Vulnerable kids have been hardest hit by COVID-19 learning losses. We need to get educational options to their families

Vulnerable kids have been hardest hit by COVID-19 learning losses. We need to get educational options to their families

Vulnerable kids have been hardest hit by COVID-19 learning losses. We need to get educational options to their families

By David Bass

There has been much focus—and rightly so—on the nearly 370,000 victims of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., plus the millions more who have been touched by this terrible disease in some way

What hasn’t gotten as much attention are the unseen victims of the pandemic: The tens of millions of low-income, vulnerable students who have experienced devastating learning losses due to school closures and lack of educational options.

Highlighting this disturbing trend, McKinsey & Company recently put out an assessment of student learning outcomes during COVID-19 school closures. The results are bleak: Students of color are about three to five months behind in learning, while white students are one to three months behind.

 

Worsening educational inequities 

The sad reality is that virtual learning tends to favor wealthier, whiter families who have access to the types of resources needed to make this environment successful. Families of means have the resources to purchase whatever educational resources they deem necessary—from private-school tuition to individual tutors to new equipment to having one parent cut back their work hours in order to serve as a learning facilitator at home. 

 Low-income families don’t have these options. Many of them lack access to even basic reliable Internet or a desktop or laptop computer, not to mention a quiet place to learn and active parental involvement.

 

More options needed right now

A common refrain here at the Georgia Center for Opportunity when it comes to education is this: We can’t afford to wait another date to bring real options to Georgia students. The COVID-19 pandemic has only added to the urgency.

2020 has come and gone, and sadly it is too late to stem the tide of learning losses for our most vulnerable populations. But we can do new things in 2021 to help struggling students.

It begins by providing access to the widest range of educational options possible—to give immediate access to these options for all families regardless of income, zip code, or race. That option might look like a locally zoned public school, a charter school, a private school, or a home school. 

Some parents feel most comfortable keeping their children home in an exclusively virtual learning environment. Others want their kids back in school full-time. The need is for options, not top-down declarations or one-size-fits-all approaches. This means that schools must reopen for families who feel comfortable returning their children to in-classroom instruction.

If our goal is truly to achieve educational equity regardless of income or neighborhood, then expanded options are essential, now more than ever.

 

How Can You Measure Welfare Program Success? Part 2

How Can You Measure Welfare Program Success? Part 2

How Can You Measure Welfare Program Success?

Part 2

By Erik Randolph

My last blog explained dependency metrics and how they measure the success of welfare programs. However, these metrics are not the complete answer.

By also following people after they leave the system, we can gain a fuller picture of success.

This technique is common for job training programs. In fact, it is a requirement for state and local agencies receiving federal funding per the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, where agencies routinely measure the status and income of persons up to a year after  exiting the job training program. 

Follow-the-person metrics can be used for welfare programs as well, as Kansas and Maine already  demonstrate. 

 

Background on Food Stamp Work Requirements

 When the U.S. economy was recovering from the Great Recession, the states of Kansas and Maine led the nation in reinstating the federal work requirement for “Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents” (ABAWDs).   

The news media generally criticized the governments of Kansas and Maine for reinstating the rule, claiming it was cruel to push ABAWDs off food assistance. Kansas and Maine responded with follow-the-person data. 

Shortly thereafter in 2015—while Barack Obama was still president—the federal Food and Nutrition Service urged all other states to follow the federal law by reinstating the ABAWD rule. However, most states were hesitant to do so, and they continued seeking waivers and exemptions from enforcing it.

Federal law has two work requirements for the food stamp program. There is the general work requirement for persons ages 19 through 59 with notable exceptions, such as being in school half-time, physically or mentally unfit for employment, or caring for a child under six years of age or an incapacitated person. Under the general work requirement, the recipient must register for work or otherwise have good cause if they are not working at least 30 hours per week or enrolled in a job-training or workfare program. 

The second work requirement is specific to ABAWDs. This rule applies to persons ages 18 through 49, unless they are already exempt from the general work requirement or if they are responsible for a child under 18 years of age, or pregnant. Non-exempt ABAWDs cannot receive benefits for more than three months in a 36-month period unless they work for an average of 20 hours per week on a monthly basis or they participate in an approved “employment and training” program. 

States may, and routinely do, waive the ABAWD rule in areas within their state with unemployment over 10 percent, and they have the discretion to exempt up to 15% of persons from the requirement. 

