For a better experience, click the Compatibility Mode icon above to turn off Compatibility Mode, which is only for viewing older websites.

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

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

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 families.


Advanced Learning

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 future.

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.

Public Education

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.

Student Debt

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 skills.

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.

Employment Training

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

Affordable Housing

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 Shelter

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.

Energy Assistance

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

Public housing in many areas is extremely limited, and like Housing Choice Vouchers, the waiting list can be years long.

Vacant Lots

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 concerns.

Technology Access

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 opportunity.

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.

Computer Literacy

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.