Public Policy Priorities
The following areas of public policy have been identified by the Center as
most important in addressing hunger and economic insecurity.
Banking and Finance
Asset building is about empowering low-income households to acquire assets,
such as a home, business, education and savings for retirement. Asset building
promotes financial empowerment and the building up of assets through both
policy and program initiatives. Research has demonstrated that parental
financial assets, such as household savings, are positively associated with
the cognitive development of school-aged children.
A significant segment of the American population remains either unbanked (i.e.
without a checking or savings account) or underbanked (i.e. having a bank
account but also relying on alternative financial services). One in four U.S.
households are either unbanked or underbanked. Instead of performing financial
transactions in the traditional banking system, the unbanked and underbanked
often depend on the more costly alternative financial sector, which consists
of pawnshops, payday and short-term lenders, tax preparers, check cashing
establishments, and rent-to-own facilities.
Financial literacy training helps prepare individuals to make sound financial
decisions when faced with multiple financial responsibilities and very limited
income. This includes improving money management habits, avoiding predatory
lending practices, and developing and meeting financial goals.
With so few job opportunities available, many people have turned to informal
work (i.e. hair/makeup business, catering, childcare) to make ends meet.
Turning these into legitimate businesses is an important strategy for
families trying to escape economic insecurity. Offering micro-loans can help
low-income people start income-generating businesses to support their
Advanced learning can improve job skills and earning capacity, both of which
promote economic and food security. Programs and scholarships that meet the
needs of low-income parents are necessary to improve job prospects for the
Early Childhood Education
All babies and toddlers need positive early learning experiences to foster
their intellectual, social and emotional development. Young children living in
high-risk environments need additional supports to promote their healthy
growth and development. High quality early childhood education has been shown
to improve child development and school readiness. It also supports families
that are entering the workforce.
All school-aged children are required to attend public schools if they are not
enrolled in private/charter schools. Low-income, urban school districts face
challenges such as large class sizes, under-funding, co-occurring low student
performance and violence.
While pursuing higher education is one of the best ways to increase one’s
income and escape poverty, student debt can also hinder a family’s economic
success. Private loan companies and for-profit colleges have taken advantage
of the opportunity, leaving students with unmanageable debt and no additional
Employment and Opportunity
Child Care Assistance
Child care assistance allows parents of young children to work and support
their families without their income being drained by the high cost of child
care. For many, without access to affordable child care, it is impossible to
find or maintain employment to support their families.
Earned Sick Leave
Sick leave is an employee benefit that can be used when workers or their
family members are ill. Not all employers offer sick leave as a benefit, and
because many low-income jobs pay at an hourly rate, sick time is often not
compensated. Parents, especially single parents, whose children have medical
problems often find that they must lose pay or even a job because they have to
miss work to care for their sick children. Others may feel they need to work
when sick which will impact their overall health and well-being and is a
public health concern.
Many low-income families struggle to find employment despite some fields
having many job openings, such as the healthcare and technology due to a lack
of skills and experience in these specialized areas. Accessible training for
these career fields would provide additional opportunities for families to
secure employment necessary to support their families.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
TANF provides cash assistance grants (cash welfare) to very low-income
children, their parents or caretakers, and pregnant women. TANF grant amounts
are extremely low and available for a limited time. In order to receive TANF,
families must meet certain requirements, such as participating in employment
or job training every week. Individuals who do not meet all requirements are
subject to suspension or termination of their TANF benefits (called
"sanctions"). Sanctions have been shown to negatively affect the health and
well-being of young children.
Universal Basic Income
Many low-income families are forced to work low-wage, hourly positions that
pay well below what is necessary for a family to meet its basic needs. Minimum
wage in most states is insufficient in helping full-time working adults become
financially secure. A universal basic income program would provide a
guaranteed minimum income for each adult, which would ensure families can
cover the basic cost of living and provide financial security.
Food and Health
Access to Fresh, Healthy Food
For millions of Americans living in depressed urban and rural areas, access to
supermarkets – along with the fresh food that they sell – is extremely
limited. In many cases, families must choose between traveling several miles
to do their food shopping or settling for the poor selection and quality of
the food at local corner stores.
Affordable Health Care
Costs of healthcare coverage can lead to families being unable to afford
coverage. Lack of health coverage, even for short periods of time, results in
decreased access to care and added strain on community emergency rooms. It can
led to less preventative care and delayed care for serious issues that impact
caregiver and child well-being.
