Leaders testify before the Ways and Means subcommittee on child poverty
WASHINGTON ̶ In an informational meeting by the Ways and Means subcommittee on worker and family support, leaders in children’s health, family services and poverty studies testified on fighting child poverty in the United States, and asked Congress to expand programs like Medicaid, on March 11.
“The United States is the wealthiest nation on earth, yet more than ten million children live in poverty. Millions of more families live on the knife’s edge where one illness, one car repair, one lost job is all it would take to tip them into poverty,” Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), chairperson of the subcommittee, said.
Ron Haskins, senior fellow, and Cabot family chair in economic studies, at the Brookings Institution, a progressive think tank, said 13% of children in the United States, 9.6 million, live in families with incomes below the poverty line. Another 2.9%, 2.1 million, live in deep poverty, or half the poverty level. The poverty threshold, using the Supplemental Poverty Measure, was about $25,000 for a family of four, Haskins said.
Dr. Marsha Raulerson, a pediatrician in Brewton, Alabama, testified before the committee, saying, “We struggle with the effects of intergenerational poverty, and the lack of resources to tackle complex situations.”
In Alabama, 24% of children live in poverty; for children under the age of five, that number is 26%, Raulerson said. Poverty has devastating effects on infant mortality, immunization rates, nutrition, language and social development. Children are more likely to experience violence, and suffer from injury and chronic illness while living in poverty, Raulerson said.
Lack of transportation has contributed to the poor health and financial instability of the people in Raulerson’s city. A 12-year-old girl in Raulerson’s practice was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes last year. The only endocrinologist the family had access to was 52 miles away, Raulerson said.
The child’s mother works from 2-10 p.m. After school the child locks herself in the house and manages her diet and insulin alone. The grandmother, who works part-time, is the only one with a car between several families. “Her grandmother is responsible for getting two of her grown daughters to work, and home after work,” Raulerson said.
Because of the lack of public transportation in Brewton, a local hospital started a program called Wheels of Wellness. This service provides transportation for children and pregnant women to doctor’s appointments when they can’t secure a ride. However, this service books up quickly, and most patients can’t get in for last minute appointments, she said.
“Rural hospitals around the county are closing at an alarming rate. In my area, eight hospitals have closed in the last few years,” Raulerson said. Alabama’s decision not to expand Medicaid is the reason why, she said in her testimony.
Raulerson said the best way to lift families out of poverty would be to expand Medicaid. Alabama is one of 14 states that has not expanded Medicaid to non-pregnant adults. If a mother’s yearly earnings are 13% higher than the federal poverty level, and they aren’t pregnant, they don’t qualify for health care benefits, according to the state Medicaid eligibility standards.
Raulerson testified nearly 50% of children in Alabama, and almost all of the patients in her practice, are covered by Medicaid. This government service provides benefits that most private insurances don’t offer, like dental, vision, hearing screenings and developmental treatments.
In Raulerson’s statement before the committee, she said the largest group of people without insurance are women in their childbreading years, typically between the ages of 20-35. Alabama is also number one in cervical cancer deaths in the country because women can’t access treatment before they are pregnant, she said.
Another way Raulerson said child poverty rates could be lowered is by creating more access to early childhood education. Raulerson told the story about a 3-year-old patient on the autism spectrum who would benefit from therapy to help with communication and early learning. The child’s mother works two jobs with limited time off and can’t afford to travel to another county to receive services.
While Alabama is making progress in providing treatment services to those with autism, they are lacking those developments in rural communities. Out of the 353 poorest counties in the United States, 85% are rural, Raulerson said.
Currently, only 7% of eligible children are in Early Head Start. Raulerson said after seven years of work, 15 children in Brewton will be enrolled in Early Head Start. However, “my patient missed that opportunity. He’s four and he still doesn’t talk.”
Rep. Stephani Murphy (D-Fla.) said, “Having a government that takes care of the least among us, that fights so that every American family can meet their basic needs is not just the right to do, it’s also the smart and safe thing to do for society.”
Families who can’t afford health insurance or are struggling financially won’t be inclined to seek treatment at a hospital or see a doctor if they’re sick. Murphy said when we don’t provide for the people in this country, we endanger them, but we also endanger ourselves.
She said, “We are one community, linked to each other, dependent on one another. Our fates are intertwined, for better, or for worse.”