During the Great Recession, Congress suspended the ABAWD rule until September 20, 2010, but many states continued waiving the requirement well into 2017. 

 

Kansas and Maine Break New Ground 

Under the administration of Governor Sam Brownback, Kansas restored the ABAWD rule in October 2013. The Kansas Department for Children and Families, with the help of the state’s Department of Labor, followed the wages of individuals exiting the food stamp program. Departments of labor typically administer unemployment insurance programs that collect wage data. 

According to a report by the Foundation for Government Accountability, Kansas had 28,144 ABAWDs on food stamps in October 2013. One year later, in October 2014, there were 9,193. The following October, the number dropped to 7,601.

The drop in enrollment among this population may be alarming if one assumes these individuals were worse off, as many in the news media did. However, the follow-the-person data showed otherwise. On average, the annual wages of these individuals rose above the poverty line, from $6,703 in December 2013 to $13,304 in the fourth quarter of 2014. 

 

Maine had a similar experience.

No longer requesting an ABAWD waiver in 2014, the Maine Departments of Labor and Health & Human Services cooperated in following the wages of the 6,866 who did not comply with the reinstatement of the work requirement and exited the program. The Governor’s Office of Policy and Management under the political leadership of Governor Paul LePage analyzed the wage data. Its report showed total wages for this group more than doubled from the third quarter of 2014 to the fourth quarter in 2015. On average, quarterly wages increased from $1,984 to $3,514, also raising the wages of many ABAWDs above the poverty level. 

 

 

What Follow-the-Person Metrics Could Mean for Georgia and Other States

Unfortunately, both Kansas and Maine abandoned the follow-the-person data collection—not for policy reasons related to the effectiveness of the metrics but because of changes in political leadership.

Nevertheless, the states demonstrated that follow-the-person metrics can be applied to welfare programs in addition to job training programs. There is no good reason why Georgia and other states could not also implement follow-the-person metrics for welfare programs by having their welfare agencies cooperate with their departments of labor.

Additionally, states are not limited to using department of labor wage data. They could also initiate surveys to collect more detailed data on the well-being of individuals after exiting a program. 

Do you think it would be good for Georgia to begin using dependency and follow-the-person metrics to measure the success of welfare programs? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Erik Randolph is Director of Research at the Georgia Center for Opportunity. This blog reflects his opinion and not necessarily that of the Georgia Center for Opportunity.

DISINCENTIVES FOR WORK AND MARRIAGE IN GEORGIA’S WELFARE SYSTEM

Based on the most recent 2015 data, this report provides an in-depth look at the welfare cliffs across the state of Georgia. A computer model was created to demonstrate how welfare programs, alone or in combination with other programs, create multiple welfare cliffs for recipients that punish work. In addition to covering a dozen programs – more than any previous model – the tool used to produce the following report allows users to see how the welfare cliff affects individuals and families with very specific characteristics, including the age and sex of the parent, number of children, age of children, income, and other variables. Welfare reform conversations often lack a complete understanding of just how means-tested programs actually inflict harm on some of the neediest within our state’s communities.

Helping Children Adjust to Holidays During the Pandemic

Helping Children Adjust to Holidays During the Pandemic

Helping Children Adjust to Holidays During the Pandemic

 

 

 

By Guest Blogger Jen Johnson 

 

 

 

We have a unique opportunity to introduce this social skill this year due to the financial impacts of the pandemic.

 

Have you ever shown up to a party or wedding and felt under or over dressed? Have you turned up at a friend’s house for game night and realized your partner forgot to tell you it was potluck and you’re empty-handed? What about when you’ve gone to a restaurant and realized after arriving that there’s a dress code or that you need to tip and you didn’t bring cash? Think about a time where you’ve been embarrassed or frustrated because you didn’t meet an expectation you didn’t know about beforehand? 

What happened?

How did it feel?

What would you have preferred happened?

All of these experiences of discomfort could have been avoided if you had known the expectations in advance, right?

Setting expectations is an integral part of helping children meet expectations and manage their feelings.

This year families will be experiencing holidays in different ways due to the pandemic. Many families will not be seeing grandparents or extended family due to the risk of exposure to Covid-19. Events that have often anchored the holidays in the minds of children may be cancelled (e.g., Santa at the mall, holiday parties, community gatherings, religious services, parades). 

