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Study finds more Kentucky kids are facing housing, health coverage and mental health challenges

By Nadia Ramlagan
Public News Service

The coronavirus has surpassed heart disease as the number-one killer of Americans, and a new report finds children are especially vulnerable to the personal and economic consequences of the pandemic.

Based on census household survey data taken last spring, the Annie E. Casey Foundation study found nearly 1 in 5 Kentucky households with children said they had slight or no confidence they would make their next rent or mortgage payment on time. Housing instability has hit Black families the hardest, with 25% reporting insecurity.

Leslie Boissiere, vice president of external affairs at the Foundation, said the economic instability families are facing could affect children’s well-being for years to come.

Census survey data finds nearly 1 in 6 Kentucky families with children said they sometimes or often did not have enough to eat in their household during the pandemic. (KyForward file photo)

“We have to get back to the basics,” Boissiere said. “We have to make sure that the poorest and most fragile families in our economy are taken care of and that we’re funding those programs that can have an impact and make sure that everybody’s basic needs are met in this country.”

Boissiere pointed to the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which allows states to provide short-term cash assistance to low-income families with children, as a stopgap solution. According to the report, the program is long overdue for improvement. In 2019, only 23% of families with kids in poverty received TANF assistance, down from nearly 70% at the program’s inception in 1996.

Mahak Kalra, senior policy and advocacy director at Kentucky Youth Advocates, said the $1.8 trillion in federal CARES Act funding lawmakers passed earlier this year prevented more families from slipping into poverty and uncertainty. But she said more could be done as lawmakers weigh another round of economic stimulus.

“I think it would be helpful to have future economic stimulus payments that are for families with mixed immigration status,” Kalra said. “That was something that wasn’t a part of the federal package in the past.”

According to the report, 1 in 10 adults with children in the Commonwealth lacked health insurance, compared with 12% nationwide. Kalra pointed out children’s well-being is tied to health of their parents or guardians, as kids are more likely to have insurance if their parents are covered.

She said longstanding disparities in health coverage have fueled the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on Black and Brown communities.

“I think we’re at 4% of Kentucky children still need access to health coverage,” she said. “And so by closing that remaining gap and addressing racial disparities in health coverage, children and families can continue to access coverage when they need it.”

The report also found more Kentucky families are struggling with mental health. Nearly one-quarter of respondents with children in their household said they felt down, depressed or hopeless, compared with 21% nationwide.

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