Every day, intervention programs assist Tennessee children and their families in surviving the effects of poverty. A report released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation asks the question, “What if those programs did not exist?” The report, “Measuring Access to Opportunity in the United States,” found that federal programs cut the percentage of Tennessee children living in poverty in half – from 33 percent to 17 percent. Linda O’Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, explained the value of the new data. “This report is really important in identifying the essential supports public programs provide to help children and families be able to not only survive but thrive and support children in ways that help be successful in school and in life,” she said. Today’s report used the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which O’Neal said provides a more complete picture of how families fare, when compared to the current method of measuring the impact of programs. The current method used to measure poverty was developed in the 1960s and, according to the U.S. Census, sets a standard of $24,000 a year for a family of four, regardless of where that family lives or accounting for inflation. Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and advocacy at the Casey Foundation, said better measurement tools, such as the SPM, are important to make improvements in public programs. “Using the Supplemental Poverty Measure, we can really see the successes and the limitations of the safety-net resources that we’ve put into place,” Speer said. “We can also see that these resources don’t go far enough. We still see that there are 13 million children below the poverty line.” The SPM takes into account living costs such as medicine, housing, food and utilities and how those costs affect disposable income. It also accounts for how government programs such as SNAP help offset those costs. O’Neal said the federal programs go a long way in determining the future of children and how they can contribute to their communities in the long-term. “What we know is that poverty has a tremendous negative impact on children, on their developing brains, and it creates what’s essentially referred to as toxic stress,” she said. “So the more we can support these children and help them be able to grow and develop in a healthy way, the better their outcomes will be in school and in life.” The Casey report recommended that state and federal governments expand access to early-childhood education, change tax-credit policies to keep more money in the hands of struggling families, and streamline food and housing subsidies.
The full report is online at AECF.org.