Children have experienced changes in major routines since the beginning of 2020. Many of these changes have happened so quickly that children did not have the chance to emotionally adjust. For example, schools closed quite suddenly in the Spring and decisions about virtual/hybrid/face to face learning have been made by the month and sometimes down to the week in some school districts. 

Fortunately, the holidays don’t have to be experienced that way. We, as caregivers, are in charge of our holiday plans. They don’t depend on the government, the school district, or any organization. We can decide now what the holidays will look like and begin setting expectations with children in advance.

I want to discuss two different aspects of setting expectations: topics that may need to be considered and discussed, and language you can use to communicate with children. 

These are some areas you may need to consider setting expectations:

Family Gatherings

Will you attend? Will you wear masks? Will there be social distancing? Will certain family members not be in attendance due to their decisions about their health? Children need to know in advance what to expect at family gatherings this holiday season. Don’t wait until you’re on the way to the gathering in the car to set expectations. Start talking about it now! Bring it up several times before the actual holiday arrives and allow children to share their thoughts and feelings. It might sound something like this:

“I want to talk to you about Thanksgiving this year. Usually we go to Grandma’s house and all your aunts and uncles and cousins come and we eat and play games. Do you remember when we did that last year?” Asking if they remember is important depending on the age. If they don’t remember, then the change this year may not be a big deal to them. If they do, it may be a bit more challenging. “This year is going to be  different, kind of like how school is different right now.” (Insert your plans and expectations. I’ll share my family plans.) This year we are all going to make food at our own houses and then we are going to Zoom with all of our aunts and uncles and cousins. We are still going to play games, except we will be online together instead of in person. I’m feeling sad we won’t see our family, but I’m excited about the new games.” (You’ve just modeled how to share emotions.) “What feelings are you having about this?” (wait) “What questions do you have?” (Use this instead of “Do you have questions?”)

Traditional Holiday Events

What are the events your family attends every year during the holidays? My family loves to go to the Fantasy of Lights in my hometown of Wichita Falls, Texas. We gather at Grandma’s house for dinner so she feels cozy and included since Grandpa passed a few years ago. Christmas Eve services are almost always on the books, and since my son was born we’ve started celebrating Christmas morning at my parents’ house. To kick off the holiday season, we almost always go to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s holiday show and have a family cookie baking night.

It is quite likely that none of these events will happen this year.

Grandma is elderly. Mom is a survivor of lung cancer and a lobectomy. My son is considered high risk, so crowding into a church building isn’t a risk we are willing to take. The pandemic has drastically changed how we will engage in holiday events this year. 

Just as you talked about family gatherings and how those will look different, talk about how events surrounding the holiday will look different this year. Think of ways you can substitute those events with safe ones. For example, we plan to stream a musical holiday show instead of going in person. We might even get all dressed up! We will likely have our own cookie baking night at home and gather virtually with Grandma and our parents. If my son was older, the conversation might sound like this:

“I want to talk to you about our (insert holiday) traditions. You might have to explain that “traditions are things we do every year around the holidays” and give an example. What (insert holiday) traditions can you think of that you’re looking forward to this year? Allow your child time to talk about what they’re looking forward to. Focus on the events they are excited about and determine whether those are safe events. If they aren’t you might say something like, “I really like to go to the music show too. This year instead of going to Dallas for the show, we’re going to watch it at home on TV. I’m feeling disappointed that we won’t get to see Santa come out at the Christmas show, but I’m excited that we can still watch on TV because we can have snacks while we watch!” You’ve just modeled how to share emotions. “What feelings are you having about this?” (wait) What questions do you have?” (Use this instead of “Do you have questions?”) 

Gifts

The financial impacts of the pandemic have been significant for many families. Your family may have traditions related to gift-giving that may need to look different this year. And that’s okay! It’s important to prepare children for this difference. I am NOT saying we need to explain financial difficulties to children. Finances are an adult issue, and children should feel as safe and secure as possible. However, it is possible to set expectations around gift-giving without referencing finances.

As caregivers, we have two options: Pretend like everything is going to happen as normal and then manage the disappointment and hurt feelings on that special holiday.

or (and preferably)

Tell children in advance that gift-giving is going to be different this year so we can get all those thoughts and feelings processed before the holiday. It doesn’t mean there won’t be thoughts and feelings on the holiday, but they will most likely be less intense if there has been regular discussion and processing prior to the holiday. There is no benefit to not telling a child they won’t be getting a pony or the newest gaming system. The benefit of communicating the truth is that it helps them adjust their expectations so they are better able to enjoy the gift they DO receive. It might sound like this:

“I saw that you wrote your gift wish list. I want to look at it together and talk about what’s on it. Your wish list looks so fun. I see that you put ______ on your list. I am not (or Santa is not) going to be able to get that gift for you this year. But can you think of something fun we could do? Maybe we could have a special chocolate chip pancake breakfast and watch Christmas movies? (*Insert things you could do together.) How are you feeling about that? What questions do you have?”