Emergency Food Assistance
Emergency food assistance is typically distributed at food pantries and soup
kitchens. Emergency food assistance provides groceries and/or hot meals to
those in need, but supply varies greatly and distributors are often unable to
meet the demand. Experts agree that emergency food assistance cannot be
expected to fill the shortcomings of other supplemental food programs.
National School Breakfast, Lunch and Summer Meal Programs
Federal school meal programs operate in over 100,000 public and non-profit
private schools across the country, serving more than 31 million school
children each day. Accessing free and reduced fee school and summer meals can
involve a tremendous amount of paperwork and shame. A universal school meals
program, which allows all children in high-poverty schools to eat for free
without a meal application - is a highly-regarded national model, but only
available to schools that have above a certain amount of need. Research shows
that kids who have access to healthy meals at school perform significantly
better academically than those who do not.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
SNAP provides low-income households with funds to purchase groceries each
month, which provides a powerful economic boost for local communities. A
household's SNAP benefit is based on their income and expenses, including
rent, utilities, and child care expenses. Accessing SNAP benefits can be
difficult due to strict paperwork and interview requirements. Certain
populations, such as working families, children of immigrants, and senior
citizens, have an especially hard time receiving benefits and benefit amounts
are insufficient to meet nutrition standards and needs for families.
Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC)
WIC provides crucial nutrition assistance to pregnant and breastfeeding
mothers, as well as babies and toddlers under age 6. Scientific research
continues to show that WIC improves the health of very young children.
Housing and Energy
Urban areas are becoming less affordable for many Americans. For many
families, the cost of their monthly rent or mortgage exceeds their income and
available benefits through programs like TANF. Because of this, families may
be forced into unsafe housing conditions or become homeless when evicted.
Emergency shelters serve as temporary residences for individuals and families
experiencing an acute housing crisis, such as eviction or domestic violence.
Homelessness among families with young children has risen dramatically and
access to emergency shelters is limited.
The high cost of heating and cooling homes is a tremendous burden on
low-income families. Being without heat in the middle of winter is a crisis,
and families will do whatever they can to keep warm, which can lead to major
safety issues, such as fire and carbon monoxide poisoning. Utility assistance
programs are available; however, many families do not realize that they may
qualify for them.
Homeownership plays a vital role in building strong communities that provide
safe spaces for families to live and children to grow. Homeownership provides
a stable place to live, which has a positive impact on families, and provides
intergenerational wealth and assets. Unfortunately, many urban areas have seen
increasing home costs. Additionally large down payment requirements and high
interest rates deter many low-income families from purchasing homes forcing
them into the rental market where monthly payments do not build family assets.
Housing Choice (Section 8) Vouchers
Many urban areas have a shortage of affordable rental housing. Housing Choice
Vouchers are available for low-income families to be used for apartments in
the private rental market. There are limited vouchers available nationwide,
resulting in extremely long waiting lists in many areas.
Licenses and Inspections
Licenses and Inspections administers and enforces regulations related to
property maintenance, business licenses, and zoning codes. The department is
empowered to take lawful action to correct dangerous conditions, including
making necessary emergency repairs to properties, cleaning and sealing
abandoned buildings, and demolishing vacant buildings that pose a threat to
public safety. Due to budget cuts in many cities, addressing unsafe buildings
may take a very long time.
Public housing in many areas is extremely limited, and like Housing Choice
Vouchers, the waiting list can be years long.
Empty lots are parcels of property with no housing or other structure and are
often a sign of urban neighborhoods in decline. In many poor neighborhoods,
empty lots and abandoned buildings become places where illegal activity can
take place and trash gets dumped, which contributes to health and safety
Cell Phone Service
While some may argue that access to a cell phone is not essential for
survival, consider all of the circumstances in which those without a cell
phone can find themselves at risk. Elderly and disabled individuals may need
medical help. Those traveling alone at night may need to call the police.
Families with inconsistent access to transportation may need to call for a
ride. Job seekers waiting for return calls from potential employers will not
want to leave the house without a cell phone, for fear of missing an
Computer and Internet Access
Just as important as having access to a computer is knowing how to use it.
More and more jobs require employees to have basic computer skills, but for
low-income households not accustomed to having a computer at home, basic
training can be hard to find.
Ensuring that families have access to computers and the Internet can help
adults search for jobs, submit resumes, take courses online, find housing, and
stay connected to the wider world. Access to the Internet and 24/7 news cycle
also helps facilitate civic engagement.