Moe Hickey: When making policy, always ask if it is good for the kids

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Matthew Weinstein, MPP State Priorities Partnership Director Voices for Utah Children speaks during a news conference on the State Capitol steps with a coalition of advocates for critical priorities that Utahns support but that the Legislature has not been able to fund because of a tight General Fund balance, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020.

Is it good for kids?

At Voices for Utah Children we use this question as a filter to guide the work we do on behalf of the children of Utah. We do not envy our state and local elected officials as they grapple with a crisis the likes of which none of us has ever encountered. The decisions that are made in the coming months will have a long-term impact on where we go as a state.

According to the most recent census estimates, 29.5% of our population was under the age of 18 compared with 22.4% of the total U.S. population in 2018. We believe that making decisions based on how they will impact our children will provide a roadmap to success and prosperity for our future. We must take steps that do not exacerbate existing economic, racial and ethnic inequities in our state.

Many of the most pressing issues arising from the COVID-19 crisis directly affect children and the safety nets in place. We believe that there is an opportunity to identify the gaps in our systems and to take the necessary steps to address these issues. It is prudent economically to invest in children — the younger the better — as it has been proven that we receive the investments.

There is strong evidence that now is the time to invest in the following areas:

  • Child care – We need to stabilize the system with short-term capital and then develop a clear plan as to what child care in Utah should look like in order to provide our children a safe and nurturing environment that ensures they are ready to learn when they arrive in elementary school.

  • Health care – We need to ensure that all children and parents have continuous health coverage and access to care. No family should be denied care during this crisis, or be afraid that treatment will result in medical debt. It is critical that the policies and resources are in place to ensure health disparities do not widen during this crisis.

  • Education – The current crisis has highlighted to all of us the central role that our public education system occupies in all our communities. We need to maintain the current commitment to increase WPU funding, as well as identify new sources of revenue for enhanced investments in pre-K, Optional Extended Day Kindergarten and afterschool programs that are currently starved for resources.

  • Mental health – We were already in a crisis prior to COVID-19, and we are seeing additional stress on the system during this current difficult situation. As needs rise for more mental health service providers, we will need to invest in expanding services and developing a statewide plan to make sure that all children can access the support they need.

  • Family economic stability — The recession brought on by the coronavirus will increase poverty, especially among children. Now is the time to enact at least a targeted version of the Earned Income Tax Credit, such as the IGP EITC that was included in the ill-fated December tax legislation and is especially needed now by families struggling to work their way out of intergenerational poverty.

We acknowledge that there are many challenges that we will face as a state in the coming months. The decisions that are made during this time will reverberate for years to come. The children of our state deserve to be given a voice and we ask our elected officials to be that voice. In the words of Marian Wright Edelman – “The question is not whether we can afford to invest in every child; it is whether we can afford not to.”

Moe Hickey

Moe Hickey is the CEO of Voices for Utah Children.

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