Monday, August 26, 2013

The Impact of the Sequester on Head Start

The on-going effects of the federal sequester are continuing to hit low-income children and families the hardest. As a result of the mandatory $400 million cut, Head Start programs this school year will eliminate services for 57,000 children, 1.3 million days from Head Start Center calendars will be cut, and 18,000 employees will have to undergo layoffs and reduced pays. These changes will affect tens of thousands of poor families across the country who rely on Head Start for early learning programs, day care, and a network of social services and medical care.

Some Head Start centers are trying to minimize the impact as much as possible by cutting administrative costs and support services, but the effects are still unfavorable. For example, Head Start in Arlington County, Virginia is reducing their bus services this year, which means that many children will no longer have a reliable form of transportation to make it to class. Other Head Start programs are shortening their school year or the school day. The latest figures show that 18,000 program hours will be cut next year by centers that will start later in the day or end earlier. The cuts also force Head Start programs to lay off staff, reduce hours, and reduce benefits.

While some places are reducing services and staff, most programs have had to completely cut their services to children. In California and Texas, services were cut to 10,000 children combined. Virginia has trimmed nearly 1,200 spots, Maryland cut 460, and D.C. is reducing participants by 100. Nationwide, these cuts compromise 6,000 children in Early Head Start, which is designated for infants and toddlers up to age 3, and another 51,000 in Head Start programs. 

Some locations have been able to use local funds to compensate the drop in federal funding to maintain the level of service, and more affluent communities or outside organizations were able to fill-in for the loss, which is the primary reason why the budget cuts were not as dramatic as the initial projections; however, these solutions are not sustainable.

In addition to the important educational benefits for children in Head Start, the program also allows low-income families a form of quality daycare that they otherwise would not be able to access or afford. The exorbitant costs of daycare force many parents, and mothers in particular, to decide whether or not working is even affordable. Many women cannot be assured of both working and making a decent income after taxes and child care costs. For instance, daycare can cost up to 30% of one income in a two-salary couple and is the greatest expense for low-income households surpassing both food and housing. In New York, costs of daycare can average $25,000-$30,000 per child—higher than the cost of a year of public college.

The effects of sequestration on Head Start programs are devastating for low-income children and families nationwide.  It is essential to keep in mind that public investments in the health, welfare, and education of young children and their families have significant positive returns on investment, but the sequester is clearly eliminating lifelines.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Paid Family Leave: Promoting Economic Stability for Children and Families

The opportunity to take leave from work when needed is of crucial importance to working families. Most people, regardless of gender or whether they have children, need to take time off from work for medical, family or other personal reasons at some point during their careers. Any family could face a serious injury or illness and need time off to focus on medical needs – and should be able to do so without fear of losing their jobs. Women who give birth require time off from work for both the birth and recovery – and regardless of whether they have given birth, parents also naturally wish to take time to bond with a new child. According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, bonding with caregivers is crucial for children’s health and well-being and has lifelong effects on their physical and mental health.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) enables workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for serious illness, a sick family member, or to bond with a new child. However, according to the Center for Law and Social Policy, about 40% of workers are not eligible for leave under FMLA. Such workers are at risk of losing their jobs when they need to take time off for medical or family reasons. Even when workers are eligible, the law is often underutilized because many workers can’t afford to take time off without pay.

Many low-income workers have two or more part-time jobs to make ends meet. However, part-time employees generally do not receive benefits such as health insurance or paid leave, so the workers who can least afford a loss of income are the least likely to have paid family leave or even paid sick days. Many low-income workers lose all income while on leave. Millions of workers who need leave for medical or family reasons either struggle to make ends meet while on leave or are unable to take leave at all because they can’t afford the loss of income.

Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately affected by lack of access to paid sick days or family leave. According to a report by the Center for American Progress, Black and Latino workers are significantly less likely than white or Asian workers to get paid sick days or paid family leave. A Latino worker is almost half as likely as a white worker to receive paid family leave.  Latino workers are also less likely to receive paid vacation days, a benefit provided to over 60% of Asian, Black and white workers.

This summer, Rhode Island became the fourth state to pass a paid family leave law. The Temporary Caregiver Insurance Bill (H.B. 5889, S.B. 231) expands the state’s Temporary Disability Insurance benefits to workers who need to take time out of work to care for a family member or bond with a newborn or newly-adopted child. The expanded benefits will be funded through additional employee contributions of approximately 0.075% of their income to TDI. For a worker earning about $40,000 a year, this would mean he or she would pay 64 cents a week to participate in the expanded benefit. 

