Recently I had a conversation with my brother, a retired physician, who lives in another state. He was lamenting the fact that the Federal government was driving local decisions on education while only contributing a small percentage to the overall budget. It made me think about all the misinformation that has been at the base of many decisions voters make on local, state and Federal elections. In that spirit, I am going to try to shine a light on some serious misconceptions about critical issues given the election season is a few weeks and months away.
Myth: Federal interference in state and local decisions about education. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics in school year 2014–15, elementary and secondary public school revenues totaled $664 billion in constant 2016–17 dollars. Of this total, 8 percent, or $56 billion, were from federal sources; 47 percent, or $309 billion, were from state sources; and 45 percent, or $299 billion, were from local sources. Translated, this means, local and state decision makers are the keys to the quality of education in our communities, since they decide how local and state funds drive local school district budgets. Do we consider that when voting in state and local contested races? Do we ask questions of candidates that directly speak to the education of young children, such as what percentage of the budget is spent on early childhood education?
Myth: Parents don’t work and just take advantage of government handouts to survive. The US Labor Department reported in early October that the country is experiencing an extraordinary 8½-year streak of monthly job growth, the longest on record, crossing both presidential administrations. If we have such a low unemployment rate, why do we still need programs to help families make “a living”? In Mississippi, the minimum wage is what is required to be paid by the Federal government, $7.25 per hour. In January 2018, eighteen states raised the minimum wage. Mississippi was not one of them. Full time minimum wage workers in Mississippi earn a total of $290.00 per week and approximately $15,080.00 per year (based on an 8 hour day and a 260-day work year) before taxes. The federal poverty threshold for a household of two is $14,570 per year. According to Kids Count, the unemployment of parents seeking employment in Mississippi was 4% in 2017. Translated, this means, parents are working, many at the lowest legal wage possible. Elected state officials can change this, if advocates push for a living wage for all working Mississippians.
Myth: Welfare promotes unmarried women to have babies so they can collect a check. According to a report issued by The Balance , there are six major welfare programs that exist to provide subsidies to the poor. Recipients must prove their income falls below a target, which is some percentage of the federal poverty level. In 2018, that’s $25,100 for a family of four. Many Mississippians hear about the TANF Program (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), a federally funded program and assume it is a program that discourages work by providing monetary incentives to stay home. Nationally, TANF provided, on average, income to 2.5 million recipients in 2017. Of these, 1.9 million were children.
In 2016, TANF assisted only 23 percent of the families living in poverty. On average, a three-person family received $447 a month. Despite this help, they still live below the poverty line. Families who receive TANF must get a job within two years. They might not get more money if they have another child. They can own no more than $2,000 in total assets. They can only receive TANF for five years or less in some states. According to the Clarion Ledger, Mississippi has some of the most rigid procedures in the country for families to meet to qualify for TANF and families receive lower benefits that average. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families recipients receive $170 a month in Mississippi compared to $442 nationally. Eight percent of Mississippi families in poverty are accessing TANF compared to 23 percent nationally and the caseload for TANF between 2006 and 2015 fell 48 percent in Mississippi, while 21 percent nationally.
Some elected officials would promote the old notion of TANF providing welfare payments encourages births to single mothers who do not work, but that is simply not true. If we want to continue to show statistics as reported in 2015 which point to 59% (64,800) of young children in Mississippi, under age 3, living in low-income families and 59% (71,099) of young children, ages 3 through 5, living in low-income families, we need to just do what we have been doing and ask little to nothing of our state elected officials. We have several months to formulate questions and pose them to those running for state-wide offices. Shame on us if we don’t. We will be as much to blame as those who continue to keep using decades old rhetoric to harm our children and our state.
by Dr. Cathy Grace
Two babies are born within minutes of each other in a woman’s hospital in Mississippi that specializes in labor and delivery. One infant was born without any difficulties and received a clean bill of health minutes after their birth. The other baby was born without any difficulties, but was quickly diagnosed with Down syndrome which happens when there is an extra copy of genetic material on all or part of the 21st chromosome. The genetic abnormality results in children who often have cognitive development profiles that suggest mild to moderate intellectual disability . According to the National Institutes of Health, research indicates that early intervention improves outcomes for children with Down syndrome. This assistance should begin shortly after birth and continue until a child reaches age 3. At age 3, most children should receive interventions and treatment through their local school district.
In another part of the state in a rural hospital a baby was born 2.5 months early and had difficulty breathing. He was rushed to a neonatal intensive care unit in a large hospital hundreds of miles away. After 6 weeks in intensive care, the baby and mother were reunited and sent home with instructions to contact a First Steps Early Intervention specialist to start early intervention services.
According to the March of Dimes, babies who spend several weeks or months in intensive care are likely to need early intervention services to address delays in speech and language, thinking, learning and reasoning skills and motor skills. The earlier these delays are identified and treated, the more likely the child will be able to reach his potential later in life.
The scenarios of various types of problems displayed at the birth of many children in the country pointed to the need for early intervention services. The realization of the need was addressed through a national program, appropriately named Early Intervention. Established by Congress in 1986, the intent of the program was to establish a system of services to provide early intervention for infants and toddlers with disabilities in recognition of “an urgent and substantial need” to: (1) enhance the development of handicapped infants and toddlers and to minimize their potential for developmental delay, (2) reduce the educational costs to our society, including our Nation’s schools, by minimizing the need for special education and related services after handicapped infants and toddlers reach school age, (3) minimize the likelihood of institutionalization of handicapped individuals and maximize the potential for their independent living in society, and (4) enhance the capacity of families to meet the special needs of their infants and toddlers with handicaps.
