CLAAS IN 60 GOES LIVE | Cara Baldari on the Impacts of COVID-19 on Vulnerable Children

July 23, 2020

Claas and Cara
Each week, Family Promise’s CEO, Claas Ehlers, is joined by a guest on Facebook Live to talk about topics impacting the Family Promise network, our guests, and supporters. Learn more by following Family Promise on Facebook.

In this episode from this spring, Claas talks with Cara Baldari. Cara is the Vice President of Family Economics, Housing and Homelessness at First Focus on Children. Claas spoke with Cara about how vulnerable children are being affected by the coronavirus health crisis.

A full transcript is available below.

Claas Ehlers and Cara Baldari discuss how vulnerable children are being affected by the coronavirus health crisis

Claas Ehlers:  Alright. Welcome, everybody. This is Claas Ehlers, CEO of Family Promise, and this is Claas in 60 Seconds Goes Live. And as I said last week, we had the original brand of Claas in 60 Seconds, which is a great brand, but this will not be 60 seconds. It will be about 15 minutes.

And I’m going to be speaking today with Cara Baldari, who is the Vice President for Family Economics, Housing and Homelessness at First Focus on Children, which is a leading advocacy organization on the issues of child poverty. She is a longtime friend and fellow advocate and an incredible person. And we found out as we were getting ready for this: we sent out the tweets about it and everything, and then my daughter says, “wait a second, I know her.” They volunteered together at the Playtime Project in D.C. with families and children that are victims of domestic violence. So, it’s pretty cool that it’s a small world among all of us advocates. So, with that, I will turn it over to Cara to say a quick word of hi, and then we’re going to launch into some questions and conversations.

Cara Baldari: Thanks for having me. It’s always nice to talk with you, Claas, and to make that connection with your daughter.

Claas:  Great. So, you know we’re going to look at the impact of COVID-19, specifically on poverty and children and some of the things that people may not be as familiar with; what are the things that we need to be doing and also, hopefully, a little bit about how maybe our current times can actually start to create some shifts in our national approach to child poverty.

But, the first question I want to ask you: we hear so much about these challenges of school from home and the dynamics for low-income children. They can’t access their school lunches, things like that, and [they may have] problems with connectivity. What other factors are impacting children during this crisis that people, in general, may not be as aware of?

Cara:  Yeah, I mean, I think, unfortunately, the pandemic is disrupting every facet of children’s lives in ways we don’t even know yet and the trauma that they’re experiencing now can really affect their future outcomes. Unless we act.

So, for example, we know that we’re hearing about an increase in incidences of child abuse across the country. So, ERs are seeing cases of childhood head trauma and other forms of serious physical abuse. But, those reports, you know, those cases of abuse are not always getting reported because children are not in places where they’re seeing mandated reporters, like in school. So that’s something that really worries us.

We also know that the pandemic is affecting children’s health in other ways. Children are not going to the doctor at the same rate that they were because families are scared of getting infected. This is especially troublesome for children with disabilities who need access to physical therapy and other support. So, that is leading to decreased vaccination rates. For example, as much as 60% in some cases and we also know that families are losing access to health insurance, potentially, because they’re losing access to employment. And so, they might be concerned about medical costs and avoiding the doctor for that reason, as well.

And I think we’re learning that children are having really serious reactions to the virus in ways that we don’t really understand yet and that’s a huge stressor for parents. And we know that hunger is just a continually growing issue. There was just a report this week from the Brookings Institute that showed that 35% of households with children don’t have enough to eat. And that’s nearly double the rate of what we saw in the Great Recession.

Claas:  Yeah. There are all of these sorts of cascading effects, you know. And it’s interesting because people focus in on the infection, the virus itself, but there’s this whole plethora of other dynamics that come up as you described. And you know, one of the things, too, that we see in our space with children who are experiencing homelessness, is that school is such a normative experience. It is sort of the one constant. It’s that island in a sea of chaos and uncertainty. And so, that’s been taken away. So, I don’t know that there are any studies about this, but I have to imagine that the psychological impacts of this crisis and of this “I’m taking away normal” have to be really profound on children and particularly those experiencing housing instability. And I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on that specific element as well?

