Between 2012 and 2014, child poverty fell further than it had since 2000, indicating that the economic recovery is starting to improve prospects for poor families. Still, in 2014, roughly 2.5 million children in rural areas were poor and approximately 1.2 million children lived in rural families with cash incomes below half of the poverty line. More must be done to ensure all children have a chance to succeed. That’s why today, in conjunction with the White House Rural Council and the National Association of Counties’ first-ever Opportunity for All: Building a Brighter Future for Rural Families convening, the Administration is announcing new efforts to combat child poverty in rural America. These efforts, which build on ongoing progress to combat child poverty, include:
Launching the Rural Impact County Challenge.
Recognizing the critical role local officials play in the lives of rural families and leveraging their ability to innovate, the White House Rural Council and the National Association of Counties have come together to issue the Rural Impact County Challenge to advance counties’ efforts to reduce the number of rural children and families living in poverty. This national initiative challenges local leaders to pass county resolutions identifying rural child poverty as a priority, and develop or refine an actionable plan that can be used to deliver impact for high-need rural children and families. By this summer, our goal is for at least 100 rural counties to have taken up the Challenge.
Across the country, it’s clear that some counties have already started.
In Placer County, California, the Board of Supervisors has prioritized reducing child hunger, and is embracing technology as part of the solution to ensuring rural kids and families are connected to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other federal nutrition programs. The county has piloted a mobile-friendly online system that can be accessed via cellphone—so that internet access and long travel distances to county offices don’t keep kids from getting the nutrition they need to learn, grow, and thrive. Similarly, through its Service Integration Program, Polk County, Oregon, has built a cross-county partnership between Polk County Health and Human Services, seven school districts, and over 200 partnering organizations, agencies, and individuals to more effectively and comprehensively respond to families’ disparate needs. And in Cabell County, West Virginia, officials have established a syringe exchange program that also links individuals to essential treatment programs. Already, the health department has overseen 2,000 syringe exchanges and served over 800 total clients.
Boosting Rural Economic Development.
Today, USDA is awarding $3.5 million in loans through the Intermediary Relending Program (IRP). The program provides 1 percent, low-interest loans to intermediaries that re-lend money to businesses and for community development projects in rural areas. The impact of many IRP loans is immediate: in 2015, Champion Community Investments (CCI) used an IRP loan to expand the Robin’s Nest Learning Center in Carterville, Illinois. Today, it is southern Illinois’s largest infant and toddler learning and care facility. Over the past six years, the Administration has worked to disrupt an outdated, top-down approach and transform the federal government into a more effective partner for communities. Four of today’s recipients receiving awards are USDA partners in the Department’s StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity initiative, which works hand-in-hand with communities to address persistent poverty in rural areas.
Investing in Rural Families in the President’s FY 2017 Budget
With small towns and rural communities across the country developing solutions to our most pressing challenges, the Federal government also has a critical role to play. The President’s FY 2017 Budget includes new investments and initiatives designed to expand economic opportunity, increase mobility, and ensure that all children have an opportunity to succeed. In particular, the Budget:
· Helps families in crisis gain stability and move to self-sufficiency. To help stabilize families in crisis and position them to move towards self-sufficiency, the Budget proposes Emergency Aid and Service Connection Grants, a new $2 billion initiative to test innovative State and local approaches to aid families facing financial crisis. The funding will provide families the emergency help they need to avert or reverse a downward spiral, and if needed, connect to longer term supports, such as income assistance, job training, child care, and mental health and substance abuse treatment, so that parents can get back on their feet, families are stabilized, and children can thrive.
· Cuts taxes for families paying for child care with a credit of up to $3,000 per child. The Budget triples the maximum Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC) for families with children under age five and makes the full CDCTC available to families with incomes of up to $120,000, benefiting families with young children, older children, and dependents who are elderly or have disabilities.
· Expands access to quality child care for working families. Research has shown that providing children with access to high-quality early education enables them to start kindergarten ready to succeed. This is particularly true for low-income children in rural and tribal areas, who often start kindergarten less prepared than their peers. The Budget ensures that all low- and moderate-income working families with young children—including those in rural areas—have access to quality, affordable child care. Overall, this investment will expand access to high-quality care for more than 1.1 million additional children under age four by 2026. The Budget also provides $200 million in discretionary funding above the 2016 enacted level to help States improve the health, quality, and safety of care while preserving access. This additional funding in the Budget will also go toward new pilot grants to States and local communities to help build a supply of high-quality child care in rural areas and during non-traditional hours.
· Increases the duration of Head Start programs, while maintaining access to Head Start. The Budget includes $9.6 billion for Head Start, an increase of $434 million over 2016 enacted. This funding will help ensure that grantees, including Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership grantees, maintain the number of children served and the quality of their program. This level also includes an additional $292 million in 2017 to increase the number of children participating in a full school day and year program, which research shows is more effective than programs of shorter duration and also helps meet the needs of working parents. This investment builds on the nearly $300 million investment made in 2016 to increase the duration of Head Start programs.