*Go hiking or biking. Do a craft with supplies from your local dollar store. Drive around at night with closed mugs of hot chocolate and do a scavenger hunt of different yard decorations. 

A few days later, circle back to the discussion again and take the opportunity to teach your child how to receive a gift that isn’t exactly what they wanted.

We’ve all had the experience of opening up a gift to discover we’ve received something we just don’t care for. As adults, we don’t throw tantrums or point out that we don’t like it because we’ve learned social skills related to this experience. Our children can learn this skill one of three ways.

1) They observe someone else, usually another child, express they don’t like something, observe the negative reactions of the adults, and promise themselves they’ll never do that.

2) They themselves express that they don’t like something, experience the negative shaming reaction of adults, and promise themselves they’ll never do that again.

or (and preferably)

3) They are pre-taught to show appreciation for every gift and the consequences of what happens when you don’t (i.e. people get their feelings hurt and it makes them sad). Discussion and role plays that allow children to practice are helpful when teaching this skill. When they are pre-taught the skill, they are more likely to meet expectations because you’ve set them up in advance. This doesn’t mean they won’t feel disappointed or sad or even  that they will master the skill this holiday, but we have a unique opportunity to introduce this social skill this year due to the financial impacts of the pandemic.

We have a unique opportunity to introduce this social skill this year due to the financial impacts of the pandemic.

Holidays this year are certainly going to be different. It is 100% okay to grieve the loss of the connections and fun that will be missed, and we should walk with children through those experiences and emotions. As caregivers, we have the opportunity to model how to process the emotions and mold the experience our children have during the holidays this year.

This post can be found in its original form here.

Jen Johnson  is the founder of The Child Safety Collaborative and a PhD Candidate in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of North Texas. Jen worked in public education for almost a decade before moving into the private sector to address child abuse and maltreatment through The Child Safety Collaborative. Her research is focused around accommodating safety curriculums for children with disabilities.

 

 

STRONGER FAMILIES CREATE THRIVING COMMUNITIES

 

During this time of uncertainty, we know the potential for anxiety and stress in homes is high. That’s why we are putting together resources to help families come together during this time of crisis and adapt to the rapidly changing pandemic environment.

 To learn more about the Healthy Families Initiative at GCO click here

A family sitting on the floor together

How Can You Measure Welfare Program Success? Part 1

How Can You Measure Welfare Program Success? Part 1

How Can You Measure Welfare Program Success?

Part 1

By Erik Randolph

If you want to know how well welfare programs work, ask welfare agency administrators how they measure success. This was suggested by Randy Hicks, President and CEO of the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO), years ago. Almost invariably these administrators will answer that they measure success by how many people they serve. When the total number of people they serve goes up, the programs are more successful. Or are they?

To the contrary, program participation does not measure success. Furthermore, the chances are that welfare agency administrators lack the metrics to tell us how successful the programs truly are.

Program participation can measure demand for the program, or it might indicate the number of people in need. In these cases, program participation is useful information. But does it actually measure success? 

The more important goal of welfare programs is to help people overcome their financial difficulties and escape poverty. This enables them to live more fulfilling lives. Public policy should not encourage them to languish on assistance for years on end but rather help them improve their circumstances until they no longer need assistance, or their reliance on assistance becomes lessened. Welfare agencies generally lack metrics to effectively measure this important goal.

Which revises our original question slightly: How can you measure success?

Dependency Metrics

One potential way to measure success is to use dependency metrics that evaluate the percent of the population who are dependent on major welfare programs. This is partially done at the federal level but not at all at the state level.

In 1994, Congress passed the Welfare Indicators Act. It focuses on food stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash grants, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Every year, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services is required to file a report with Congress showing dependency on those three welfare programs.