California was the first state to pass a paid family leave policy. An evaluation found that most employers report that paid family leave had either a “positive effect” or “no noticeable effect” on productivity (89 percent), profitability/performance (91 percent), turnover (96 percent), and employee morale (99 percent).  The evaluation also found that abuse of the policy by employees was rare. Low-income workers who utilized the paid family leave policy had much higher levels of wage replacement during their leaves and were more satisfied with the length of their leaves than low-income workers who did not use the benefit. In addition, female workers who were breastfeeding that used paid family leave also breastfed their babies for twice as many weeks on average as those who did not use paid family leave. According to the Center for Law and Social Policy, paid family leave is a crucial support for breastfeeding mothers. The United States’ Surgeon General has stated that “[o]ne of the most highly effective preventive measures a mother can take to protect the health of her infant and herself is to breastfeed”.

New Jersey has enacted a similar policy, which has allowed over 80,000 workers to take family leaves averaging 5. 2 weeks with partial wage replacement. As in Rhode Island, paid family leave insurance policies are funded by worker contributions—much like unemployment insurance—amounting to less than one-half of one percent of wages. The Washington State legislature passed a paid family leave law in 2007, but the benefits have not gone into effect yet; a bill signed into law in July 2013 will further delay the implementation of the law until the legislature appropriates specific funding and sets a new implementation date.

State policymakers can consider the supports currently available to workers in their state who need to take time off from work for family or medical reasons. They can also strengthen other key supports for working families such as child care assistance and paid sick leave policies.

Please visit for more information about how policymakers can ensure that children grow up in safe, supportive and economically successful families. To learn more about policies that support children’s healthy development through providing support to their families sign-up for Policy for Results updates and look for our new report – Supporting Early Healthy Development- Coming Soon!


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Pathways to Opportunities for Ex-Offenders

When formerly incarcerated individuals reintegrate into the community, they face a number of barriers to employment, education, and access to services. If current trends continue, over half of released inmates are bound to return to prison within three years. To combat this issue, it is essential to reduce and avoid the possibility of recidivism.  One important way to do that is through workforce development and education programs for inmates while in prison.
Research has shown that higher education is directly linked to reducing recidivism rates; however, inmates have extremely limited access to programs that provide education and training. Education increases human capital and improves general cognitive functioning while providing specific skills, and for inmates, it can help to obtain and maintain employment while also deterring criminal activity. Education and training provides ex-offenders with marketable skills essential for employment and dramatically improves their outcomes, so making quality education programs accessible to inmates can minimize the obstacles for ex-offenders during their reintegration – which ultimately leads to safer communities for all of us.
This commentary from Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity highlights the drastic limitations of incarcerated students, especially after their Pell Grant eligibility was removed in 1994—since then, higher education programs dropped from 350 to 8 for inmates nationwide. Up to that point, Pell Grants had been the primary source of funding for higher education programs in correctional facilities. Though some states have been able to provide funding streams to fill the gap, many of the effects are still present and impacting thousands of people who will return to the community.
The removal of Pell Grant eligibility and the deep cuts in education programs increased the already disparate outcome of educational attainment among the incarcerated population. The number of incarcerated individuals receiving postsecondary education in prison dropped by 44%. Only 17% of state and federal prisoners had some level of postsecondary education compared to 51% of the population outside of prison, and only 65% of state and federal prisoners had diplomas or GEDs, compared to 82% of the population. Additionally, 7 out of 10 prisoners who had a GED reported obtaining it while in prison, which demonstrates just how important these programs can be in helping inmates obtain their education.
Another important consideration is that inmates are not the only ones that are affected—the multiple barriers ex-offenders face affect their innocent children and entire families. An important statistic to keep in mind is that 1 in every 28 children in the United States has a parent behind bars, and failed reintegration harm both ex-offenders and their children. Policies to support employment for reintegrating ex-offenders support the well-being and economic success of both generations, as well as do much more to ensure community-wide safety and economic growth.
To read the commentary on Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, click here.
For more information on Promoting Workforce Strategies for Reintegrating Ex-Offenders – including providing the needed supports and services that help their families thrive - click here and here.

Friday, August 9, 2013

SNAP and the Minimum Wage

Last week the House Budget Committee held a hearing marking the War on Poverty’s 50th anniversary. The testimony provided, and the following discussions, included a wide variety of opinions regarding the effectiveness of safety net programs. Of the heavily debated, SNAP drew a significant amount of attention. Policy for Results has previously posted on the significance of SNAP, but in light of the hearing, here are a few important facts to keep in mind:
  • Snap is targeted at the most vulnerable families
  • 76% of SNAP households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person
  • The majority of households have income well below the maximum allowed for eligibility
  • SNAP benefits do not last most participants the whole month
  • 90% of SNAP benefits are redeemed by the third week of the month
  • 58% of recipients currently receiving SNAP benefits turn to food banks for assistance at least 6 months of the year 
Despite the support that SNAP provides to working families, in November, SNAP benefits will be cut for all participants. For families of three, the cut will be $25 to $30 a month—a total of $300 to $360 a year. Nationally, the total cut is estimated to be $5 billion in fiscal year 2014.

