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This Week in Poverty: Congress Turns Its Back on Rural America | The Nation

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Greg Kaufmann

Poverty in America: people, politics and policy.

This Week in Poverty: Congress Turns Its Back on Rural America


Four-year-old Nathan Hobbs, who lives in a homeless shelter with his mother. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Cross-posted from my weekly column on the impact of sequestration at BillMoyers.com.

For fifteen years in Neodesha, Kansas (population 2,486) there were only two options for early childhood education services in town: a program for at-risk 4-year-olds operated by the school district, and a Head Start Center for children ages 0 through 5 run by the Southeast Kansas Community Action Program (SEK-CAP).

SEK-CAP offers a range of services to twelve counties, responding to the housing, utilities, transportation, employment, medical care, child care, education and nutrition needs of low-income people in Southeast Kansas. The counties have a combined population of approximately 192,000 people and the child poverty rate is nearly 26 percent—an increase of more than 13 percent in the past year. The past three years have also seen a rise in unemployment, food and housing insecurity, as well as agricultural and natural disasters.

Due to sequester cuts, SEK-CAP decided in May that it could no longer afford to operate the Head Start Center in Neodesha (pronounced “Nee-OH-duh-shay”), which served seventeen children and their families, and employed five staff members. The rental and maintenance costs of the building made this closure the obvious choice for the agency to find the savings forced upon it by Congress.

Becky Gray, director of research and planning for SEK-CAP, said the affect of the cuts is far more significant than “it might appear on paper.”

“When you’re talking about people’s lives, and their ability to maintain gainful employment, or ensure that their children are receiving age-appropriate care and intellectual stimulation, then the cuts become incredibly deep and incredibly apparent,” said Gray.

In addition to instruction at the center, teachers made monthly home visits to work on family and education goals. Every child had an individualized education plan based on an assessment of his or her needs.

“My oldest son struggled with gross-motor skills for a while, so we focused on that and got him where he needs to be,” said Amanda Tompkins, chair of the SEK-CAP Policy Council and a Head Start parent who sent three children through the program. “My daughter was advanced in her speaking ability, so the teacher gave me tools so that I could [help] her grow that skill. The program has taught me how to be a mom and a teacher for my children.”

Linda Broyles, director of early childhood services for SEK-CAP, said that Tompkins’s experience is typical for a Head Start family.

“It’s more than just a preparation for the educational system, [it’s] comprehensive family services,” said Broyles. “That means working with the whole family to set and attain goals, increase positive behaviors, establish preventative health care and create a lifelong love of learning and education.”

“There are no other means of comprehensive family-centered services in the town,” said Kristie Groff, a teacher at the center for twelve years.

The sequestration cuts in Southeastern Kansas have had somewhat of a domino effect. SEK-CAP also offered home-based services to ten children and their families in the town of Parsons (pop. 10,454) in neighboring Labette County, where the child poverty rate for children under age 5 is over 31 percent. These home-based slots are now going to be moved to Neodesha—to partly compensate for the loss of the Head Start Center—because there are other early childhood education alternatives in Parsons.

“Some of those alternatives might be cost prohibitive for some families, but the fact is Neodesha needs the [home-based program] more now. It was just our best possible fix,” said Gray.

A teacher visited the ten families in Parsons once a week, for an hour and a half, to provide age-appropriate activities and referral services to address other family needs such as transportation difficulties or a desire to pursue continuing education. The program also offered “socialization opportunities” twice per month. These events usually included nutrition education and preparation of a healthy snack or meal, age-appropriate games and time for the adults to break off and hold a meeting.

“It’s an opportunity to train parents about the program, and they can share their questions or concerns, so it’s fantastic for communication and a sense of community,” said Tompkins. “And if you’re a stay-at-home mom and don’t have an outlet, these daytime play dates are pretty important so you don’t tear your hair out.”

Gray said the home-based services are especially important for parents struggling with transportation and employment, and sometimes education.

“The focus on health and nutrition leads to budgeting food dollars, which leads to budgeting your household resources,” she said. “These are the kinds of supports that help families move out of poverty.”

As early childhood education services are lost for low-income people with limited options in towns like Parsons and Neodesha, the concern is that too many parents are turning to “the house down the street” to watch their kids, said Gray.

“Often times that is more child care than early childhood development,” said Gray. It’s also more often than not an unlicensed facility, which is why it’s affordable. “In a licensed facility we know there is appropriate safety and hygiene, and there are age-appropriate, developmentally appropriate activities. We don’t necessarily know that those things are in place in an unlicensed facility.”

Gray said that the sequester cuts in some cases are more significant in rural areas—where families might have to travel “forty miles one way”—than in “a larger metropolitan city, where two or three blocks away there might be another option.”

“Rural America often gets overlooked. We know Kansas is referred to as a ‘Flyover State’,” said Gray. “But there are a lot of people here, and a lot of people in poverty. Sequestration is just one cut. It’s the impact of that steady erosion of financial resources that is much greater in rural communities—because there are far fewer resources.”

