Thursday, March 12, 2009

Help Children Avoid Homelessness - Start With the Parents


The issue of child homelessness, has a very simple solution - provide support and easier access to support for parents of poor children.

For instance, according to The National Center on Family Homelessness, Fair Market Rent for a two bedroom apartment is $781 a month. A single mother making minimum wage ($6.55 an hour), would have to work 92 hours a week to afford rent. To afford an apartment at FMR, means that a single working adult would have to make at least $15 an hour. The typical homeless family in Texas is a single mother on public assistance and receives less than $713 a month (less than 50% of the Federal Poverty Level. The answer (or at least an answer): Texas should take advantage of its flexibility in providing child care vouchers, giving priority to the children of homeless parents, allowing them to participate in job training programs that prepare them for jobs that pay a living wage.

For 2% of the state budget ($834 million), Texas could provide housing at FMR, for its homeless population.

Texas can also provide health care for all uninsured children in Texas (about 1.5 million, between 21-25% of the state's children). If state lawmakers pass legislation that provides greater access to SCHIP (State Children's Health Insurance Program) and Medicaid, Texas not only avoids the heavier burden of financial and social costs of associated with kids who go years without consistent medical care, Texas' tax dollars are returned to the state through the SCHIP program. The federal match for every dollar spent on SCHIP, is $2.52. For Medicaid, the federal match is $1.47. The more children enrolled, the more the state benefits financially. By making it possible for children to enroll in Medicaid once a year instead of twice a year, it removes a cumbersome step that can at times interfere with the care and treatment of sick children.

In the area of hunger, Texas can also strengthen and improve its outreach to families eligible for food stamps. Enrolling everyone eligible for food stamps pays is good business. Hungry, homeless children aren't.

Sixty-seven percent of eligible Texans received food stamps. In Dallas County that translates into approximately 52,000, eligible Texans who didn't receive them. It cost the grocers in Dallas County more than $173 million to have a third of its residents eligible citizens not participating in this program. Food stamp eligible Texans with children enrolled in the program are below the 67% mark - its at 58%. Which means that millions of dollars are not flowing through the economy because of insufficient outreach. Make no mistake about it, either way you slice it, food stamps are currency you don't save, its currency you spend.

These are just a few ways that Texas can abate the problem of homelessness among children. No philanthropic initiative will help them more than public policy changes that provide an opportunity their parents to care for them.

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