Helping Children Avoid Homelessness

November 25, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Many American children won’t have a safe, stable home this holiday season.   Homelessness among families with children isn’t an intractable problem; federal rental assistance — like the Housing Choice Voucher program — is an effective solution.  But funding is seriously inadequate and has faced significant cuts.

Here are the numbers.  More than 1.2 million children attending public schools lack a home of their own, according to local school districts’ latest reports to the Department of Education.  Most were “doubled-up”— that is, their families lived with relatives or friends — but nearly 1 in 5 were sleeping in homeless shelters or on the street (see graph).  When you include children not enrolled in school, the total approaches 2.5 million, the National Center on Family Homelessness estimates.

While the number of families living on the street or in shelters is largely stable, it has grown alarmingly in some areas, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) finds.  In Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., for example, the number of people in homeless families has more than doubled since 2007.

The stakes for these children are high.  Children who experience homelessness or frequent family moves are more likely to develop cognitive, behavioral, and mental health problems, as well as physical health problems such as asthma, and they’re less likely to do well in school.  Children in “doubled-up” families may lack appropriate space to do homework and experience higher stress that interferes with academic performance.  Studies have found that children in crowded housing score lower on reading tests and complete less schooling than their peers.

Federal rental assistance, like Housing Choice Vouchers, enables families to get stable housing.  In a rigorous experiment in which low-income families with children received vouchers, they reduced the share of families that lacked a home of their own by close to 80 percent.

Some communities have also made strides in identifying families at risk of becoming homeless and providing rental assistance or other help to prevent them from losing their homes in the first place.

Unfortunately, fewer than one in four families eligible for rental assistance receive it due to funding limitations.  We noted recently that when five local housing authorities gave people a chance to get on their voucher waiting list, tens of thousands of families responded at each.  In Charlotte, North Carolina, which awards roughly 400 vouchers a year, 32,000 families applied.

Last year’s sequestration cuts have made things worse by forcing housing agencies to help fewer families.  Some 100,000 fewer families were using vouchers in July than before sequestration.

Thanks to a small funding boost, housing agencies are restoring some vouchers in the final months of 2014.  Congress should support these efforts by funding vouchers at the levels proposed in the Senate’s 2015 HUD funding bill.  Congress should also consider targeting some vouchers on families who are homeless or at risk of homelessness to ensure that limited funds go to moving more families into safe, stable housing.

Food Assistance Needs Remain High

November 24, 2014 at 3:59 pm

As many Americans prepare to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner, millions in this country still have trouble affording enough to eat.  Moreover, poverty and food insecurity, or the share of households with difficulty affording adequate food, remain well above pre-recession levels (see graph) — signs of the critical importance of SNAP and other food assistance.

Food banks from Alaska to Massachusetts to Missouri to Virginia report high need in many communities, sometimes higher than in the recession.  Over half of food programs surveyed reported an increase in clients over the previous year, a recent Feeding America study found. … Read more

In Case You Missed It…

November 21, 2014 at 2:53 pm

This week on Off the Charts, we focused on the federal budget and taxes, the safety net, health care, and state budgets and taxes.

  • On the federal budget and taxes, Chuck Marr listed four reasons why the House approach to “tax extenders” is flawed. Paul Van de Water explained why policymakers shouldn’t adopt “dynamic scoring” for tax and spending legislation.  We rounded up several new pieces on congressional negotiations over funding levels for this fiscal year.   And Arloc Sherman warned of the impact if Congress shortchanges Census funding.
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Auto-Renewal Not the Best Option for Enrollees in Federal Insurance Marketplace

November 21, 2014 at 2:08 pm

People who bought private health insurance last year through the federally run marketplace could pay more than they should next year unless they return to the marketplace to renew coverage, our new paper explains.

That’s because they will be automatically re-enrolled in the same plan in 2015, with the same subsidies to help pay for coverage, unless they choose a plan through the marketplace during the open enrollment season, which began November 15.

The federal marketplace, which operates in the 34 states that don’t have a state-based marketplace (see map), provides auto-renewal as a backstop to ensure that people who don’t return to the marketplace don’t lose coverage. … Read more

More Bad News for Backers of Kansas Tax Cuts

November 21, 2014 at 10:42 am

The latest projections from Kansas’ nonpartisan Legislative Research Department bring more bad news for those who hoped Kansas’ massive tax cuts would generate an economic surge.

The department predicts that personal incomes will grow more slowly in Kansas than in the nation as a whole this year and will continue to lag behind the national rate in 2015, 2016, and 2017, by wide margins (see graph).