Cara:  I mean, I think we’ve seen an increase and hear from pediatricians and others who are saying how disruptive it is to children to not be in school. The socialization factor alone, right? To not have all the supports that are offered in school, such as school lunches, right? And healthcare in some cases. And that it is really hard to distance learn for many children. A lack of access to technology, maybe in a crowded doubled-up or other kind of overcrowded housing situation. We’re really worried that this really could affect childhood development going forward.

Claas:  Yeah and I know you’ve done such great work on the long-term impacts of child poverty, so what actions can we take now in regard to this? What are the things that we can actually be doing to try to mitigate all these dynamics?

Cara:  Yeah, there’s a lot. I mean, starting out, we definitely need to increase access to food assistance for families. A lot of the lowest income families already receive the max SNAP benefit, formerly known as food stamps. So, we need to increase that benefit. We know it’s not enough and we know that children are missing meals due to being out of school

And so states do have the option to access emergency assistance called Pandemic EBT and about 21 states have done that. We need everyone to do that so children are not missing meals.

We know we need to stop and prevent families from being evicted, in their homes, and not accruing large rent arrears. The Eviction Lab through Princeton University has a really great resource where they list all the state policies on what states are doing around eviction. That’s really helpful. And if you see in your state that your state’s not doing a great job, advocate for that. And make sure that families in hotels and motels are included from being prevented from being evicted.

We need increased funding for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program so that children who are losing access to health insurance due to unemployment can make sure they get access to health care. And then, families need more cash. Families know their needs and need access to cash to use it for all the things that they need to support their children.

We had the stimulus payments. They were not enough and they did not reach many families, including immigrant families. That left out a lot of children for various reasons and so we’ve been advocating for reoccurring payments that are larger, that have equity for both children and adults, and that also will reach all families.

Claas: Yeah, it’s interesting. Last week, I had a conversation with Kat Lilley, the director [of Family Promise of Colorado Springs]. And you know Kat well from her fantastic work with Colorado. She’s a little bit of a folk hero. She was talking about how the state of Colorado does not have eviction abatement, which is just incredible.

Across the country, we’re hearing, even where there is a moratorium on eviction, landlords are still filing because it doesn’t prevent you from filing, it just means you can’t execute on the eviction or [they are] making demands about stimulus checks.

These are really big challenges facing us, so just to keep this really cheerful line of conversations going, we look at the future in the fall, we’re going to see a recession in full force, escalated unemployment. We’ve talked about some of the things we need to do right now and those obviously have impact in the fall and as we see, I think, this sort of tsunami that’s going to come in for low-income families. Are there any other actions that we can be taking now that may help mitigate some of those challenges in the fall and as we do see potentially see continued high unemployment for low-income families and some of these other problems starting to compound?

Cara: Yeah, well, definitely all of the things I mentioned would certainly help. We just heard this morning that unemployment is at nearly 15% and I think it peaked at 10% for the Great Recession. And we just continue to go up. It’s also higher for workers of color and so we know that then it’s likely child poverty is going to rise and could rise significantly depending on how high unemployment goes. There were numbers put out by researchers at Columbia University, a few weeks ago that said child poverty could increase as much as 53%. And we know child poverty was already really high, to begin with. Same as with child homelessness: there are skyrocketing numbers that this is only going to exacerbate. And so I think the first thing that’s really important to think about is that any aid that either Congress is delivering or that states are thinking about has to last past the public health outbreak and through any kind of economic downturn that we see, which is definitely going to outlast the public health crisis. So that’s really important.

And then I think we do need structural changes and so one thing we’ve been advocating for is an expanded child tax credit for families and to convert it into more of what we think of as a child allowance. Other countries have child benefits which are monthly payments to families with children. They really provide a floor of resources and a sense of some financial stability for families. And then, having that framework, other countries were able to, when they needed to make increased emergency payments for families, they already had that framework to deliver them so it was a lot more seamless. So, we have been advocating here for an expanded child tax credit that would provide a larger tax credit to families with the lowest incomes who are currently left out and that would be monthly to meet families’ monthly needs.

So, we are hopeful that we could see some progress on that and that would not only provide some assistance currently but also potentially in the future to address any other crises that we might see down the line.

Claas:  Cara, I want to position over what you just said there. You and I talked a couple of months ago. I was actually in an airport — when you could be in airports. We talked on the phone because I was giving a speech at the New York Fed and really it was all your ideas conveyed through me. You have such great wisdom on how we all can understand the human impact of child poverty, but there are such profound economic implications in terms of lost productivity and so on. And you just always speak so eloquently about that. So, can you share a little bit about that perspective of why investing in ending child poverty is not a do-good thing, it is a smart economic approach?

