It’s not news that our children are struggling right now. It’s critical that we don’t become numb to the constant “bad news” headlines. When children and young people cry for help, it’s our duty as adults to listen and act – whether we’re parents, teachers, caregivers, or elected officials.
As we continue to listen to our kids through the challenges of the pandemic, we need to be strategic about using our resources to respond effectively to what they need. In that spirit, here are four public policy solutions that state legislators should use during the 2022 legislative session to boost our kids and their families during these tough times:
1. Close the “coverage gap” so that parents & caregivers can be there for their kids.
The new Joint Legislative Committee on Health Care Access & Medicaid Expansion meets for the first time this week. This committee has the opportunity to improve access to health care that will support working families, bring new health care resources to rural communities, and make our whole state healthier. There are many ways that expanding Medicaid to more low-income adults has been shown to help kids, from reducing infant mortality to helping parents recover from substance use, to keeping families out of medical debt.
2. Make quality child care affordable for more families.
Parents are struggling like never before to find and maintain affordable child care. Child care providers are struggling to stay open after years of funding shortfalls. One step legislators can take now to address the issue is by investing in the state’s child care subsidy program – designed to help child care providers serve low-income families. But the rates North Carolina pays child care providers for subsidy are long outdated and far too low, especially in rural counties. Legislators can take a substantial step forward by setting a new floor for the child care subsidy rate at the statewide average.
3. Put kids’ mental health at the top of the agenda.
Suicide is now the leading cause of death among adolescents in North Carolina. North Carolina took a big step forward with a Suicide Prevention Protocol & training program for schools in 2020, but our schools are way below adequate staffing levels, especially when it comes to trained professionals like school nurses and social workers. NC Child and our partners will continue to urge the legislature to appropriate at least $10M in recurring funds to address the dire shortage of school nurses in our state.
If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support. Or text “CONNECT” to 741741.
4. Use targeted tax strategies to give families a boost up.
North Carolina can provide direct cash assistance to families hit hardest by the pandemic by re-establishing the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), or a similar targeted tax strategy. One thing we learned from federal pandemic relief efforts in 2021 is that directing tax credits to the lowest-income families is an extremely effective tool for fighting hunger and child poverty. It’s a strategy our state should be using all the time to help families with children bounce back when adversity strikes.
In many cases public policy and legislative changes can take a while to impact North Carolinians’ lives. However, this is a policy item that will leverage strategic investments immediately to respond to the needs of children and their families right away. We hope you’ll stick with us throughout the legislative session to make your voice heard for our kids.
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