANF families served

While the welfare reforms were designed to move families from welfare to self-sufficiency, that’s simply not possible the way Oklahoma operates TANF. Several factors play a role.

  • Income guidelines keep most families who need help from getting it.  The most a family of three can make and qualify for TANF in Oklahoma is $824 per month, only half the poverty level.
  • TANF benefits are too low to do anything but fight off an emergency. The most a family of three can receive is $292 a month, well below the national average of $429. Many families don’t even qualify for this maximum benefit, which is only equivalent to 20 percent of the poverty level. Since Oklahoma has not raised benefits, the current payment to families is 32 percent less than in 1996, adjusting for inflation.
  • Most families do not receive assistance long enough to support themselves. More than half of Oklahoma families get TANF help for less than a full year. One reason is Oklahoma’s strict sanctions policy that denies help to the whole family, even young children, for minor violations of program rules.

Oklahoma can continue its strict approach to TANF cash assistance, (more…)

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Georgetown’s Health Policy Institute has been busy analyzing health insurance trends across the country using data taken largely from the American Community Survey (ACS), a product of the U. S. Census Bureau discussed in a previous post. Their findings laud the drop in the number of uninsured children nationally, while pointing out the disparities among states, as thirty states failed to show any improvement in this area. By and large, it was the increase in the number of insured children in states like Texas, Florida and California that drove up the national average, not improvements across the entire country. Georgetown researchers attribute the large gains in those states to new policies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the fact there were so many uninsured children in those three states to begin with.

In 2011, the number of uninsured children fell to around 5.5 million, down from nearly 6.4 million in 2009. Since there has been no significant decrease in the number of children living in poverty, the drop shows how changes in policy and programs are making a positive impact. This report gives us a starting point to begin comparing successful practices and determine what changes still need to be made across the country. But in essence, to tackle this problem states need to increase access to existing programs and take the opportunity to expand coverage using funds from the upcoming Medicaid expansion. (more…)

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Conservatives are often big proponents of ending the “marriage penalty” on federal income taxes. Basically, the “penalty” refers to the higher tax rates that married couples face than if they have filed their taxes individually as “heads of household.”

Yesterday, the Innovation Lab team met with our free tax preparation team, who are planning their 2010 tax season. The program’s goal is to make sure every eligible family receives the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is the largest federal anti-poverty program in the U.S. and provides up to $5,600 to working families with children. We’re working together to find ways to reach more of our Head Start and other early childhood program families through the tax program and to make sure they receive the EITC.

In that meeting, I came to learn something I didn’t know. Families with a tax filer who has an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) are not eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit. ITIN’s are provided by the IRS to any tax-payer that does not have a social security number – mainly certain categories of immigrants (and not necessarily undocumented). These tax-paying workers are denied access to a critical family-supporting credit, even if the other parent does have a social security number. That leaves out a potentially huge swathe of working families from the government’s most important family-supporting, work-promoting, anti-poverty program. And it penalizes the children of married parents, and marriage itself, when one parent has an ITIN.

I’d like to see someone get behind ending this marriage penalty.

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Into and Out of Poverty

I posted yesterday about the links between single parenthood and poverty and referred at the end to the relatively small portion of people that fall into poverty by becoming single parents. Well the Urban Institute just dropped a great research brief into my inbox summarizing the research on poverty “spells.” Just in the interest of being straight with my readers, I should point this nugget out: “Single-mother households become poor at a rate of 15.7 percent a year, compared with just 2.8 percent for married-parent households (Ribar and Hamrick 2003).”

So, yes, households headed by a single mother are more at risk for poverty. But even so, the overwhelming majority of these households are not in poverty. Poverty and single parenthood should not be conflated.  And, to again reinforce, a solid plurality of poverty spells are caused by job loss not by parenting status: “between 40 and 50 percent of those who become poor live in a household where the head of the household, spouse, or other family member lost his or her job.” The majority of people (the brief says between 50 and 70 percent) who leave poverty do so because they or a household member got a job, not because a single parent found a spouse.

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Yesterday the Tulsa World, our local paper, published a front-page story describing the huge increase in the amount of food the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma distributed to local food pantries in recent months.  Food pantries are the entities that get the food into the hands of people – so the article included a more in-depth look at one pantry, called Iron Gate.  Iron Gate is actually both a soup kitchen and food pantry; its staff and volunteers serve hot meals every day of the week and distribute bags of groceries every Friday.  It operates out of Trinity Episcopal Church, whose parishoners are actively involved, in downtown Tulsa.  (Full disclosure: I am Chair of the Board of Directors for Iron Gate.)

The thing is, the paper included a photo of guests receiving grocery bags, and to many Tulsans these folks did not look like hungry people should apparently look .  The paper’s website received so many hostile email comments in response to the article that the paper had to shut the comment section down.

What the commentators failed to consider – and indeed, what most people who don’t experience hunger themselves fail to realize – is that just as hunger is a result of being poor, so, too, can obestiy be a result of being poor.  How?  Consider the cost of a value meal at any fast food restaurant; or think of the restaurants that offer items for $1.  Now think of the cost of a salad or sandwich on whole wheat bread with something other than bologna.  Then maybe take a drive through a low-income neighborhood.  How many grocery stores are there compared to convenience stores?  How many restaurants are there with healthy options? 

The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) put together a fact sheet outlining some of the reasons why low-income families – the kinds of families Iron Gate serves every day – might be at greater risk for obesity.  A fact sheet alone isn’t going to change everyones’ perceptions.  But perhaps if just some people can be persuaded to consider that not everyone lives the same kind of life they do, there will be less hostility out there.

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Via Matt Yglesias, the Economic Policy Institute warns that the U.S. child poverty rate is likely to increase more than 50% as a result of rising unemployment (and underemployment). The rate, at 18.0% in 2007, is likely to grow to 27.3% among all children and an astonishing 52.3% for black children.

Tulsa’s 2007 child poverty rate was already 33.0%. If the city sees an increase similar to the rest of the country (though we shouldn’t, as the economic downturn is less pronounced here), a full 50.04% of children in Tulsa will find themselves in poverty as a result of the recession.

Some may dismiss these shifts as likely to be short-lived and return to normal once economic recovery sets in. They need to consider the immediate (pdf) and long-term consequences of child poverty. Although many poverty “spells” are of a short or intermittent duration, the consequences of recession-caused childhood poverty will follow children throughout their lifetimes. First Focus reports that children who fell into poverty during a prior recession grew up to earn 30% less income than those who did not, were three times more likely to be in poverty as an adult, and are about 10 percentage points less likely to be in good health.

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The article Micah mentioned in the Jan. 5 poverty fact (that only 7% of all families living in poverty receive all 4 of the major public supports) is actually quite a good primer on the various assistance programs available.  For me, the takeaway was how unbelievably complicated it is for families to weave together the strands of the safety net.  The bureaucracy, the rules, the documentation requirements – we don’t really have a “net”; we have a collection of threads.

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