Current Efforts to Reduce Child Poverty

By John Wagner, Chair of the Child Poverty Coalition

Poverty remains a pervasive issue in the US, Wisconsin, and the Chippewa Valley but there are some positive developments. The US Congress passed the American Rescue Plan (ARP) in March which provides direct payments to families with children but only through 2021. The ARP is estimated to reduce child poverty by 50% immediately. Both Republicans and Democrats support programs that would make some form of family support coverage permanent. 

There are at least four current federal legislative actions directed at reducing child poverty. Three of the initiatives would provide direct support to families with children, which would reduce poverty immediately.

  1. Biden’s Economic Relief Act – The American Rescue Plan (ARP), which contains several proposals to support families with children was signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021. The Center on Poverty and Social Policy has estimated the immediate overall reduction in poverty would be 29% (11,664,000 people). The reduction by race would be 34% for blacks and 39% for Hispanics. The reduction in child poverty is estimated to be 45%.
  2. Bennet-Brown American Family Act (AFA) – This bill is currently awaiting debate in the US  Senate. It is estimated that the bill would immediately reduce child poverty and deep child poverty by 39% and 50%, respectively.
  3. Romney Family Security Act (FSA) – This bill is currently awaiting debate in the US Senate. It is estimated that this bill would immediately reduce child poverty by 33%. This bill differs from the AFA by requiring work and including families with higher income.
  4. The Child Poverty Reduction Act (CPRA) – The act is based on the National Academy of Science’s 2019 A Roadmap to Reducing  Child Poverty. This program includes several different approaches to reduce child poverty. It is estimated that this program would reduce child poverty by about 50% in 10 years. 

On the state front, the Governor’s biennium budget calls for expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in FY22 and FY23, making EITC non-refundable, expanding the REWARD program, and providing additional funds for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs. These changes increase existing aid programs and modify the programs to include some direct payments to families. The budget also calls for the creation of the Child Strong program. The costs of these changes can be more than paid for by reducing the Manufacturing and Agricultural Tax Credit for income earners over $1M. 

The Child Poverty Task Force prepared and delivered statements supporting Governor Ever’s child support budget to the Joint Finance Committee (JFC). However, all of the child poverty and most of the education elements were removed from the budget. The governor has threated to veto the entire budget by the June 30th deadline. We hope there is still an opportunity to reduce poverty in Wisconsin through bipartisan action.

Members of our task force also met with multiple state legislators regarding social justice issues. Several legislators on both sides of the aisle expressed support for some of these issues.

At the regional level, the Child Poverty Task Force is preparing a United Way grant application for the Parent Partners Program (PPP). Across the US, more than 50% of families that are qualified for public support do not receive benefits due to being either unaware of the benefits or unable to complete the complex application process. The PPP program would provide navigators to parents of families with children. To help them both access public benefits and navigate the rigors of living in poverty.

The results from many decades of research into poverty informs us that child poverty rates can be significantly reduced by providing direct financial support for children just like our country did for the elderly by passing Social Security and Medicare. These studies have shown that the return to the public of investing in families is positive. These program actually more than pay for themselves! Our task force has spoken about poverty to many groups in our region and we have taken our message to policy makers at the state and federal level. The research is solid and the message is strong but it is very difficult to use data to break through the political ice. However, we know that the most convincing messages to policy makers are stories told by those living in poverty. 

These stories are hard to come by because of the social stigma people feel living in poverty. But we still need these stories. If you know of someone who would be willing to tell their story anonymously or otherwise, please contact the task force.