The SNAP program is intended to provide supplemental support to families and research shows that it does. However, the statistics also highlight another important factor addressed at last week’s hearing. A majority, 60%, of households receiving SNAP have someone who is employed, and 90% of households receiving SNAP have a family member who finds work within a year. While this demonstrates the importance of what a crucial support the program provides to working families, this also shows the inefficiency of the current minimum wage to provide families with the opportunity to meet their basic needs.

In the past, the federal minimum wage would increase slightly with inflation, helping to keep millions of Americans out of poverty—minimum wage workers who worked full-time and year round earned nearly enough to keep a family of three above the official poverty level. However, since the early 1970s, the minimum wage has fallen significantly – by over 25%. The current minimum wage is $7.25, but the minimum wage in 1968 would have been equivalent to $10 an hour. Even after the 2007-2009 federal increases, the minimum wage remains far too low to sustain working families.

If the minimum wage were to increase to $10.10, a worker currently making $15,000 would earn $20,000 a year—a significant difference for families living in poverty.

Increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 by July 1, 2015, would raise wages for about 30 million workers, who would receive over $51 billion in additional wages over the phase-in period. Women would be disproportionately affected, comprising 56% of those who would benefit from the increase. Around 55% of affected workers currently work full time, more than a quarter are parents, and over a third are married. This would not only dramatically impact these families but would also positively impact the economy - GDP would increase by roughly $32.6 billion, resulting in the creation of approximately 140,000 net new jobs over the phase-in period.

Looking for meaningful solutions for the future, it is essential to maintain safety net programs that can assist the most vulnerable. However, long term solutions have to address the minimum wage. Families working full time should be able to provide their families with their basic needs – and right now they can’t. The research shows that many of the beneficiaries of SNAP are working and are still unable to afford food. To seriously address poverty requires ensuring working families are adequately paid and that when needed, there is a safety net in place to ensure that children and their families can continue to meet their needs.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Helping Homeless Youth Come In From the Cold

Each year, an estimated 380,000 youth under 18 experience homelessness. Some homeless youth have been thrown out of their homes by a parent or caregiver. Many have run away from their homes or foster care situations because of factors such as abuse, neglect and domestic violence. Older youth often find themselves on the streets after aging out of the foster care system at 18. Once out on the streets, youth are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Homeless youth are much more likely to become victims of crime, especially violent crimes. A study of homeless youth found that 76% had been victims of a crime in the previous 12 months, and that most homeless youth surveyed had been victims of violent crime-- far higher rates of crime victimization than those found among youth with housing. The study found that homeless youth of color and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth are victimized at even higher rates than other homeless youth. 

The Importance of Data.
Serving the needs of homeless youth is made more challenging by the difficulty in getting an accurate count of how many young people don’t have a safe place to live. Reliable information about how many homeless youth there are and what they need is essential for effective service provision; however, it is very difficult for researchers to find homeless youth willing to talk to them, much less get a clear picture of their needs.  This month the Urban Institute released a new report on the Youth Count! Initiative, highlighting promising practices in getting an accurate count of the homeless youth population. 

According to the report, surveys that ask youth about their housing situation rather than just asking if they are homeless yield better data since homeless youth often rely on a range of strategies to find shelter, including ‘couch surfing’ with friends or relatives, staying in shelters, sleeping in abandoned buildings, cars or other places. Broader survey questions about housing stability also allow researchers to identify the related needs of homeless youth—not only their need for stable housing, but also other needs that cause or result in youth homelessness.

Understanding the needs of homeless youth requires engaging with organizations that provide services to this population since youth may be more willing to connect with trusted service providers. Methods such as hosting magnet events and utilizing social media were found to be effective in finding homeless youth to participate in surveys. Engagement with organizations that serve LGBTQ youth was found to be particularly important, as LGBTQ youth may be reluctant to share personal information about their housing situation, gender identity and sexual orientation. 

Research conducted by the Williams Institute suggests that about 40% of homeless youth receiving services identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. The leading cause of homelessness cited by LGBTQ youth is family rejection of their sexual orientation or gender identity resulting in youth running away or being forced to leave home by family members. Since research suggests that LGBTQ youth are both disproportionately likely to become homeless and more likely to be victimized while homeless, effective methods for assessing and serving the needs of LGBTQ youth is a key aspect of ending youth homelessness.

Trying to Survive is Not a Crime.

