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Pediatricians: Safety Net Key to Children’s Health and Development

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) called on policymakers this week to do more for children’s health and development — and some of its strongest words concerned not health care but families’ economic security and opportunity.

“When a family lacks access to steady income, stable housing, adequate nutrition, and social and emotional support, it threatens the future of children and undermines the security of the nation as a whole,” AAP says in its wide-ranging policy agenda, Blueprint for Children: How the Next President Can Build a Foundation for a Healthy Future.

“Poverty has profoundly negative effects on child health, development, school achievement, and future employment,” AAP warns, citing lasting damage associated with unstable housing, dangerous neighborhoods, hunger, homelessness, and toxic stress. 

The report recommends a series of efforts to lift families out of poverty, such as raising the minimum wage, improving job training, expanding family and medical leave, and strengthening the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC).  For example, it urges policymakers to “extend the CTC to very poor families with young children and ensure that these children can receive the full tax credit.”

The pediatricians also recommend raising SNAP (formerly food stamp) benefits to better enable families to obtain an adequate, healthy diet throughout the month. 

In addition, “[h]ousing stability … is deeply entwined with child health and educational outcomes,” the report explains, adding that “[c]hildren who move to low-poverty neighborhoods are more likely to attend college and have higher earnings, and less likely to become single parents.”  The report urges policymakers to expand rental assistance, including Housing Choice Vouchers.

Noting the erosion of monthly income support for low-income families with children under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, AAP says TANF renewal legislation should hold states accountable for reaching families in need, create work programs that help families lift themselves out of poverty, and require states to spend most of their TANF funds on TANF’s core purposes of income support, work preparation, and child care.

Medicaid, SNAP, the EITC, Head Start, and other anti-poverty programs “have had a demonstrable positive impact on health outcomes, school achievement, and workforce competitiveness,” AAP observes, calling on policymakers to preserve and build on these successes.

Arloc Sherman

Vicepresidente de Análisis de Datos e Investigación