The most recent report was released in 2018. The pie chart below comes from page eight of that report, showing for the year 2015 the percentages of the national population according to their proportion of their total income dependent on the value of food stamps, TANF cash grants, and SSI. The higher the proportion of an individual’s income that comes from these three assistance programs, the worse off the person probably is. For example, if the value of food stamps constitutes more than 50 percent of an individual’s income, that person cannot be well off financially. In comparison, when food stamps constitute 25 percent to 50 percent of an individual’s income, it means the person has more additional income and is better off than when food stamps comprise more than 50 percent  of total income. And having less than 25 percent of total income coming from food stamps is better than having 25 percent to 50 percent of total income on food stamps.

Georgia has the ability to generate dependency metrics through the Georgia Gateway, including TANF cash grants, food stamps, medical assistance, and two other programs. These are means-tested programs, meaning the Department of Human Services has not only participation numbers but also income information of the applicants and recipients. The Department could relatively easily have its I.T. crew write scripts to spit out reports periodically showing the number of individuals and families by dependency on their income on those programs captured through the Gateway. Coupled with Census data, the Department could produce periodic reports showing how dependency changes over time and further break down the data by demographic groups. 

Furthermore, because every individual has a unique identifier, the I.T. crew could produce additional scripts to follow people over time. This would allow for more sophisticated analytics showing the financial progress of people and families in the system. 

Dependency metrics are not perfect. They do not capture persons who would be eligible for the program but do not participate. However, the number of these individuals are regularly estimated and could be presented as additional information in the analysis. 

Ideally, it would be best if the dependency metrics captured all assistance programs. Currently, this is not possible.

Assistance Programs Breakdown

Exactly How Many Programs Do People Benefit From? 

Often people qualify for multiple assistance programs. Their children might be on Medicaid and receiving free school lunches. At the same time, the household may be receiving food stamps. Additionally, if the parent or parents work, they may be receiving the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Additional Child Tax Credit. We just listed five programs that welfare families typically receive. 

And there are more programs. If the family has young children under five, they could receive food packages from the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. Additionally, the family may be receiving childcare assistance, Section 8 rental assistance, and/or energy assistance.

Now you might think that we have a dataset somewhere telling us the total number of welfare programs families are benefiting from. If you assumed that we do, you would be wrong. No such dataset exists.

The reason? First, the welfare system is disjointed. There is no single agency or dataset that can tell us the total number of programs people are on. Even Georgia’s award winning Gateway, which is one of the better integrated eligibility systems in the country, cannot tell you. While the Gateway can tell us about food stamps, Medicaid, WIC, TANF, and subsidized childcare services, it is missing the refundable tax credits, free school lunches breakfasts, Section 8 rental assistance, and other welfare programs not listed. 

Second, statistical sources do not include all welfare programs in their questionnaires and have other limitations, such as serious time lags. For example, the American Community Survey asks about food stamps, Medicaid, and Supplemental Security Income but practically none of the other programs, making a statistical inference for the complete picture impossible. 

The Survey of Income and Program Participation gets us closer, giving us childcare assistance, WIC, energy assistance, and public housing, among others. However, it is still missing the refundable tax credits, including the EITC which is one of the big three welfare programs. Worse, SIPP is structured for longitudinal studies that makes the survey totally impractical for monitoring program participation on a regular and timely basis.

Adopting Dependency Metrics in Georgia

Dependency metrics would improve our ability to measure success, and state leaders should consider implementing them in Georgia. 

Georgia would do a better job than the federal government with dependency metrics. The Gateway houses the data for critical programs, enabling Georgia to produce monthly estimates, more timely estimates, and for more programs. In contrast, the Feds apparently cannot meet its obligation in producing annual reports, provides only national data for only three programs, and there are significant time lags. The most recent Federal report came out on May 4, 2018, with 2015 and some 2016 data.

Once implemented at the state level, dependency metrics will improve over time. If and when further integration, consolidation, and streamlining of eligibility systems occur, as recommended by GCO, dependency metrics will become more complete and more useful.

However, they are not the sole answer. There is another way to measure success that would complement well dependency metrics. This will be the topic of my next blog.

In the meantime, do you have ideas on how we can measure success in welfare programs? We would love to hear them. Be sure to put them down in the comments below.

Erik Randolph is Director of Research at the Georgia Center for Opportunity. This blog reflects his opinion and not necessarily that of the Georgia Center for Opportunity.

