Legislators, Advocates, Researchers and Providers Announce Support for Bill to Strengthen Children and Families in the Commonwealth

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

 

Boston - Members of the Healthy Food, Healthy Homes, Healthy Children (HHH) Coalition and their allies, including Health Care For All, gathered today to proclaim their full support of HB429/SB94, An Act Relative to Ensuring the Wellbeing of All Children in the Commonwealth. The bill would promote children’s well-being by improving access to food assistance, eliminating unnecessary barriers to emergency shelter, and ensuring that all children are screened for medical issues and can get to medical appointments.

More than 1 in 7 Massachusetts children lives in poverty, and there are 4,800 homeless families in our state. Children's well-being and their ability to be successful depend on a number of related factors, including stable housing, access to health care, and adequate and nutritious food. Children without health care are more likely to be in poor health and perform poorly in school. Children who are homeless or unstably housed are more likely to exhibit mental and behavioral health needs.

“An Act to Relative to Ensuring the Wellbeing of All Children in the Commonwealth is an important piece of legislation, because it addresses children’s health disparities at the source of the problem,” explained Representative Jay Livingstone (D-Boston), House lead sponsor of the bill. “Our state has done a great job getting kids insured; 98% are now covered, but this should not be the end of the conversation. It doesn’t matter if a child has an insurance card if their housing situation is not secure or they don’t have enough to eat. A healthy life is about more than just access to coverage.” He added, “Our kids deserve to have all of the resources they need to live a happy and healthy life here in Massachusetts. This legislation is set towards that goal.”

Over 200,000 children in the state live in homes that are “food insecure” at some time during the year.  HB429/SB94 would contribute to healthier youth in Massachusetts by improving access to food programs such as the Child and Adult Care Food Program and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Other initiatives within the omnibus bill include:

  • Making families at risk of homelessness immediately eligible for emergency shelter
  • Assessing the capacity of schools to screen for medical conditions that prevent students from learning
  • Requiring data sharing between state agencies to streamline applications and eliminate duplicative processes
  • Ensuring that children in emergency shelter can get to medical appointments

Dr. Megan Sandel, Co-Principal Investigator at Children's HealthWatch, said, “Affordable housing serves as the first vaccine in a series to ensuring healthy people and communities. You need good education, public safety and decent jobs as well, but if you don’t start with housing first, none of those interventions will work well.”

Speaking from direct experience was Diane Sullivan, Policy Director with Homes for Families.  She told the audience, "As a formerly homeless parent, I fully understand the impact access to child care and healthy food has on a family, as I had access to neither. We cannot expect families to begin to lift themselves out of poverty if they cannot access the resources and opportunities we all need to be stable and succeed. The conditions and outlook for children in poverty are only getting worse; it is well past time to change the policies and create opportunities for all families. This legislation shines a light on the impact of homelessness on children and is a first step toward addressing the traumatic impact poverty has on children."

The Healthy Food, Healthy Homes, Healthy Children (HHH) Coalition, which organized the day’s event, is a diverse group of social service, research, and advocacy organization which addresses all aspects of child wellbeing, recognizing that no factor can be resolved in isolation from others.

"Health Care For All has always been a strong advocate for children's health care access, and we understand that children's needs extend far beyond just needed an insurance card,” commented Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, Executive Director of the organization. “Children's well-being and their ability to be successful depend on a number of related factors, including stable housing, access to health care, and adequate and nutritious food. The Healthy Food, Healthy Homes, Healthy Children (HHH) Coalition and this legislation are the first of their kind to take an intersectional approach to the needs of our children. HCFA is excited to be a part of the changing face of children's health care."

In a statement prepared for the event, Senator Montigny (D-New Bedford), Senate Assistant Majority Leader and lead sponsor of the bill, added, “As a longtime children’s health advocate, I recognize that we can no longer view the lack of access to health care, housing and nutritious food as separate issues.  Preventing homelessness and hunger in the lives of our young people is a multifaceted problem that must be addressed through a set of comprehensive policies seeking to simultaneously increase access to quality health care, housing and nutrition. By working with Health Care For All, we have created legislation that will do just that and ensure that our children have improved access to the best care and services we can provide.”

Later, at a hearing before the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, HHH Coalition members, including consumers, testified in support of HB429/SB94.