Early experiences of financial hardship can disrupt healthy brain development, affecting long-term health and development. Families who lack sufficient household resources are more likely to face difficulties meeting basic needs like adequate shelter, nutrition, and healthcare. They may also be at greater risk of experiencing toxic stress, impacting parents’ ability to provide the nurturing relationships needed for healthy development.
In Texas, far too many children and families struggle to meet their basic needs, whether that be housing, food, or basic medical care. Meanwhile, Texas has limited access to social safety-net programs and high-paying jobs that would help lift families out of poverty. Groundbreaking new research shows that the social safety net – including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Social Security, expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and housing assistance, among others – played a major role in reducing child poverty over the last quarter century. Together, the social safety net was responsible for safeguarding 6.5 million children in America from poverty over the last twenty-five years. Ensuring Texas families have greater access to sufficient household resources is essential to meeting the state’s school readiness goals.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as SNAP, is an effective policy tool for widely addressing hunger and helping low-income families purchase healthy food. SNAP reduces the number of children who have to skip meals, and is linked to improved birth outcomes, increased health care access among children, and improved child health. By promoting healthy physical development, SNAP helps children become school ready and develop into productive adults.
Unfortunately, Texas is one of the 11 states with eligibility guidelines more restrictive than federal requirements. The state does not provide funding for outreach or enrolling more families, and the state has persistent challenges with staffing shortages in the state’s public benefits eligibility system. Amid these challenges, Texas is among the worst in the country at enrolling eligible children in SNAP. Twenty percent of Texas families with children who are eligible for SNAP are not receiving it, which is an outlier in the southern United States.
As previously mentioned, children living in poverty or on the brink of it – where they have limited access to basic needs such as healthcare, housing, and nutrition – are at significant risk of academic challenges in the short and long term. Tragically, more than 1 in 3 Texas children under age six live in poverty or near poverty (household income under 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Level). For a family of four, that equates to an annual household income of under $42,000.
Due to historical and current inequities in education, housing, and other areas, children of color are more than twice as likely to be in poverty or near poverty compared to White children, with nearly half of Black and Hispanic children under age six living in poverty or near poverty (44.5 percent and 44.1 percent respectively).
When children do not have enough healthy food to eat, they are more likely to experience developmental challenges early in life that affect their language, motor skills, and behavior.
Nearly 8 percent of households in Texas with at least one child under age six report experiencing low or very low child food security. That’s at least 1 in 13 households where young children are experiencing moderate to severe hunger – with many more children experiencing anxiety about whether they will have enough food to eat on any given day. Unfortunately, there are significant disparities in the rates of children experiencing hunger. In Texas, Black and Hispanic children are more likely to experience hunger than White children.
Policymakers can ensure that families get connected to needed resources and that children and families receive the benefits for which they are eligible. Learn more about the Dashboard’s policy recommendations to enhance families’ access to sufficient household resources here.