I got into this campaign to fight for working families and, most importantly, Pennsylvania’s children. Our campaign’s vision of a future where every child has access to high quality early learning and education necessary to foster a better future is and will continue to be, a guiding light for our efforts. With more than 300,000 children living in poverty across Pennsylvania and more than 30,000 children homeless, it is clear that our vision must extend to taking bold action to address the ways that we are failing children and their families across our state.
Since 2016, Pennsylvania’s child homeless population has increased by 32%. To make matters worse, from 2008-2018, our state was only one of 10 states that saw an increase in children living in high-poverty areas. With every child that is added to these growing numbers, we slowly deprive ourselves of the happiness and promise an entire generation offers.
As a middle school teacher in Title I schools, I saw firsthand the impact of poverty on my students’ education. I taught many students who had experienced trauma, often at a young age – whether it was domestic violence, household members struggling with addiction, or the death of a parent or other close loved one. I had students who didn’t have a stable place to go home to, let alone a workspace to study or complete homework. Most of my students lacked quality early childhood experiences during the time when their brains’ social and emotional foundation was being formed – meaning I was remediating these skills along with grade-level reading skills and middle school science content. As a mother now myself, I promise to fight for all of our children because the tenets of basic human decency and compassion demand it.
If this grim reality is allowed to endure, the rippling impact of our state’s abdication of responsibility will endure far into the future, because:
- Impoverished children are more likely to become impoverished adults: Nationally, of the children who spend their childhoods in poverty, 46% are still poor at age 20, and 40% are still poor at age 25.
- Less likely to graduate High School: 62% of children who spent at least half their childhoods in poverty went on to attain a high school diploma by age 20. By comparison, that number was 90% for those who never experienced poverty.
- Far less likely to attend and graduate college: Only 14% of students from low-income families graduate with a bachelor’s degree.
- More likely to get, and stay, sick: Children who grow up in poverty are more likely to develop chronic illnesses such as asthma or obesity, and face new health problems later in life, including diabetes and heart disease.
- Mortality Rate: Children who grow up poor are five times more likely to die due to accidents than those who do not, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Trauma of poverty creates long–term disadvantages: Also according to the AAP, childhood poverty “causes a very significant problem in their ability to react to other stress, their ability to behave, to pay attention and to learn cognitively.”
Failure to act will strip our state of its future economic competitiveness, it will make us less healthy, and it will jeopardize public safety in every community across our state. My campaign was launched to renew our commitment to kids and families across this state, and if elected, I will reframe the discussion to prioritize impoverished and homeless children by fighting for:
- An increase of the minimum wage to $15/hour
- Provide child care subsidies for all eligible families below 200% of the federal poverty line
- Create a state-level Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit that is refundable and allows families to better recoup an amount closer to what they actually spend on quality care.
- Expand existing tax credits such as: Earned Income Tax Credit, Low Income Housing Tax Credit
- Make housing vouchers available to all households with children below 150% of the federal poverty line.
- Create transitional jobs for unemployed parents with children.
- Affordability of public colleges, expanding the pathway to employment in high-paying, vocational and high-skilled 21st Century jobs.
Increased and more targeted investment into education and childcare, including:
- Universal free pre-k programs
- Ensuring children receiving subsidized child care are enrolled in high-quality programs
- Wrap-around child care services for school-age children including afterschool programs, healthy dietary options for all three meals, and social and emotional support outlets
- Expansion of evidence-based home visiting programs to address the development of our youngest children and their caregivers’ economic self-sufficiency
- School funding that targets students living in poverty and offers family engagement that helps guide them to state and community resources.
- Access to counseling and trauma-related care in schools
- Literacy programs for both adults and children living in high poverty areas.
- Workforce development education and apprenticeship programs that train and activate the next generation of Pennsylvania workers, focusing on parents living in high poverty areas.
- A focus on racial equity, given that one in three black children were poor in 2015, compared to one in eight white children
In today’s polarized political landscape, the roadblocks to change often can feel insurmountable – but, according to the Children’s Defense Fund, an overwhelming majority of Americans support ending childhood poverty.
Recent events related to COVID-19 and its effects on our economy have made it overwhelmingly clear that far too many families are struggling at the brink of just surviving. Seeing the number of individuals concerned about a lack of healthcare due to job loss, seeing the line of cars for food distributions, and seeing the number of individuals unable to make rent or mortgage payments after missing a single paycheck is a sobering reminder that too many of our neighbors are unable to get ahead and achieve the dream of a better life for their children.
Martin Luther King once said that “The contemporary tendency in our society is] to compress our abundance into the overfed mouths of the middle and upper classes until they gag with superfluity. If democracy is to have breadth of meaning, it is necessary to adjust this inequity. It is not only moral, but it is also intelligent. We are wasting and degrading human life by clinging to archaic thinking. The curse of poverty has no justification in our age.”
I believe Dr. King’s words ring truer today than ever and, if elected in November, I will lend a voice to this neglected majority by ensuring that real plans are enacted to secure the future of Pennsylvania’s families.