Cara: Yeah, well, thank you for those words and I always look to Family Promise for their wisdom, as well. So, there is a landmark study from the National Academy of Sciences, issued last year, that kind of confirms what we know about child poverty — that unfortunately it negatively affects child brain development and that could cause children to have worse health and educational outcomes. And that affects all of us.

So the study finds that child poverty costs our country $1 trillion a year in lost economic output. And so, it’s not only a loss for those children but a loss to all of us. We’re not reaping the benefits of all of the child’s potential and all the things they can create when they’re given the chance to thrive. So, we have long advocated for what we call a child poverty target in this country — the idea that we would set a goal to cut our national child poverty rate in half within a decade and we feel like, in order to make progress, we need to hold ourselves accountable. Other countries have taken this model. Some states are taking this model. We think now is the time.

This pandemic is really exposing all of the inequities in our society and just exacerbating them further. I think there’s some empathy for how easy it is for families to fall on hard times, how little assistance we give out, and how hard it is to get even that little assistance.

We’re hoping there’s an opportunity for us to come together to say we really need to make some significant progress and that study is really helpful in doing so because it comes from a nonpartisan entity such as the National Academy of Sciences. There’s a lot of evidenced-based great findings that are hopefully helpful to both sides of the aisle.

Claas:  Yeah, I think it’s such an important study because, as you said, you’ve lost productivity. We have these investments we have to make and mitigations that are created by poverty. It is ridiculous that we have to make those kinds of investments. Essentially if you give all people equal opportunity, they all will thrive and I do like what you said about the fact that we’re in a place where — there are so many challenges that this crisis has created for us, but I think it’s created awareness of the digital divide. It created awareness of the fact that housing is not just a commodity and it’s not just human rights, it’s actually a public health concern. And then, to what you just said, it’s given awareness to the fact that there really is a large segment of our population that is exceedingly vulnerable, in general, and much more so during economic hard times and that, as a society, it just doesn’t make sense to allow that to be.

So, to kind of finish this up here: what are you optimistic about and what do you believe we might be able to accomplish pivoting off of this current crisis?

Cara:  Yeah, I think as we have discussed, I am optimistic about how much media attention [there has been] on how this pandemic is affecting children. We often feel at First Focus that children are overlooked and not prioritized. There is this feeling that children are resilient. They’re OK. Everyone cares about children, right? So everyone will do the right thing. And we know that’s not true. Children don’t vote, right? That can’t form PACs. So I am optimistic that there’s been so much attention that, I think, is reaching Capitol Hill and others who care and I think there is a chance for us to come together.

You know, we saw a really big package come out of Congress, right? That was not enough and didn’t reach everyone, but had bipartisan support. And we know they’re negotiating another one now. And so we are hopeful to see some really strong provisions in there to address child homelessness and poverty.

Claas:  Yeah, I agree. I mean, we saw the federal government really look at homelessness as a priority. And you know, I think there’s a number of reasons for that, not least of which is that it helped to protect the health system to prevent people experiencing homelessness from becoming infected en mass. I think it was good policy and good thinking and, for how quickly things came together and all the jokes we make about Washington, there really was a lot of success out of that.

And I do hope that we can kind of continue this frame of mind and I do think we see shifts. The 2008 crisis created a shift in the understanding of housing as wealth and the vulnerabilities that created and this may be the time that we have this next shift that we understand that we cannot allow so much child poverty to exist.

So, we’re going to wrap up. I got a couple of comments here. First off, I had to keep explaining which Cara because our Chief Impact Officer is Cara Bradshaw. So we have these two outstanding Cara Bs who are advocates on these issues.

And, it’s great: a graduate from one of our programs has made some terrific comments, as well. So, thanks to everybody for watching and for commenting. Cara, it is just always a pleasure to spend time with you. Thank you for everything you’re doing, for being such a fierce, fearless, and eloquent advocate. And with that, I think we’ll wish everybody a good weekend — as much as weekends exist these days. Thanks, Cara.

Cara:  Thank you. Same to you. Thanks for all of your work.

Claas:  Bye, everyone.

Transcript has been edited for clarity.
The statistics in this article reflect the data for the time this session was filmed in May 2020.

Dial 211 to find more resources near you.