N.H.’s safety net for children has holes in it

It’s no accident that in 2012 the state had the highest percentage increase of child poverty in the country

On Sept. 19, the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for 2012 was released, providing a more in depth-look at poverty in New Hampshire and across the country.

It is particularly disturbing to note that in New Hampshire child poverty has risen at an alarming rate in the course of one year. In 2012, 15.6 percent (nearly 41,000), of all New Hampshire children under the age of 18 were living in poverty. In 2011, the rate was 11.7 percent, and in 2007, prior to the Great Recession, it was at a level of 8.3 percent.

New Hampshire had the highest percentage increase of child poverty in the country.

New Hampshire’s children are the poorest people in our state — and the younger they are, the worse off they are.

The data tells us that for children under the age of 5, 18.1 percent are living in poverty. And if they happen to be growing up in a family with a female householder and no husband present, that number jumps up to 39 percent of children under 5 living in poverty.

For many years, New Hampshire led the nation with the lowest percentage of children living in poverty. This is no longer the case. In 2012, 10 states reported lower child poverty for all children through age 18. Of the six New England states, only Maine and Rhode Island showed higher percentages.

While the effects of the recession — the loss of jobs, fewer available hours for many of those who have found work, lower wages and federal austerity measures — play a part in this scenario, we must also look at actions taken by our state Legislature, which have attributed to more children falling into poverty as well.

The elimination of the two-parent Unemployed Parent Program in July 2011 due to legislative action, automatically closed TANF 250 cases and left approximately 380 children with no income for their households.

In March 2012, the Legislature authorized the Department of Health and Human Services to begin counting federal Supplemental Security Income benefits (SSI) as income when determining eligibility for TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). This legislation resulted in 1,312 TANF households (approximately 2,000 children), to immediately lose their grant, and another 420 households (approximately 640 children) to see a decrease averaging $373 per month.

New Hampshire is only one of four states that calculates SSI in TANF determinations.

Every Child Matters in New Hampshire is calling upon Governor Hassan, our Legislature and state leaders to address child poverty starting today.

Children cannot choose their parents, nor can they choose whether or not to live in poverty. They depend on the adults in their families, their schools, their communities and their State House to ensure that they have the means to grow up healthy, safe and well-educated. Every child, regardless of their family’s economic situation, needs a safety net. New Hampshire’s safety net for children has holes in it. Let’s all work to together to repair it and show the rest of the nation that in New Hampshire Every Child Matters.

Marylou Beaver of Rochester is state director of Every Child Matters in New Hampshire and the chair of the New Hampshire Family Assistance Advisory Council.

Categories: Opinion