Tompkins believes the long-term costs of these sequester cuts are being overlooked by policymakers.

“I see all of the benefits of Head Start services—early education, early intervention, early detection for children ages 0 to 5,” she said. “The people who are making these decisions—they just see the numbers that cross their desk.”

Get involved

Support Head Start

National Call-In Day to Protect SNAP—June 18

Sign the Education Declaration to Rebuild America

Washington State Dental Access Campaign

Prosecute Wall Street, Not Homeowners

Let students borrow at the same rate as the banks

Tell Wendy’s: Join the Coalition of Immokalee Worker’s Fair Food Program

Take Action on Sequestration

This Week in Poverty in blog by New York Times public editor

In a recent blog on poverty coverage, The  New York Times’s Public Editor Margaret Sullivan described The Nation’s This Week in Poverty in some detail. Thanks to The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel and Caitlin Graf for bringing our blog to Ms. Sullivan’s attention. And thanks, too, to the many policy experts, researchers and advocates, legislators and staffers, and people who are living in poverty or near poverty, for contributing to this blog over the past eighteen months and hopefully making it worth reading more often than not.

Events

Hearing: RWJF Commission to Build a Healthier America (Wednesday, June 19, 9 am–12:30 pm EDT, Columbus Club at Union Station in Washington, DC.) The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America will host a meeting to hear testimony from leading experts who will provide new guidance to improve the health of all Americans, particularly in communities and among young children. Speakers include Nancy O. Andrews, president and CEO of the Low Income Investment Fund; Elisabeth Babcock, president and CEO of the Crittenton Women’s Union; Jack P. Shonkoff, director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University; and Laura Trudeau, senior program director of community development at The Kresge Foundation. RSVP here, or sign up for webcast here.

Webinar: Implementing Equity in Health in All Policies & Health Impact Assessments—From Concept to Action (Wednesday, June 19, 12:30 pm–2 pm ET.) Growing evidence demonstrates that social and economic factors significantly influence health outcomes. Because of this, there is growing interest in considering health in decision-making processes that have social and economic implications. Join PolicyLink and the National Association of City and County Health Officers (NACCHO), focused on why equity is critical to Health Impact Assessments (HIA) and Health in All Policies (HiAP), and specific strategies to implement and ensure equity. Register here.

What do you think of this video and effort? Hillary Clinton on ‘Too Small to Fail’

Clips and other resources (compiled with Samantha Lachman)

Kids and Toxic Stress,” Kellie Anderson

The Geography of Hunger in America,” Emily Badger

Rogue State: How Far-Right Fanatics Hijacked Kansas,” Mark Binelli

Why trying to make separate equal is a failing strategy for Chicago’s schools,” Steve Bogira

Aloha, Workers’ Rights!” Luke Brinker

Soldier’s new mission: Find homes for female vets,” Erika Clarke

Five Signs of Stalled Progress on the Gender Wage Gap 50 Years After the Equal Pay Act,” Bryce Covert

Cities battle hunger crisis where unhealthy food is everywhere,” Geoffrey Cowley

Medicaid Expansion Will Boost Rural Health Coverage and Economies,” Jesse Cross-Call

We Are From Hazleton...” Chris Echegaray & Susan Eaton

Stress, Trauma, Loss, Rage,” Marian Wright Edelman

Chicago Rent: How Residents Stopped Evictions by Banks,” Equal Voice News

Seattle Bans Automatic Disqualification of Job Seekers,” Equal Voice News

The Depressing Political Reality Keeping Kids Hungry When School’s Out,” Amanda Erickson

Map the Meal Gap, Food Insecurity in your County,” Feeding America

Report: ‘Catholic McCarthyism’ threatens bishops’ anti-poverty push,” David Gibson

Sallie Mae’s Profits Soaring at the Expense of Our Nation’s Students,” Sarita Gupta

Senate OKs Cuts to Food Stamps, Used by 1 in 7 Americans,” Mary Clare Jalonick

Report: Stronger Border Led to More Migrant Deaths,” Michael Mello

House Bill Underfunds WIC and Would Cut Breastfeeding Counseling,” Zoë Neuberger

Half Lives: Why the Part-time Economy is Bad for Everyone,” Lynn Stuart Parramore

Heat Waves, as Climate Change Increases, Prove More Deadly for Poor, Minorities,” Lynne Peepies

Chronicling hunger in Camden on camera,” Kevin Riordan

Why our schools are segregated,” Richard Rothstein

Minimum Wage: Catching Up on Productivity,” Jon Schmitt

Maybe immigrants don’t have it better after all,” Molly Scott

Unemployed Workers Still Far Outnumber Job Openings in Every Major Sector,” Heidi Shierholz

The biggest scandal in America,” Valerie Strauss

Following Up on Poverty Coverage in The Times,” Margaret Sullivan

A glass half full? Discrimination against minority homeseekers,” Margery Turner

Treat Students Like Banks,” Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congressman John Tierney

