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Coronavirus Pandemic Takes Toll On Florida’s Children, Report Finds

Doctor treating a baby
The report found that Florida continues to have the second highest number of children without health insurance in the country.

The report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation looks at several factors such as income levels, education and access to health care.

A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation is shedding light on the toll the coronavirus pandemic has taken on Florida’s children.

Theannual Kids Count report tracks child well-being by looking at factors like income levels, education and access to health care.

It found that 18 percent of Florida’s children live in poverty and that the coronavirus pandemic could push that figure to 25 percent.

The state had been improving in many areas related to child well-being before the pandemic threw everything into a tailspin, said Norin Dollard, director of Florida Kids Count.

“People are suffering economically,” Dollard said. “One in five households with children said that they are concerned about their ability to pay their rent. Kids in their household, sometimes or always did not have enough to eat. It's particularly scary as kids are not in school for the summer.”

Overall, Florida ranked 35th among all 50 states on factors that measure child well-being, including 42nd in economic well-being, 12th in education, 31st in health and 32nd in the family and community context category, which measures the number of children living in high poverty areas among other things.

Food insecurity, in particular, has become a major concern during the summer because many children count on their schools for at least two meals a day during the week, Dollard said.

School districts are scrambling to launch summer food programs to adjust for an increase in need created by the pandemic, she said.

“We have lots of kids who were food insecure before the pandemic, and this has only been exacerbated by this situation,” Dollard said.

The report also found that Florida continued to have the second highest number of children without health insurance in the country. Dollard said this statistic is especially harmful during the coronavirus pandemic.

More than one in eight adults with children in the household reported a lack of health insurance in March, including 17% of Latinos, and 13% of Blacks, the report said.

Dollard said Florida should address the issue by expanding Medicaid.

There is some good news for Florida families suffering from poverty. Starting in July, millions of households will get up to $300 a month for each child through December. The payments will benefit 92 percent of Florida’s children. They come from an expansion of the Child Tax Credit, which was included in the $1.9 trillion relief package passed by Congress this year.

“The push now is to make the child tax credit permanent,” Dollard said. “Florida's children would be positively affected by the child tax credit, and it would have a substantial impact and raise children out of poverty. The money will be going back into the economy and support kids and go to child care.”

Families in poverty are more likely to spend the money on necessities like food, shelter and health care.

Even if the boost is only temporary, the program will have long-term benefits to the economy and assist in the country’s overall recovery from the pandemic. It will also help families find employment and childcare, she said.

Moving forward, Dollard said that state and national leaders must do more to address racial disparities found in the report in areas like income levels, education and access to health care.

“There were big disparities in terms of households, adults of color, and households with children, and we are now seeing that the pandemic has disproportionately and adversely affected people of color compared to other populations,” she said.

The disparities were most noticeable in education, she said. The report found that black and Latino children had a six to 12 month regression in academics, compared to four to eight months in white students.

Dollard said state and local governments should prioritize the recovery of hard-hit communities of color due to these disparities and increase outreach with these populations.

William Marlow is the WUSF/Health News Florida intern for the summer of 2021.
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