WV coalition to end child poverty presents legislative platform - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

WV coalition to end child poverty presents legislative platform

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Health care, family violence prevention and healthy foods in schools are just a few of the things the Our Children, Our Future campaign says could improve the lives of children and families across the state.

Dozens of groups representing the business and law, child and family, faith, labor, philanthropy, policy and advocacy and sports sectors, as well as lawmakers and statewide supporters, make up the Our Children, Our Future campaign.

The group met Feb. 26 at the State Capitol to present its platform. According to an executive summary, poverty is the root of most of West Virginia's problems, including a high teen birth rate, the number of children being raised by a grandparent and high rates of divorce, incarceration and addiction. Hundreds of children wearing bright blue T-shirts chanted, played games and interacted with lawmakers as part of the day's events.

"Each generation is supposed to have it better than the one that came before," Stephen Smith, executive director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, wrote in the executive summary. "That's not true for my 1-year-old son's generation. His generation faces historically high rates of divorce, addiction and incarceration among its parents."

West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families commissioned a report looking into the problems created by high poverty. The executive summary listed six key findings:

 

  • Living at or near poverty is the norm for kids in West Virginia. According to the report, one-in-four kids live below the poverty line and 52 percent live below the self-sufficiency standard—the income level where a family has enough to get by without relying on assistance.
  • Poverty is crueler than it used to be. Child poverty rates are the highest in two generations, and the experience of poverty is tougher because families also are contending with high rates of addiction, incarceration, divorce, children being raised by an adult who is not his or her parent and historically low rates of social capital—church, union and social club participation.
  • Poverty is not inevitable. West Virginia slashed its population of poor seniors from 39 percent to 10 percent in the last 20 years.
  • An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Every dollar spent on quality childhood education and care sees a $7 return on investment and savings from future crime, unemployment and poor health.
  • The solutions are simple, but hard. According to the report, there are only three ways to fix child poverty. One is to increase the income and benefits that go to working families. Secondly, reduce the basic costs of life, such as food, clothing, rent and health care. Third, invest in human development.

 

"The challenge we have is to generate the political and social will to do those things," according to the executive summary. "Just as seniors organized locally and nationally, so must we all organize to make our most valuable kids a priority in our communities, in our private sector and in our government. It will not happen overnight."

 

  • Parents are part of the solution, not the problem. West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families recently completed a campaign of community meetings about child poverty with business leaders, faith leaders, social workers, kids, prison administrators and others and discovered parents now live with lower wages, higher costs – especially as they relate to child care and health care – fewer adults in the home, more unstable jobs and fewer supporting institutions than they did 40 years ago. But, the summary notes, parents are the most resourceful.

 

"No one matched their creativity or their commitment to their kids," the summary notes. "History teaches us the same thing—the times when child poverty has been the lowest were the times when poor and working parents were the most organized and engaged."

A community-based campaign to engage kids, parents, business and labor leaders, ministers, social workers and educators is what is needed to help solve this crisis, according to Smith. So far, the campaign has hosted nearly 50 community meetings and more than 200 stakeholder meetings to identify some of the issues.

Those issues are included in the Our Children, Our Future platform:

 

  • Health care for 120,000-plus working families. This includes Medicaid expansion up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line for all West Virginians. Medicaid expansion would provide benefits to more than 100,000 working poor parents who make roughly between $6,000 and $26,000 annually. West Virginians would only pay 10 percent of the program and will more than save on emergency room costs.
  • Protect family violence prevention. The campaign wants to protect and increase funding for efforts to prevent family violence in West Virginia, including the Children's Trust Fund, child advocacy centers and domestic violence programs. Experts have established a link between poverty and an increase in domestic violence and child maltreatment. Children in poverty have an increased level of vulnerability when it comes to community protective factors that can either prevent abuse or help children begin to heal when abuse has occurred.
  • Stop child care cuts. Our Children, Our Future will support Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's plan to find long-term solutions to protect child care benefits for working families earning up to 185 percent of the federal poverty line. Child care cuts hurt employment and put children at a greater risk, perpetuating the cycle of generational poverty.
  • Healthy foods in your school. The group's goal is to promote a healthy foods agenda that includes expanding healthy food programs to at least five new schools or school districts, including school gardens, farm-to-school programs, summer school, after school meals, student advisory councils and soft drink policies. Such policies would cut down obesity and poor health that prevent children from being productive in school.
  • Bipartisan prison reform to cut waste. It costs about $27,000 a year to incarcerate an adult, about five times the cost of providing quality child care for a child in poverty. Our Children, Our Future has developed a bipartisan commission to reduce incarceration by implementing tested, cost-saving policies to reduce recidivism and increase public safety. Money saved from the prison system would be spent on prevention.
  • Expanding truancy programs that work.
  • Parent leadership and mutual support. Our Children, Our Future plans to collaborate with local partners on at least five ongoing parent-lead parent education and support programs. Many groups in the state currently are experimenting with similar programs.
  • Teen mothers. Our Children, Our Future hopes to secure funding for community health centers to provide hours more convenient for student and require PEIA and Medicaid to provide oral and basic health benefits for pregnant women.
  • Expand health services statewide. The organization would increase community-based health, dental and mental health services to every county in the state through the use of evidence-based models such as expanded school mental health and school-based health centers.
  • Stop doctors from over-prescribing. Our Children, Our Future hopes to raise awareness and pass state-level legislation to give law enforcement more power to investigate and press charges against doctors who over-prescribe pain medication.

 

Our Children, Our Future is still looking for cosponsors. For information, contact Stephen Smith at ssmith@wvhealthykids.org or call 304-610-6512.