Child poverty could be reduced by as much as 60 percent by improving just nine existing federal programs, according to a new Children’s Defense Fund study.
Children’s Defense Fund, a non-profit child advocacy group, suggested policy changes that focused on two goals: increasing employment and the value of work and meeting children’s basic needs “when families fall on hard times.” The study analyzed the impact of these policy changes had they occurred in 2010.
As of 2013, nearly 15 million children lived in poverty, with more than 40 percent of those children in extreme poverty, according to the report. For a family of four, they would be considered in extreme poverty if they had cash income less than $11,917.
At the same time, the U.S. has the world’s largest economy but the second highest rate of child poverty among 35 industrialized nations, including the U.K., whose gross domestic product per person falls between that of Alabama and Mississippi but whose child poverty rate is less than half that of the U.S.
The report identified two significant barriers preventing children from escaping poverty: limited eligibility and benefits, and limited funding.
To lift these barriers, Children’s Defense Fund proposed nine policy changes, including an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit for the lowest-income families with children, raising the minimum wage to $10.10, increasing food stamp benefits and expanding subsidies and other tax credits that would benefit families with children.
The final policy change would involve child support. Today, the state keeps child support for families who benefit from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), a child welfare program, to reimburse the TANF benefits. The report recommended passing all child support to TANF families and disregarding child support when determining TANF eligibility.
According to a 2014 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Illinois does not consider child support in determining TANF eligibility, passes through $50 in child support to families receiving TANF benefits and disregards that $50 in determining benefits.
Had these policy changes been implemented in 2010, 97 percent of poor children would have benefited and 6.6 million children would have been lifted out of poverty, according to the report.
However, because many of these programs offer assistance to families and children who do not live in poverty, expanding them would actually benefit 43.3 million children overall.
In total, these policy changes would have cost $77.2 billion in 2010, which would account for two percent of federal spending that same year
To pay for these changes, the report proposed closing certain tax loopholes, cutting military spending or eliminating tax breaks for the wealthy. Only one of these measures would be necessary.
According to the report, by “scrapping the F-35 fighter jet program, already several years behind schedule and 68 percent over budget and still not producing fully functioning planes…the nation could reduce child poverty by 60 percent for 19 years.”
Getting kids out of poverty has long-term benefits as well, reducing child poverty in future generations and creating a more robust workforce. Plus, as the rate of child poverty shrinks, so would the amount of money spent fighting it.
However, in an article for Illinois Policy Institute, an independent think tank, Naomi Lopez Bauman wrote that the state’s welfare system can ensnare people in need rather than helping them.
“In Illinois, there is no shortage of political will to combat [poverty],” wrote Bauman, director of health policy for IPI. “Unfortunately, the state’s complex and duplicative social-welfare system is punishing many of those who seek to move up the ladder of economic opportunity rather than rewarding them.”
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner must make these programs a priority, Bauman wrote, by giving people greater incentive to work and coordinating anti-poverty programs.