September 26, 2023
Recent reporting on newly released census data from mid-September is drawing attention to the difficult financial reality faced by families across the US. The 2022 census data revealed both that the supplemental poverty measure rate increased for the first time since 2010 and that household income after taxes fell 8.8%, while inflation rose 7.8%, the largest annual increase in the cost-of-living adjustment since 1981. Adding to this, child poverty rose between 2021 and 2022—more than doubling throughout the country from 7.8% to 12.4%. The change to the child poverty percentage can be attributed to the expiration of the expanded federal Child Tax Credit (CTC)—which in 2021 reduced child poverty by over 40% and was used by 9 in 10 families in New York on basic needs like food, clothing, rent/mortgage, or utility bills—as well as cuts to other expanded federal supports like SNAP which have also expired after the American Rescue Plan Act legislation was not renewed.
Along with this, states and cities are facing looming federal funding cliffs in education and child care, as well as other affordability issues, with emphasis on greater austerity and prediction for cuts to state and local investments. In this climate we must remain focused not only on the economic precarity persisting for so many families, but on proven policy and budget action that can address these conditions head on. It is undeniable that that action taken by government can have a dramatic impact on child and family poverty.
Diving into New York City specifically, rising expenses continue to reinforce economic hardship for most families. We know from our recent work in housing and child care affordability that even just these two expenses are debilitating for many households. Rental costs across the five boroughs are the highest they’ve ever been. Considering that the latest census data shows the median income for NYC families with children is $77,681, at market value families could be spending 50% of their income on just rent, and in fact the most recent census data show 27.9% of households spend more than half their income on rent alone. When it comes to child care for children under 5, roughly 80% of all families cannot afford care at the federally recommended threshold, a key data point from our 2023 cost burden analysis, which you can read here. (For additional context on affordability, check out our Insight on the unaffordability between housing and child care.)
As new city specific census data is released and CCC moves forward with advocacy at the state and city level, we will continue to reference this past year’s Child and Family Well-being in New York State: Addressing Barriers to More Opportunities. The index illustrates barriers to well-being on the county level, across New York and in the five boroughs, and calls attention to policy solutions and budgetary actions that can be taken to address common concerns of inequity reinforced by data. Take a look back at the Child and Family Well-being Index, here. Today while new census data and historical data in our index call attention to heightened and persistent income and housing insecurity, local data from the recently released Mayor’s Management Report draw attention to serious delays families face accessing critical resources and supports, compounding these issues of instability. We’re already seeing the fallout from staffing issues ahead of these budget cuts: NYC Failing to Process Most Food Stamp, Cash Benefit Applications on Time.
The latest Mayor’s Management Report (MMR) shows that the number of NYC households receiving SNAP has increased between FY22 and FY23 but that the rate of timely food stamp processing took a steep drop from 91.9% when Adams first took office to a startling 39.7% this past year. Now, more New York families are waiting longer than the federally mandated 30 days for their SNAP benefits. Meanwhile, unhoused families continue to languish in shelter for well more than a year (on average, over 14 months in FY23) before they can access housing they qualify for. In FY23, the average number of families with children in shelter per day increased by almost 50%. The MMR reports that requests for emergency rental assistance applications went from 25,323 in FY22 to 49,216 in FY23, while the median time to finalize a lease that places families in shelter into the subsidized housing units specifically set aside by HPD increased from 203 days in FY22 to 243 days in FY23. This data further validates a recent statement by the Family Homelessness Coalition that expediting access to and retention of public benefits through adequate staffing and new technology would significantly impact the homelessness crisis. Additionally, data from the MMR on child care show that both utilization of child care vouchers and EarlyLearn enrollment are down in FY23, despite eligibility expansion in the past year. We know from CCC’s own research that enrollment process barriers and lack of outreach are cited by both parents and providers (data available in our 2023 ECE Report, The Youngest New Yorkers) as major issues. The city could and should address these issues with operational improvements to assure on-time contract payments, staff retention, and community-rooted enrollment and outreach plans.
With greater austerity on the horizon, as the city Administration announced a cut of 15% in city tax levy spending, we need to make sure we’re protecting and filling city agency staff lines essential to benefit access as well as protecting investments in the fundamental community supports children and families need so that our neighbors do not loose these vital lifelines for well-being.
Leaning into investments that improve the access to and retention of benefits for families is not only morally crucial, but it also has a multiplier effect on the economy, which can be seen by the impact the CTC had on reducing child poverty and how it was used. Afterall, food stamps, cash assistance, and rental vouchers provide needed relief to families struggling to make ends meet, helping them maintain stability in housing, food security, child care, and well-being in their own neighborhoods. These resources are spent immediately in the local economy, impacting community well-being and the city’s economic growth. Furthermore, access to childcare and youth programs supports both child and youth development and parental workforce participation—it’s an economic multiplier, too!
This program year CCC is deeply focused on actions that can further progress to alleviate economic precarity for families and children. Within our own work and the work from campaigns and coalitions we co-convene and support, we will focus on a holistic approach to economic stability for families and community members, including ensuring they can access the assistance and supports they’re entitled to.