It is important to have an accurate count and assessment of the needs of youth with unstable housing; however, policies that encourage youth to reach out when they need help rather than further marginalizing them are also critical. Youth may resort to theft or other petty crimes to survive, and many trade ‘survival sex’ to meet basic needs such as food and shelter.  Homeless youth are often targeted by adults who offer them food and a place to stay and then coerce them into prostitution or other forms of exploitation. Homeless youth are frequently arrested for such survival crimes, including survivors of human trafficking. 

In many areas, even ‘acts of living’ such as sleeping, eating, sitting or panhandling in public places have been made illegal in an effort to drive homeless people from high-visibility public spaces.  Attempts to access or improvise clean drinking water or restroom facilities can lead to arrest. A report by a United Nations investigator found that homeless populations in the United States are often denied access to water and sanitation facilities in violation of international standards. Criminalizing such survival tactics makes it harder for youth to stay safe and meet their basic needs when they find themselves on the streets, and the fear of being arrested can discourage youth from seeking help.  A 2012 report from the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness found that criminalizing acts of living through ‘zero tolerance’ approaches to homelessness are not effective and that “[c]ommunity residents, government agencies, businesses, and men and women who are experiencing homelessness are better served by solutions that do not marginalize people experiencing homelessness, but rather strike at the core factors contributing to homelessness.”

Strengthening Families and Supports for Youth.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH), the key to addressing the core factors of homelessness is employing prevention and early intervention services for at-risk youth as early as possible. The NAEH highlights the importance of measures that strengthen families through counseling and resources so that youth have the support they need. Without such resources, factors such as family conflict, poverty, lack of affordable housing, inaccessible health care and systemic racism may result in youth being displaced from their families.

Ensuring that every child has a safe, permanent home is crucial, not just for reducing homelessness, but for ensuring their well-being. For young people aging-out of foster care, an effective support system is needed so that youth can access safe housing, health care, education opportunities and other supports.  A number of states including California, Illinois and the District of Columbia have extended foster care eligibility to age 21 in an attempt to ease this transition. Funded in part by the federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008, extended support is a positive step toward preventing youth from becoming homeless after aging out. A study found that Illinois foster youth were twice as likely to have attended college - and more than twice as likely to have completed at least one year of college by age 21- compared with former foster youth from neighboring states where eligibility ends at 18. Extended eligibility was also associated with delayed pregnancy, higher earnings, and a greater likelihood of receiving independent living services.

There are a number of interrelated factors that impact a child becoming homeless Addressing those factors in a comprehensive way through public policy is a critical part of addressing youth homelessness.  State policymakers can implement child welfare, health care, education and social safety net policies in their state that are more effective in preserving and strengthening families to ensure that children and youth have what they need to thrive. They can also strengthen laws and policies to prevent the criminalization and victimization of homeless young people and assist them in accessing the resources they need to survive homelessness and move forward as successful adults.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A New Brief! Promise Zones and Policy Implications

The Center for the Study of Social Policy is excited to release a new policy brief on the Obama Administration’s plans to launch “Promise Zones.”  Promise Zones, the latest addition to a continuum of place-based strategies, will foster partnerships between the federal government and communities, leverage local investments, and increase access to tools and resources to help in community revitalization efforts.

Over the next four years, the administration will designate 20 communities as Promise Zones, including up to five in 2013. The communities will be designated in urban, rural, and tribal communities with poverty rates over 20 percent. This place-based program will target local needs by helping communities focus on job creation, increasing economic activity, improving educational opportunities, reducing violent crime, and leveraging private investment.

Although Promise Zones will not receive direct funding, selected communities will have access to several resources, including tax incentives. If enacted by Congress, private businesses will receive tax incentives for hiring and investing in Promise Zones. The tax incentives are intended to spark job creation and attract private investment in high poverty neighborhoods, and because these tax incentives are targeted to the communities in greatest need, they have the potential to both create jobs and reduce poverty.
Similar tax incentives have been utilized previously through Empowerment Zones and the Renewable Communities Program as designated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Agriculture. Under the Empowerment Zones and Renewable Communities programs, qualifying businesses are eligible for billions of dollars in tax incentives through employment credits, low-cost loans, increased tax deductions, partial-exclusion of tax on capital gains upon the sale of certain assets, as well as other incentives.

However, there can be unintended consequences for tax incentive programs if not implemented as intended. Tax incentives for Empowerment Zones have previously received criticism for not specifically targeting distressed areas enough to attract investments, and many states have loosened their zone criteria to encompass any area within the state to qualify—therefore no longer serving their original anti-poverty intent. Moving forward, it is essential to maintain the anti-poverty goal of the tax incentives included in the Promise Zones proposal—that is the surest way to benefit communities with the highest need and to transform our nation’s highest-poverty areas.

To read CSSP’s policy brief on Promise Zones, click here.

To access CSSP’s Investing in Community Change blog, click here.