Florida’s children, youth and families had been making progress in many areas of child well-being including education, health, and economically, although unevenly when examined by race and ethnicity, with children of color lagging behind their white counterparts. And then March and the pandemic came. Education went virtual. Record numbers of people were unemployed. Healthcare entered crisis mode. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others sparked widespread protests and, in many communities, a call to begin to examine racial disparities in health outcomes, in education and in crisis response.
While there is still great uncertainty in what lies in the future, what is clear is that there are holes in the social safety nets and many families struggle to make ends meet, to keep food on the table, to maintain a home and educate their children, and that children and families of color are disproportionately affected. The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s latest KIDS COUNT policy report, Kids, Families and COVID-19: Pandemic Pain Points and the Urgent Need to Respond, highlights four areas where families struggle: healthcare, affordable housing, food security and mental health. The report analyzes how families are faring during the COVID-19 crisis using weekly Pulse data from the U.S. Census Bureau that demonstrate how families across the country are challenged to meet basic needs during this global public health crisis while managing school, work and mental health. The Casey Foundation finds that the dual health and economic crises hamper the ability of already vulnerable families to fulfill basic needs.
Healthcare: In 2019, 8% of Florida’s children were uninsured. Pulse data from September and October, 2020 indicate that 15% of Florida households with children lacked health insurance, higher than the national average of 12%. Numbers of uninsured children are expected to rise with more than 50,000 children expected to lose coverage under KidCare, Florida’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (Health News Florida, 8/21/2020).
Food insecurity: 16% of households with children reported that they sometimes or often did not have enough to eat, as compared to the national average of 14%. This comes at a time when the number of participants in the Florida Food Assistance Program (SNAP), sometimes known as food stamps, increased 44% to more than 3.8 million Floridians. At the beginning of the pandemic, almost two-thirds of SNAP recipients were families with children (CBPP, 2020).
Housing Stability: 23% of Florida’s respondents had slight or no confidence they would make the next rent or mortgage payment on time. According to the research firm Stout, it is estimated that 515,000 to 980,000 households in Florida are at risk of eviction. Protective measures have been put in place by the Centers for Disease Control to stop evictions and funds from the Coronavirus Relief Fund helped but are set to expire soon.
Mental Health: 20% of Floridians felt down, depressed or hopeless. Among adults in Florida who reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder, 20.4 percent reported needing counseling or therapy, but not receiving it in the prior four weeks, compared to the U.S. average of 22.5 percent (Kaiser Health News).
What can be done? Decisive action is needed at the local, state and federal levels to ensure that families have access to healthcare, stay in their homes, put food on their tables and that their children have high quality education and childcare. We must ensure that:
- The physical and mental health of all children is a priority and there is equitable access to healthcare in general, and to the COVID19 vaccine in particular.
- Support families with children financially by ensuring unemployment supports continue, expand access to affordable housing and expand access to the Earned Income Tax Credits and Child Tax Credit.
- Schools have the funding they need to ensure equitable access to technology for all students and for those returning to brick and mortar, that schools have the needed resources to keep students, staff and faculty safe.
- Put racial and ethnic equity first in policymaking and ensure that the policymaking process is informed by the diverse perspectives of those hardest hit by the crisis and created in partnership with communities.
We can do this. We must.
Norín Dollard, PhD
Florida KIDS COUNT Director