Column: New Kids Count data on families’ needs demands bipartisan action

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We have known since the coronavirus pandemic hit Michigan that it was going to hit families with children particularly hard, especially families who were already struggling before the health crisis hit. 

But thanks to a new report released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation this week, “Kids, Families and COVID-19: Pandemic Pain Points and a Roadmap for Recovery,” we have concrete data to show how parents are faring and where help is most needed. The report is based on the results of weekly surveys conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau looking at how the pandemic has impacted our lives. 

The timing couldn’t be better, with the Michigan Legislature weighing a number of important COVID-related policies and funding needs this week as the Lame Duck session wraps up. As the report shows, policymakers have an opportunity to do more at both the state and federal level to help parents get by during these difficult times, including being able to put enough food on their table, keep a roof over their heads and keep them physically and mentally well.  

Michigan data show families with children have been struggling during the COVID crisis, with unemployment and economic struggles impacting other areas of security and mental health. 

All Michigan-specific data can be found here.

An average of 61% of Michigan households with children have lost employment income since March 13, according to survey results. That percentage has declined in most recent weeks, but is still hovering at 56%. 

The state’s unemployment issues for working families has, in turn, had a significant impact on the other needs of parents and their kids. Around 16% of Michigan households with kids have reported “sometimes or often” not having enough food to eat in the previous seven days. The same percentage of Michigan parents say they have slight or no confidence in paying their next rent or mortgage payment on time. 

A ‘trauma tsunami’: COVID-19 takes its toll on Michiganders’ mental health

Not surprisingly, mental health challenges like anxiety and depression are on the rise. As of Nov. 9, 34% of Michigan households with children have said that they have felt nervous, anxious or on edge for more than half of the days or nearly every day for the past seven days, and 23% said they felt down, depressed or hopeless for half or more of the previous week. 

These mental health concerns have been even higher for Black residents, who also have been at greater risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19, are more likely to have friends or family that died due to COVID-19, and experience under resourced institutions.

In the annual state and national Kids Count Data Books, healthcare access has usually been a bright spot for Michigan kids and their families. But with many parents relying on employee-provided health care, health insurance access has also been strained by COVID-19. 

As of Nov. 9, 7% of Michiganders raising children surveyed reported being uninsured. Due to COVID-related insurance access, medical costs and exposure concerns, roughly one-third of Michigan families reported delaying medical care. And more than a quarter of Michigan households raising kids said that they simply did not get needed medical care because of the COVID-19 crisis.

Column: How are kids doing in Michigan? Let’s look at the numbers.

If lawmakers have been waiting for a clear signal and opportunity to pass policy that helps vulnerable kids and families, this report is it. Michigan kids and their parents urgently need help. Our leaders have the opportunity to respond with that same sense of urgency as there are plenty of concrete pieces of legislation to address unemployment and other relief that are just waiting for a vote.  

Many of these policies have already gained traction in the Legislature and just need a final push to get to the governor’s desk, including a six-week extension of emergency unemployment benefits and a moratorium on water shutoffs. Both of these bills passed the Senate last week and we hope the House will quickly continue the Senate’s bipartisan action on these and other important issues. 

We are also hopeful that the Michigan Legislature will pass important COVID relief funding to help small businesses and families hit hardest by the pandemic. In addition, Congress needs to keep working to find common ground on additional federal aid and funding for states to help Michigan families weather this storm.

Families across the country and in every part of our state are being adversely impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Policymakers need to unite across differences and put COVID-19 response at the top of their priority lists — for the remainder of Lame Duck and in the 2021-22 legislative session.