Combating Childhood Poverty in Appalachia

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Fahe Members have fought to end child poverty in the region for decades. Now, families across Appalachia are counting on policymakers to rise to the challenge of this pervasive problem.

As Americans emerge from the pandemic and markets steadily climb back to pre-coronavirus levels, there can be little doubt that many families across the country are living in time of significant wealth creation and aggregate economic growth. However, despite all of the new and innovative technologies and market creativity that have fueled the rising financial fortunes of many in this country, many others still find themselves excluded from the benefits of a growing economy. This disparity has particularly afflicted communities throughout Appalachia, where no invention or breakthrough has yet been able to solve one of our region’s most pervasive and stubborn economic and social problems—childhood poverty.

Nationally, one in six American children live in poverty. While the existing child tax credit has helped many parents, it often fails to reach those at the lower end of the income range. Currently, about a quarter of children receive partial benefits under the existing tax credit, yet the poorest 10% of earners do not receive any benefits at all.

Research shows, and Fahe Members’ experiences corroborate, that childhood poverty can have lifelong consequences. Children raised in poverty are less likely to have access to a quality education that can equip them with the skills to build a stronger future for themselves. Children who grow up in poverty also tend to experience poorer health outcomes. They are more likely to suffer from the harmful physical and mental effects of excessive stress and specific health conditions related to nutrition, chronic illness, and birth weight.

This challenge and its detrimental long-term consequences has dogged Appalachian communities for generations. In response, Fahe Members have worked on the front lines of their communities for decades to alleviate poverty throughout Appalachia. Many serve their communities through homelessness services, food banks, and connecting individuals and families with homes that they can afford. Others host job training programs, offer addiction recovery services, and ensure childcare and health services are available to low-income families.

With the lingering effects of the pandemic only adding to the region’s financial insecurity, communities throughout Appalachia continue to rely on Fahe’s established network of community advocates to provide an unbroken continuum of essential services to lift their most vulnerable out of poverty. This steadfast dedication makes our Members crucial partners for any federal or state government program that seeks to address poverty from the ground-up.

As Fahe and our Members look to the future of government policy, recent federal pandemic relief legislation may offer some limited short-term solutions. Under the recently-enacted American Rescue Plan, qualifying families nationwide are expected to receive direct relief payments of $1,400 per person. Projections estimate more than 85% of households will receive these payments, with a middle-income family of four getting roughly $5,600 in immediate cash relief. Although this one-time emergency assistance won’t remedy generations of chronic under-investment in the region, a 2020 Fahe survey suggests that it may help bridge urgent gaps in family budgets and cover essential bills to shelter and feed hungry children, parents, and spouses.

Moreover, under this legislation, an estimated 93% of children are set to benefit from monthly checks to families of up to $300 per child. Columbia University estimates that this “child allowance” can cut child poverty by 39% for white children, 45% for Latino children, and 52% for African-American children. In total, almost six million children stand to potentially get the boost they need to overcome poverty barriers.

Such targeted relief actions like these direct child allowance payments may give policymakers a starting point to pursue the kinds of impactful interventions that are likely required to bring meaningful assistance to generationally-impoverished families. These investments can serve as a down-payment for further remedying years of political apathy and legislative inattentiveness to the needs of millions of families in Appalachia—families who have worked to support a thriving economy and world-class standard of living for the entire country. As our elected leaders continue to search for solutions to deep-seated social maladies like child poverty, Fahe and our Members stand ready to partner with federal and state officials to ensure that the benefits of any initiative find their way to the communities and homes where they are most needed.

This article was authored by Sarah Weintraub who serves as Fahe's Policy and Communications AmeriCorps Member through the Appalachia CARES program. She holds a B.A. in Political Science from Amherst College. In her free time, she can be found reading or exploring the outdoors. Clinch-Powell has been a Fahe member since 2009 and has supplied capacity building support to community partners through our Appalachia CARES AmeriCorps program since 1997. Readers can see the original article and learn more at https://fahe.org/combating-childhood-poverty-in-appalachia/