Public Policy

R.I. Kids Count finds child poverty down

COURTESY RHODE ISLAND KIDS COUNT
“CHILD POVERTY decreased in our state between 2004 and 2006, during a time when the state was making critical investments in child care, health care and adult education,” Elizabeth Burke Bryant, executive director of Rhode Island Kids Count, said in releasing the 2008 Factbook, above.
Posted 4/7/08

WARWICK – The child poverty rate in Rhode Island declined to 15.1 percent in 2006 from 21 percent in 2004, according to the 2008 Rhode Island Kids Count Factbook released today.

That means the number of Rhode Islanders 18 or younger living under the federal poverty threshold – with income of less than $16,705 per year for a family of three and $21,027 for a family of four – was almost 15,000 fewer in 2006 than in 2004.

“Child poverty decreased in our state between 2004 and 2006, during a time when the state was making critical investments in child care, health care and adult education,” Elizabeth Burke Bryant, executive director of Rhode Island Kids Count, said in announcing the findings.

“It is imperative that we maintain and restore our critical investments in working families so that they can access the child care, health care and education necessary for stable employment,” she continued. “Children need health care, high quality child care and early education to grow, develop and succeed in school.”

The annual report evaluates 62 aspects of children’s lives, charting improvements and declines to give a clear picture on the well-being of children in Rhode Island.

Among other areas evaluated, the Family Independence Program – Rhode Island’s welfare program – has seen a 46-percent decline in caseloads, from 18,428 in 1996 to 9,993 in 2007. FIP provides families with cash assistance and work supports, such as food stamp benefits, health insurance and subsidized child care.

It is unclear whether the decline may be attributed to budget cuts or to success rates, or a combination of the two. In 2006, about 3,500 families were able to leave the program for employment, while state funding for cash assistance has been cut to $16 million in 2007 from $58 in 1996.

A positive finding in the report is that 93.6 percent of the children in Rhode Island had health insurance in 2006: Sixty-four percent received care through their parent’s employers; 30 percent had health insurance through RIte Care, the state’s Medicare program; and only 6 percent were uninsured.

Rhode Island also had the lowest child death rate, among children ages 1 to 14, of any state in the country.

But the number enrolled in child care on full or partial subsidies has fallen significantly, to 9,008 children statewide in 2007 from 14,333 in 2003.

And last year, the budget for the Child Care Assistance Program was cut by $17 million while family eligibility was rolled back to 180 percent of the federal poverty level, from the previous 225 percent. As a result, 1,463 children were removed from the program.

In addition, the Comprehensive Child Care Services Program, which provides support to children and families eligible for but not receiving Head Start aid, as well as state-funded Head Start slots, are being targeted for elimination, at total projected savings of at least $3.3 million. (Head Start is a federally-funded program designed to help lower-income preschoolers catch up with their higher-income peers, whom they typically trail by 18 months in development.)

In the current school year, Head Start was able to serve 48 percent of the estimated 4,848 eligible children in Rhode Island. Nationally, the program serves about half of all eligible children.

“High-quality child care and early-learning programs for infants, toddlers and preschoolers have long-lasting positive effects on how children learn, develop, cope with stress and handle their emotions,” Bill Bentley, president and CEO of Voices for America’s Children, said in his keynote speech at the Kids Count breakfast today.

“Investments in high-quality child care and early education are some of the most cost-effective investments states can make – with both a short-term pay-off in terms of healthy child development and a long-term pay-off in terms of reduced special education and juvenile justice costs.”

Rhode Island Kids Count is a statewide nonprofit that works to improve the health, economic well-being, safety, education and development of Rhode Island children. To learn more or to view the full 2008 Rhode Island Kids Count Factbook, visit www.rikidscount.org.

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