This isn’t what tax cut proponents predicted.  Governor Sam Brownback said they would be “a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.”  The Heritage Foundation’s Stephen Moore, who helped design them, said the economic benefits would be “near immediate and permanent.”

Faced with the state’s unimpressive economic performance since the tax cuts took effect, proponents now claim they just need a little more time to work. … Read more

4 Reasons Why the House Has the Wrong Approach to Tax Extenders

November 20, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Congress is expected during the lame-duck session to address “tax extenders,” a set of tax provisions (mostly for corporations) that policymakers routinely extend for a year or two at a time.  While the Senate has pursued temporary extensions, the House has taken a far different approach that’s flawed on both policy and priorities grounds, as our updated paper explains.

The House has: made a number of extenders permanent; permanently expanded one of the biggest extenders, the research and experimentation credit; and permanently extended some temporary tax breaks that aren’t extenders — such as “bonus depreciation,” which lets businesses take larger upfront tax deductions for purchases like machinery. … Read more

A State-by-State Look at TANF

November 19, 2014 at 4:23 pm

This interactive map provides a wealth of information on state Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs, which — as CBPP analyses have documented — have weakened significantly as a safety net since TANF’s creation in the 1996 welfare law.

Not only does TANF reach many fewer needy families than it used to, but TANF benefits have lost a fifth of their value since 1996 in most states and leave families far below the poverty line, making it extremely difficult for them to meet basic needs.… Read more

Will Congress Shortchange the Census?

November 18, 2014 at 3:06 pm

A key question as Congress finalizes funding for this fiscal year is whether it will give the Census Bureau what it needs to prepare for the next census in 2020.  A House-passed funding bill from June fell far short, as we explained then.  In its final spending measure, Congress should acknowledge that the Census Bureau — as it has in past decades — must prepare early to get the nation’s head-count right.

As seven former Census Bureau directors from both Democratic and Republican administrations recently wrote Congress:

While the 2020 Census might seem far off .

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Finalizing 2015 Funding

November 18, 2014 at 2:20 pm

We just issued several short pieces on congressional negotiations over funding levels for this fiscal year. They explain:

  • Why Congress shouldn’t pass another stopgap funding bill but instead agree on funding levels for the rest of the fiscal year.
  • Why 2015 will almost inevitably be another year of shrinking real (inflation-adjusted) resources for non-defense discretionary programs, which include everything from law enforcement and homeland security to veterans’ medical care, scientific and medical research, public health, education, and environmental protection.
  • Why the Senate approach to 2015 funding for non-defense discretionary programs better protects domestic priorities than the House approach.
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“Dynamic” Estimates Are Highly Uncertain, Subject to Manipulation

November 17, 2014 at 5:10 pm

An American Action Forum event today to promote “dynamic scoring” for tax and spending legislation unintentionally illustrates what Chye-Ching Huang and I explain in a newly updated paper:  estimates of the macroeconomic effects of policy changes — which is what dynamic scoring would include — are highly uncertain and subject to manipulation, so they shouldn’t be part of official cost estimates.

In reasonably balanced remarks, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said that “we should not expect dynamic scoring to produce outsized miracles from either the supply side or the demand side.”

But Tax Foundation President Scott Hodge, in giving his organization’s estimates of the effects of several tax proposals, promised just such miracles. … Read more

In Case You Missed It…

November 14, 2014 at 3:55 pm

This week on Off the Charts, we focused on health care, housing, the federal budget and taxes, and the safety net.

  • On health care, Edwin Park rebutted an attack on health reform’s “risk corridor” program. Matt Broaddus pointed to a new survey showing that low-income adults favor expanding Medicaid. Jesse Cross-Call described how states can help veterans by expanding Medicaid and explained that Congress can sustain gains in children’s health coverage by renewing the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
  • On housing, Will Fischer pointed out that rental assistance helps over 340,000 veterans afford housing and has contributed to recent progress in reducing homelessness among veterans.
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Renew CHIP — And Sustain Children’s Health Coverage Gains

November 14, 2014 at 3:11 pm

The share of children without health insurance remained at a historic low of 7.1 percent in 2013, Georgetown University Center for Children and Families’ annual report on children’s health coverage finds (see graph).   That’s down considerably from the 9.3-percent rate for 2008, the earliest year for which we have comparable data.  (The small change from 2012’s 7.2-percent rate wasn’t statistically significant.)

Along with Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) has been a major factor in reducing the ranks of uninsured children since its enactment in 1997. … Read more