The 2017 Kids Count Data Report published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Indiana Youth Institute ranks Indiana 28th among states for overall child well-being. While there have been some improvements in our state’s rankings, this report signals a clear need for lawmakers to take action in a number of areas and protect the states most vulnerable: our children.
While there have been some improvements in the economic indicators that affect Hoosier children, there are a number of issues that stand out to me and show the Hoosier economy isn’t necessarily working for everybody.
Indiana is ranked in the middle of the pack when it comes to child care affordability, with costs – as I’m sure many Hoosier parents can attest – ballooning to upwards of $9,000 per year. Over 16 percent of Hoosier children come from low-income families who have reported their problems with child care attainment are so severe it interferes with the parent’s ability to work, especially when a child is sick or injured.
This past session Senate Democrats offered various pieces of legislation, as well as budget amendments, to attempt to close the gap in Hoosiers’ ability to attain quality, affordable child care. Each time they were rebuffed by the supermajority.
Sen. Karen Tallian was actually able to pass a bill to study paid family medical leave so she could move forward with her efforts to establish the state’s first paid family medical leave program, an initiative that would help these parents who are unable to work because they are caring for a sick or injured child. That study was rejected by the Republican members of the Legislative Council.
This report also points to the larger problem of living wages in Indiana. It states 28 percent of Hoosier parents in families with children say it is “somewhat or very difficult given their income to pay for the basics such as food or housing”. Child poverty is higher in Indiana compared to the rest of the nation, and in the majority of Indiana counties, food insecurity poses a major threat to our children.
Senate Democrats filed legislation and budget amendments that would raise the state’s minimum wage over the next two years. We also offered a budget amendment that would have provided additional funding to the state’s food banks. These efforts: all rejected by the supermajority.
The report also signaled five percent of Hoosier children in kindergarten were retained from advancing to the next grade, a statistic that cost the state of Indiana $22 million. State lawmakers approved a tepid expansion of the state’s pre-K program to 15 counties, increasing funding only $9 million per year. All efforts from Senate Democrats for a statewide pre-K program with more robust funding were denied by the supermajority.
The most troubling statistics from this report, however, are the health metrics that should raise an alarm with our Republican colleagues. All in all, the uninsured rate for Hoosier children has declined. I believe much of the decline has to do with the implementation of the HIP 2.0 program funded by federal Affordable Care Act dollars. Yet, Republicans in Washington – including Vice President Mike Pence – are willing to put more Hoosier children at risk of being denied health services in an effort to fulfill an ill-conceived campaign promise.
Luckily, the Legislative Council accepted a request made by myself and House Minority Leader Scott Pelath to study the effects of funding cuts to HIP 2.0 that may result from the passage of the Republican healthcare law. Those results should show a clear need for state action regarding health insurance coverage for the low-income Hoosiers currently on HIP 2.0, most of which, are children.
I encourage Hoosiers to read the report, as it paints a pretty clear picture of where the Republican supermajorities’ priorities have been. Over the last decade, lawmakers have done a lot to improve our economy by focusing on policies that benefit businesses and employers, but we have neglected to equally invest in working Hoosiers and children.
This report leads me to ask, “Is this the best we can do for children in Indiana?” I don’t believe it is, and Senate Democrats will keep fighting to improve the well-being of children in our state.