’Nuns on the Bus’ Highlights Families, Immigrants,” Brad Wong

Studies/Briefs (summaries written by Samantha Lachman)

Testing the Cost Savings of Judicial Diversion,” Mark S. Waller, Shannon M. Carey, Erin Farley and Michael Rempel, NPC Research and Center for Court Innovation. The Rockefeller Drug Laws, adopted in 1973, required lengthy prison sentences for felony-level drug sale and possession offenses. This study evaluates the savings accrued after the laws were reformed in 2009. So-called “judicial diversion” provisions gave judges the discretion to link offenders to treatment, through drug courts, instead of sending them to prison. Researchers found that in the first year following repeal of the laws, courts produced savings of $5,144 per offender, resulting primarily from a drop in re-offending and from the relatively cheaper cost of community-based drug treatment as compared to incarceration.

’Catholic McCarthyism’ threatens bishops’ anti-poverty push,” John Gehring, Faith in Public Life. This new report claims that conservative activists are threatening the social justice mission of the Catholic Church by targeting its anti-poverty programs with McCarthy-style tactics. The Catholic Campaign for Human Development is being restricted by church conservatives who say that the program favors liberal priorities when it gives grants to community groups and social initiatives. A number of high-profile bishops and church leaders have endorsed the report’s findings.

The Moynihan Report Revisited,” Gregory Acs, Kenneth Braswell, Elaine Sorensen, Margery Austin Turner, Urban Institute and Fathers Incorporated. In 1965, then–Assistant Secretary for Policy Planning and Research at the US Department of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan released a controversial report, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” in which he argued that the decline of the black nuclear family would impede economic and social progress. This report revisits Moynihan’s analysis and looks at the socio-economic state of black families today, finding that inequities persist between black and white individuals—from poverty and unemployment rates to rates of single-parent households. The report suggests ways to improve the circumstances of black families and reduce racial disparities.

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Vital Statistics

US poverty (less than $17,916 for a family of three): 46.2 million people, 15.1 percent.

Children in poverty: 16.1 million, 22 percent of all children, including 39 percent of African-American children and 34 percent of Latino children. Poorest age group in country.

Deep poverty (less than $11,510 for a family of four): 20.4 million people, 1 in 15 Americans, including more than 15 million women and children.

People who would have been in poverty if not for Social Security, 2011: 67.6 million (program kept 21.4 million people out of poverty).

People in the US experiencing poverty by age 65: Roughly half.

Gender gap, 2011: Women 34 percent more likely to be poor than men.

Gender gap, 2010: Women 29 percent more likely to be poor than men.

Twice the poverty level (less than $46,042 for a family of four): 106 million people, more than 1 in 3 Americans.

Jobs in the US paying less than $34,000 a year: 50 percent.

Jobs in the US paying below the poverty line for a family of four, less than $23,000 annually: 25 percent.

Poverty-level wages, 2011: 28 percent of workers.

Percentage of individuals and family members in poverty who either worked or lived with a working family member, 2011: 57 percent.

Young men (ages 25–34) working full time today: earning 10 percent less than their fathers did thirty years ago. (via Senator Jeff Merkley)

Families receiving cash assistance, 1996 (pre–welfare reform): 68 for every 100 families living in poverty.

Families receiving cash assistance, 2010: 27 for every 100 families living in poverty.

Impact of public policy, 2010: without government assistance, poverty would have been twice as high—nearly 30 percent of population.

Percentage of entitlement benefits going to elderly, disabled or working households: over 90 percent.

Number of homeless children in US public schools: 1,065,794.

Annual cost of child poverty nationwide: $550 billion.

Federal expenditures on home ownership mortgage deductions, 2012: $131 billion.

Federal funding for low-income housing assistance programs, 2012: less than $50 billion.

Quotes of the Week

“As we consider these monthly reflections of our economy’s health, we remind our elected officials that they must act now on legislation that aims to create jobs and strengthen our economy for those who are at greatest risk of impoverishment and hardship, especially public sector workers. As scripture tells us, ‘One who withholds what is due to the poor affronts the Creator; one who cares for the needy honors God.’ -Proverbs 14:31.”
      —from The Faith Community’s Statement on the May 2013 Jobless Numbers & Public Sector Workers

“Almost six decades after Brown v. Board, more than two-thirds of the African-American students in Chicago’s public schools are in schools that are at least 90 percent African-American. Most of these kids are living near or below the poverty line. It’s a good rule of thumb that schools full of poor kids won’t be successful. When they are, it’s so extraordinary it becomes a movie.”
      —Steve Bogira, senior writer, Chicago Reader

Samantha Lachman wrote the “Studies/Briefs” and co-wrote the “Clips and other resources” sections in this blog.

This Week in Poverty posts here on Friday mornings, and again at Moyers & Company and AlterNet. You can e-mail me at WeekInPoverty@me.com and follow me on Twitter.

What was the value of the information leaked by Bradley Manning? Read Greg Mitchell’s assessment here.

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