· Supports universal preschool. The Preschool for All initiative, in partnership with the States, provides all four-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families with access to high-quality preschool, while encouraging States to expand those programs to reach additional children from middle-class families and establish full-day kindergarten policies. The Budget also provides $350 million for the Preschool Development Grants (PDG) program – an initiative jointly administered by the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Education. These grants lay the groundwork for universal preschool as envisioned in the Preschool for All initiative.
Supports universal preschool
· Invests in voluntary, evidence-based home visiting. In home visiting programs, nurses, social workers, and other professionals work with new and expecting parents to help families track child development, identify health and development issues and connect families to services to address them, and utilize parenting practices that support children’s health, learning, and development. Research shows that home visiting programs can significantly improve maternal and child health, child development, and children’s long-term outcomes. Within the Department of Health and Human Services, the Budget invests an additional $15 billion in mandatory funds over 10 years to extend and expand the program. In addition, the Budget includes $20 million for a new initiative that the Department of Agriculture will administer in coordination with HHS to provide home visiting services in the most remote rural and tribal areas.
· Supports Computer Science for All. The Budget invests $4 billion in mandatory funding over three years for the new Computer Science for All initiative, which would support State efforts to expand access for all students to computer science instruction and programs of study. The Budget invests discretionary resources in a Computer Science for All Development Grants program for school districts to promote innovative strategies to provide high-quality instruction and other learning opportunities in computer science.
Supports Computer Science for All
· Provides tuition-free community college for responsible students. The Budget funds America’s College Promise (ACP), which would create a new partnership with States to make two years of community college free for responsible students, letting students earn the first half of a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree and acquire skills needed in the workforce at no cost. The proposal holds particular promise for rural America. Rural and tribal community colleges currently serve 3.4 million students nationwide at 600 schools, which are often the only institutions of higher learning within hundreds of miles. America’s College Promise would also provide grants to four-year Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions to provide first-time low-income students, including community college transfers, with up to two years of college at zero or significantly reduced tuition.
· Strengthens efforts to help children gain access to the nutrition they need. While nearly 22 million low-income children rely on free and reduced price meals at school, only a fraction of eligible children receive this assistance in the summer months. In rural areas, where children often live far from the community buildings that host traditional summer feeding programs, accessing meal service sites can be difficult. The Budget invests $12 billion over ten years to reduce child hunger during the summer through a permanent Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children (Summer EBT) program to provide supplemental food benefits during the summer months to all families with children eligible for free and reduced price school meals. Evidence from rigorous evaluations has shown that Summer EBT is effective in reducing food insecurity and improving nutrition.
· Tests innovative approaches to fighting rural poverty. Recognizing that too many rural communities struggle with persistently high rates of child poverty, the Budget invests in innovative strategies to increase rural families’ access to promising and evidence-based programs and services. The Budget provides $20 million for two-generation demonstration projects within USDA to fight rural child poverty—intentionally aligning high-quality early childhood education for children with high-quality workforce development for parents to put the entire family on a path to permanent economic security and positive life outcomes.
· Strengthens TANF to help poor families become self-sufficient. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program was designed to provide states with more flexibility while requiring them to engage recipients in work activities, but after twenty years there is strong evidence that the program can do more to help families get back on their feet and work toward self-sufficiency. The Budget includes a number of proposals to strengthen and modernize the TANF program. Specifically, it provides additional resources to States, ensures TANF funds are spent only low-income families, and refocuses the program on activities that data and evidence have proven to be effective ways of helping poor families become self-sufficient. These include – subsidized jobs programs, and two-generation initiatives that seek to improve employment outcomes of parents and developmental and educational outcomes of children.
· Addresses the prescription drug and heroin overdose epidemic. More Americans now die every year from drug overdoses than they do in motor vehicle crashes. According to the CDC, people in rural communities are more likely to overdose on prescription pain medications than people in cities, and the rate of opioid-related overdose deaths in nonmetro counties is 45 percent higher than in metro counties. The Budget takes a two-pronged approach to address this epidemic. First, it includes $1 billion in new mandatory funding over two years to expand access to treatment for prescription drug abuse and heroin use and help ensure that every American who wants treatment can access it and get the help they need. Second, it includes funding to continue and increase current efforts to expand State-level prescription drug overdose prevention strategies, increase the availability of medication-assisted treatment programs, improve access to the overdose-reversal drug naloxone, and support targeted enforcement activities. A portion of this funding is targeted specifically to rural areas, where rates of overdose and opioid use are particularly high.
· Expands access to mental health care. One in five American adults experience a mental health issue at some point in their life, yet millions do not receive the care they need. The Budget includes $500 million in new mandatory funding to help engage individuals with serious mental illness in care, improve access to care by increasing service capacity and the behavioral health workforce, and ensure that behavioral health care systems work for everyone.