According to Northeast MS Daily Journal, young children born in Mississippi needing early intervention services are often doomed. We have allowed the requirements set by the federal government to be barely met, and in doing so created a non-system that often harms, rather than helps the most vulnerable children in the state. State leaders are so busy saving money through tax cuts, the real impact of those cuts on the lives of the future generations is dismissed. Empathic concern exhibited by state leadership for children with special needs such as autism, cerebral palsy, hearing or vision impairments is useless. Rather than pity, our children need action in the form of more funding. Our children need leaders who are committed to acknowledging and solving this unacceptable situation instead of passing this to “others” to solve. The “others” are here, waiting on funds to solve this mess. Where are the leaders?
Cathy Grace, Ed.D.
On Saturday August 18, approximately 80 child care providers, child advocates, parents and state agency personnel met to comment on Mississippi’s Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) Plan. CCDF is a program that provides federal funds to child care centers who are eligible to receive payments for the care and education of children, birth through 12 years of age whose parents qualify based on income. The parents who work or go to school or who are in job training have an opportunity to receive funds so their children can attend a child care center based or family based program, if the programs meet the licensing regulations as set forth by the state. Each state submits a plan to the Administration on Children. Young and Families (ACF) in Washington for their approval. The plan sets forth how the state will meet the requirements listed that allows the funds to be allocated to the Mississippi Department of Human Services for dissemination to providers and support agencies.
More funds have been allocated to states to serve low income children than in years previously from the federal government. This is very good news for Mississippi’s children since according to the Annie E. Casey Kids Count Mississippi ranks 48th in the country on child economic well-being. Given the minimum wage in Mississippi is $7.25 an hour, a family of four,(2 children and 2 parents who work full time at minimum wage), would not be able to afford housing, food, utilities, car payment, any medical bills AND child care. As long as the state endorses the bare minimum as a wage to be paid, the reality that working families at the bottom of the wage chain need supports such as CCDF to have a life worth living.
We need to ask ourselves as residents of a state that is struggling to get past the notion that we are still indifferent to the thousands who are stuck in low wage jobs, what are we doing differently? According to the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, Mississippi’s unemployment rate fell in January 2018 to 4.6%, which is the lowest level of unemployment ever recorded in Mississippi. If we have such good unemployment statistics, why is our family median income so far below that of other states? According to the ACS 1 year survey, the median family income for Mississippi was $52,672 in 2016 which when compared to the median US family income, is $18,390 lower. The minimum wage rate in Mississippi is one factor, but so could be part-time vs full time employment and the lack of job training programs that allow for a career ladder to be utilized that would result in a higher wage for employees. Maybe it is due to the large number of franchised companies located in the state where the decisions about wages are not even made by CEOs who live here. Maybe it is the failure of economic developers to support small business owners with programs that can be utilized to increase the pay of workers similar to corporate packages that are offered for large corporations to relocate in the state. Regardless, the “working poor” keep the fast food businesses open, the convenience stores stocked, the dishes washed in your favorite restaurant, and sweep floors and other tasks that no one else will do for the wage offered.
If we believe the person who hands us our burger deserves a quality of life beyond living in crisis from one struggle to the next, we can push for a higher minimum wage. According to the Living Wage Calculator, a Mississippi family with 2 working parents with one child has to make an hourly wage of $21.36. Our minimum wage is $7.25. You do the math and think long and hard about our duties as citizens and the faithful.
by Dr. Cathy Grace
Breast milk has long been recommended as the healthiest milk a baby can drink and most advantageous to their health in the first year of life. According to an article published by Vox on July 10, 2018, research has also linked breastfeeding to higher rates of survival during the first year of life, higher intelligence, and lower rates of chronic diseases like obesity and diabetes later on. Finally, breastfeeding seems to boost maternal health, reducing the risk of postpartum hemorrhage right after birth; and in the longer term, Type 2 diabetes and breast, uterine and ovarian cancers among mothers.
On July 8ththe New York Times reported that the US delegation to the UN affiliated World Health Assembly sought to water down a resolution scheduled to be passed by removing language that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding” and another passage that called on policymakers to restrict the promotion of food products that many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children The article states that during the deliberations, some American delegates even suggested the United States might cut its contribution to the World Health Organization if the resolution was passed. This opposition comes even after the American Academy of Pediatrics reaffirms its recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced, with continuation of breastfeeding for 1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant.
According to a tweet attributed to President Trump, “The U.S. strongly supports breast feeding but we don’t believe women should be denied access to formula. Many women need this option because of malnutrition and poverty.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/09/well/breastfeeding-trump-resolution.html) Critics of this stance point to the malnutrition and poverty in the most impoverished parts of the world and our country as a main reason to encourage women to breast feed. This is due the cost of formula and use of unsanitary water to mix powered milk. Examples such as the Flint, Michigan tragedy where the water had an unhealthy level of lead for years and in underdeveloped countries across the world where no water purification exists illuminate the issue even in the US.
From an economic view, the World Health Organization and partners estimate that global economic losses from lower cognition associated with not breastfeeding reached more than US$ 300 billion in 2012, equivalent to 0.49% of the world’s gross national income.
Why such opposition? A report published by Common Dreams indicates international delegates to the United Nation’s World Health Assembly reflecting on their recent meeting, felt that U.S. representatives appeared to put the interests of the $70 billion baby food industry ahead of those of parents and children—and pressured other countries to do the same. It has been hypothesized that as baby formula sales have gone down in wealthy countries in recent years, the baby food industry has targeted developing countries with marketing campaigns. A UN resolution passed this spring—despite pushback from the U.S.—aimed to promote breastfeeding around the world.
What determines the policies and interpretation of laws specific to children and families in our country must be held up for examination. The lens through which this occurs is the issue. In this case, is it children’s health or corporate greed?
by Dr. Cathy Grace