Arkansas data show families with children struggling during COVID crisis

Arkansas performed better than most states on access to health insurance, but is falling short on food and housing security indicators, according to Kids, Families and COVID-19: Pandemic Pain Points and a Roadmap for Recovery, a 50-state report of recent household data developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation analyzing how families are faring during the COVID-19 crisis.

This KIDS COUNT report examined data from weekly surveys conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau that demonstrate how families across the country are challenged to meet basic needs during this global public health crisis while managing school, work and mental health. The Foundation finds that the concurrent health and economic crises are exacerbating trends that show millions of families are unable to fulfill basic needs.

Arkansas’s families are raising our state’s next generation of leaders, teachers, nurses and business people. And right now, they are going hungry, fear losing their homes and are putting off getting medical care as the state, nation and world grapple with yet another surge of COVID-19 cases.

The report shows how urgent state and federal intervention is to the health and well-being of families with children.

Families across Arkansas are struggling with paying their bills, putting food on the table, and balancing their physical and mental health. Many of these Arkansans are likely on the frontlines of this pandemic, working at hospitals, child care centers, restaurants, grocery stores, and in other low-paying jobs. Our federal and state policymakers must act decisively to help Arkansas’s families and individuals facing these extreme levels of hardship and to ensure an equitable response to this crisis, without putting Arkansans at greater risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus.

By measuring food security, the ability to make rent or mortgage payments, health insurance status, and mental health concerns, the Casey Foundation identified four pain points for children and families that require immediate action for relief and an opportunity to build a more equitable future. Key findings in the Arkansas data include:

  • An alarming 17 percent of Arkansas families with children said they sometimes or often did not have enough to eat in the most recent week. This rate is higher than the national average of 15 percent.
    • When broken down by race, the data show how current and historic policies that favor White households over Black and Latino households contribute to deep inequities in access to resources in Arkansas. The food-insecurity figures were 32 percent for Black households with children and 32 percent for Latinos, compared to 11 percent for White households.
  • Nearly one in five households with kids (19 percent) said they had only slight or no confidence at all that they would make the next rent or mortgage payment on time.
  • Though better than the U.S. average of 12 percent, 9 percent of Arkansas adults with children in the household did not have health insurance. Previous reports have detailed a concerning increase in the uninsured rates for children in Arkansas prior to the pandemic. More than a third of Arkansans with children in the household (35 percent) reported that they had delayed getting medical care in the previous month.
  • Nearly a quarter of respondents with children in their households (23 percent) reported that they felt down, depressed or hopeless in the previous week, indicating a widespread need for access to mental health care.

National data indicate that trying to educate children remotely while parents need to work is taking an enormous toll on families. Nearly half of the adult respondents (49 percent) indicated that they felt they were not equipped to help their children with schoolwork, and 32 percent reported lacking adequate broadband internet and online learning tools. More than three in ten respondents with children said they are less likely to return to work due to the lack of child care (32 percent).

“Our federal, state and local decision makers need to mount a response to COVID-19 that enables America’s children and families to weather this crisis and yields more equitable outcomes,” said Leslie Boissiere, Vice President of External Affairs at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which earlier this year provided an unprecedented $1.8 trillion in support to families, businesses and state, local and tribal governments, is proof our leaders can intervene to reach families and children in pain.”

AACF joins the Annie E. Casey Foundation in urging policymakers and child advocates to unite across differences and put COVID-19 response at the top of 2021 agendas to ensure that children have what they need to survive and thrive. In their report, the Foundation calls on elected officials and other decision makers to:

  • Put racial and ethnic equity first in policymaking by using disaggregated data and engaging community stakeholders. This should ensure that the policymaking process is informed by the diverse perspectives of those hardest hit by the crisis and created in partnership with communities. This approach should underpin any concrete policy actions.
  • Prioritize the physical and mental health of all children by guaranteeing that any vaccine will be available without cost as a factor and by retaining and strengthening the Affordable Care Act. To promote mental health, particularly in times of crisis, policymakers should work to reduce the student-to-school-counselor ratio in all school settings to levels recommended by mental health professionals.
  • Help families with children achieve financial stability and bolster their well-being by expanding access to unemployment insurance for part-time and gig economy workers, low-wage workers and students and by expanding child care access. Additionally, policymakers should eliminate barriers to accessing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). And beyond any temporary housing assistance programs aimed at heading off a foreclosure or eviction crisis, federal policymakers should expand the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program and increase the overall availability of public housing.
  • Ensure schools are better funded, more equitably funded and ready to meet the needs of students disparately affected by the pandemic by boosting school funding to protect against the economic impact of the pandemic, build maintenance-of-equity requirements into relief packages and address disparities in technology access at home and in the classroom.

View the report here.