Schools Can Do Even More to Shield Children From Hunger

September 8, 2014 at 12:33 pm

As students begin a new school year, U.S. Department of Agriculture data confirm that too many children — nearly 16 million — live in families that continue to struggle to afford adequate food, known as “food insecurity.”  While many parents in these households can shield their children from hardship, in more than half of them, children themselves were food insecure.  Poor diets and the stress of not knowing when their next meal will be take an enormous and lasting toll on children’s health, development, and readiness to learn.

That’s why the federal nutrition programs that serve children are so important.  Consider the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, well-established programs that have been feeding millions of children for decades, and that keep improving.  These programs reach a striking share of American children.  On a typical day during the past school year, more than 30 million — nearly three in five — students ate a school lunch.  Some 71 percent of those children — more than 21 million — received a free or reduced-price meal.  That means that more than two in five students benefited from free or reduced-price lunches on a typical day last year (see chart).

Despite this extraordinary reach, some children who could benefit from free school meals miss out because their school district doesn’t automatically enroll them as required.  But states and school districts can take steps to ensure that the most vulnerable children receive free meals.

For example, states can improve the processes for automatically enrolling children for free meals when their family receives Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamp) benefits.  School districts can make sure they are identifying children who are homeless or in foster care so that they begin receiving free meals immediately during a period of family turmoil.  And under a new policy that’s especially important at the start of the school year, schools can begin feeding low-income children as soon as they receive an application, even if they have a processing backlog.

This school year, high-poverty schools across the country also have a new opportunity, under the Community Eligibility Provision, to feed all students at no cost while simplifying their meal programs.  Thousands of schools have already implemented community eligibility and states may continue to accept applications from eligible districts to offer community eligibility for this school year.

For the millions of children in families that struggle to afford nutritious food, being able to count on receiving two healthy meals each school day is a critical support.

In Case You Missed It…

September 5, 2014 at 3:18 pm

This week on Off the Charts, we focused on food assistance, health care, the safety net, and jobs.

  • On food assistance, Dottie Rosenbaum highlighted a Wall Street Journal article that echoes that SNAP (formerly food stamps) caseloads and spending continue to fall, as we’ve explained.  Brynne Keith-Jennings pointed to new “food insecurity” data that show the economic recovery has yet to reach many low-income families.
  • On health care, January Angeles highlighted a new study showing that expanding Medicaid coverage to pregnant women and children has beneficial long-term health outcomes. Jesse Cross-Call pointed to a new report documenting how hospitals in states that have expanded Medicaid are experiencing a drop in uninsured patients and higher-than-expected revenues.
  • On the safety net, Erica Williams explained how states can build a broader recovery by strengthening their earned income tax credits (EITC) and minimum wages at the same time. Chye-Ching Huang pointed to a new article from the University of California’s Hilary Hoynes on the EITC’s far-reaching benefits.
  • On jobs, Chad Stone illustrated this month’s disappointing jobs report — a sober reminder of how devastating the Great Recession and subsequent prolonged jobs slump have been for American workers.

Chad Stone issued a statement on the August jobs report. We updated our reports on why states should strengthen their EITCs and minimum wages at the same time and best practices for more trusted and reliable state revenue forecasting.  We also updated our chart book on the legacy of the Great Recession.

CBPP’s Chart of the Week:

A variety of news outlets featured CBPP’s work and experts recently. Here are some highlights:

Food Stamp Error Rate Declined as Rolls Grew
Stateline
September 4, 2014

Food-Stamp Use Starting to Fall
Wall Street Journal
September 1, 2014

The Number Of Homeless Veterans Really Is Falling
FiveThirtyEight
August 27, 2014

Don’t miss any of our posts, papers, or charts — follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

Hospitals Benefiting From Medicaid Expansion, Report Finds

September 5, 2014 at 10:52 am

Hospitals in states that have expanded Medicaid as part of health reform are seeing a large drop in uninsured patients and higher-than-expected revenues, a new report from the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Health Research Institute finds.  It’s the latest evidence of the Medicaid expansion’s benefits for states, their businesses, and their residents.

Examining financial data for the first half of the year from the country’s three largest health care providers, PwC found a 47 percent drop in admissions of uninsured patients at affiliated hospitals in Medicaid expansion states.  This suggests a sizable drop in uncompensated care — consistent with a nationwide survey of hospitals by the Colorado Hospital Association after the first quarter of the year.  PwC also found that the rise in the share of patients with health coverage boosted providers’ revenues even more than they had anticipated.

Meanwhile, the Urban Institute projects that hospitals in the 23 states that have not yet expanded Medicaid (see map) will lose out on $157 billion in reimbursements between 2013 and 2022.

This PwC report is one of several indicators of the growing gap between states that have expanded Medicaid and those that haven’t.  The Medicaid expansion is driving large gains in health coverage, while states that haven’t expanded risk forgoing those gains as well as millions of dollars in savings.

Today’s Jobs Report in Pictures

September 5, 2014 at 9:39 am

Today’s disappointing jobs report, while perhaps only a temporary blip in an ongoing labor market recovery, is nevertheless a sober reminder of how devastating the Great Recession and subsequent prolonged jobs slump has been for American workers.  In particular, the share of the population with a job, which plunged to low levels not seen since the early 1980s, has since risen only modestly even though we now are more than five years into the recovery.  In addition, the share of the labor force that is working fewer hours than it would like remains elevated, and unusually high long-term unemployment persists.

Click here for my full statement with further analysis.

Share of population with a job remains near recession levels

Long-term unemployment

Monthly job growth

Job losses were particularly high

Unemployment rate

The EITC’s Far-Reaching Benefits

September 4, 2014 at 12:17 pm

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) “may ultimately be judged one of the most successful labor market innovations in U.S. history,” says the University of California’s Hilary Hoynes in a new article, explaining that the EITC not only encourages work and reduces poverty but produces gains that extend into the next generation:

The effects of EITC extend well beyond simple income support and poverty reduction.  By increasing the income of poor families, it generates additional spending and hence “downstream” economic effects.  It leads to various improvements in the mental and physical health of mothers.  It brings about a reduction in low birth weight among infants. And it improves the performance of children on cognitive tests.  This burgeoning body of work suggests, then, that income support programs have benefits that extend well beyond an increase in cash flow for families in poverty.

We’ve highlighted findings by Hoynes, a leading researcher, and others on the benefits of the EITC and related income support, including a study suggesting that more adequate income during early childhood can lead to greater work effort later in life (see chart).

Policymakers can build on this proven success by expanding the tiny EITC for childless workers, as both President Obama and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan favor, and by making permanent key EITC and Child Tax Credit improvements set to expire in 2018.