DISINCENTIVES FOR WORK AND MARRIAGE IN GEORGIA’S WELFARE SYSTEM

Based on the most recent 2015 data, this report provides an in-depth look at the welfare cliffs across the state of Georgia. A computer model was created to demonstrate how welfare programs, alone or in combination with other programs, create multiple welfare cliffs for recipients that punish work. In addition to covering a dozen programs – more than any previous model – the tool used to produce the following report allows users to see how the welfare cliff affects individuals and families with very specific characteristics, including the age and sex of the parent, number of children, age of children, income, and other variables. Welfare reform conversations often lack a complete understanding of just how means-tested programs actually inflict harm on some of the neediest within our state’s communities.

Welfare Cliffs and Gaps: The role health insurance plays in upward mobility

Welfare Cliffs and Gaps: The role health insurance plays in upward mobility

Welfare Cliffs and Gaps:

The role health insurance plays in upward mobility

By Shana Burres

Cody and Estelle are a young married couple living in a suburban neighborhood. Cody has a full-time job and Estelle is a nanny so she can have their daughter with her at work. They make just enough money to pay the rent on their small home and pay their bills, but there is rarely anything left over each month. They are not middle class but they are above the poverty line, and they are facing a potential financial crisis because of health care costs.  

Cody’s work offers an insurance plan but does not subsidize the cost and the monthly premium for a family is more than their rent. Because of the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), they qualify for a government-subsidized plan. The coverage is poor and the deductibles are high. They are one emergency room trip or unexpected surgery away from a dire financial situation.

Cody is working on building a part-time freelance business so they can have some savings and buy a more reliable car. But he is hesitant to promote it because too much of an increase in income will push them over the ACA’s income threshold and they will lose their health care subsidy. They still wouldn’t be able to afford the employer-sponsored plan and would lose coverage entirely. 

They are facing the welfare cliff, forced to choose between self-improvement and maintaining necessary services. If they increase their income, they are at risk of falling into the welfare gap—too much income for services, not enough income to cover the costs.

The implications of the loss of health care coverage reach into their and their daughter’s future. Health insurance, and the associated continuity of care, correlated directly with academic success in the short term and life success in the long term.  At a  basic level, health care means that students are better able to engage in their academics and miss fewer days of school.

In slightly more complex terms, lacking health insurance, along with other factors related to instability, is part of the social determinants of health. These social determinants are a cluster of lived experiences that include food instability, homelessness, and poverty. They are direct predictors of poor health and, as noted, poor health contributes to poorer academic and social outcomes. While programs or funding can often address homelessness and poverty, food instability is a reflection of the resources a family has available to purchase food. For a family like Cody and Estella’s, this may be seen as the choice between groceries and paying for an urgent care visit and a prescription for their daughter. 

For them and the vast majority of people in the United State, health insurance is the barrier to care. People who live at or below the poverty line have access to medical coverage through Medicaid. And families who live far above the poverty line can access health insurance through work or afford to pay for the premiums through the health exchange. However, the evidence shows that children who are near, but not under, the poverty line have the lowest rates of health insurance. These children and their families live in the welfare gap, a reality for many living in Georgia. This means that Georgia’s families need solutions for ongoing health care to support their long-term success.

The most effective solutions are those that acknowledge the immediate needs of families and address the need for policy change. Currently, many programs are aimed at the individual or involve community-based interventions that partner health care with social service delivery systems. And these programs can be useful and effective as solutions to the immediate needs of families living in the welfare gap. Unfortunately, these health management programs do not address the upstream institutional, systemic, and public policy drivers of the distribution disparities. 

Georgia’s families deserve upstream solutions that address the welfare gap and support their efforts to be participants in their health care and long-term outcomes. Three interconnected approaches offer equitable and proven access:

Untether healthcare from employers

According to the US Census Bureau, approximately 55% of people have access to health insurance coverage through their employer. This tethering of health insurance to employment leads to disruptions of coverage due to job loss or change. Therefore, untethering healthcare from its connection to employment would allow people to pursue jobs, education, or entrepreneurship free from the limitation of health insurance access or cost. 

Make shopping for health insurance easier

As cost is the most significant factor influencing people’s access to health insurance, the second approach is to make shopping for health insurance the same as shopping for any other type of insurance. Individuals could compare coverage, cost, and other options across multiple providers, which would empower them to choose the product best suited to their particular needs. Currently, most people have little to no choice in which insurance product they receive from their employer and the cost is more closely related to the company’s ability to negotiate a favorable contract than it is to the types of benefits the employees need. 

Offer government subsidies that do not create welfare cliffs

Of course, employers often also subsidize a portion of their company health insurance plan, and subsidies are one of the ways insurance is made more affordable for their employees.  The third approach, government subsidies, would ensure these benefits are equitable and accessible to the whole population and not reliant on an employer. While government-funded health insurance already exists and subsidies are available through the ACA marketplace, the current method does not address  welfare cliffs or close the welfare gap. Therefore, the policy should be updated to a means-tested  eligibility system that eliminates marriage penalties and the breakpoints that contribute to the welfare cliff. 

For our couple, Cody and Estelle, this new approach to health insurance would allow them to gain sufficient coverage for their whole family without spending a disproportionate amount of their income on health care costs. It would allow Cody to build his freelance business and improve their quality of life without fear of losing health insurance while their income grows. 

Every person in Georgia deserves to live a healthy and fulfilling life. Access to healthcare is a necessary component of their success. These three approaches will remove barriers to access, equalize costs, and ensure support is available to those who need it. 

Shana Burres is an educator, foster parent, and speaker. She holds a Master’s degree in education and, as the former executive director of DASH Kids, is a fierce advocate for equitable outcomes for children of all backgrounds and experiences. Shana currently is an adjunct professor, learning development consultant, and her local Mockingbird HUB home for foster families and their youth.

DISINCENTIVES FOR WORK AND MARRIAGE IN GEORGIA’S WELFARE SYSTEM

Based on the most recent 2015 data, this report provides an in-depth look at the welfare cliffs across the state of Georgia. A computer model was created to demonstrate how welfare programs, alone or in combination with other programs, create multiple welfare cliffs for recipients that punish work. In addition to covering a dozen programs – more than any previous model – the tool used to produce the following report allows users to see how the welfare cliff affects individuals and families with very specific characteristics, including the age and sex of the parent, number of children, age of children, income, and other variables. Welfare reform conversations often lack a complete understanding of just how means-tested programs actually inflict harm on some of the neediest within our state’s communities.

New GCO poll: 81% of parents support educational microgrants during COVID-19

New GCO poll: 81% of parents support educational microgrants during COVID-19

New GCO poll: 81% of parents support educational microgrants during COVID-19

 

By David Bass

The Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) today released the results of a parent opinion poll that found 81 percent of respondents in favor of using federal emergency relief funds to help parents cover some educational costs during the coronavirus pandemic.

The poll, taken of a random sample of 721 Georgia parents, also found that such microgrants would encourage parents to make alternative educational decisions for their children: 59 percent of respondents reported that a one-time microgrant of $1,000 would either prompt them to send their child to a different school or help out in their existing decision to do so.

Recently, a coalition of education reformers sent a letter to Gov. Brian Kemp urging him to use the remaining portion of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund to directly support students through the challenges of virtual learning. Currently in Georgia, the governor’s office is the only entity in the state with the ability to provide families with this desperately needed help.

The poll results back up what we already know: Offering direct payment assistance to Georgia families is the best way to keep vulnerable students from falling further behind during this crisis. A one-size-fits-all approach to education never works. We must offer as many families as possible maximum flexibility in their education decisions this year. Empowering parents directly with funds puts them in the driver’s seat and cuts out bureaucratic obstacles. This step simply takes available additional federal funds and gives parents the most help, the fastest, right when they need it the most.

Megan and teacher at table

A Survey Of How The Average Georgia Family Is Navigating Education During The Pandemic

These microgrants would help students like Hannah Foy, a 13-year-old with Down syndrome. Hannah has been isolated at home since March and is falling behind. “Putting education dollars directly into the hands of parents means that our children have a greater chance of not falling behind,” wrote Hannah’s mother, Elizabeth, in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The funds will come nowhere close to meeting the needs of students like my daughter, but they will help to bridge the gap until schools can fully reopen again.

Other key findings from the poll include:

  • 57 percent said their children learned “far less” or “somewhat less” than they had when they were in their pre-shutdown school.

  • Only 12 percent of respondents said their school did “badly” or “very badly” during the coronavirus crisis. Thirty-three percent were neutral and 55 percent said their school did “well” or “very well.”

  • Only 18 percent of respondents thought that their schools did not provide enough resources to their children.

  • 33 percent thought that there was “much work” or “far more work than I imagined it would be” to teach their children because of the shutdown.

  • Only 6 percent are considering homeschooling their children when last year they were not home schooled.