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Kids' Advocates Testify on Connected Food, Housing and Health Issues

Kids' Advocates Testify on Connected Food, Housing and Health Issues

October 28, 2015

Advocates for health and child well-being gathered at the Massachusetts State House on Tuesday, October 20th, to support H.429/S.94: An Act Relative to Ensuring the Wellbeing of All Children in the Commonwealth, sponsored by Senator Montigny and Representative Livingstone. The bill aims to integrate assistance for children and families who need improved access to food, housing, and medical care. Support for the legislation is led by the Healthy Food, Healthy Homes, Healthy Children (HHH) Coalition, a group of service providers, researchers, and advocacy groups who take a holistic approach to childhood wellbeing, with the belief that housing, health care, and hunger are all inextricably linked.  The legislation aims to promote childhood wellbeing by improving access to – and integrating – food, shelter, and medical care.

Prior to the hearing, HCFA hosted a press event to highlight the importance of the bill, and introduce the legislation to the public. At the press event, supporters of the bill spoke about how in order to address health problems among children, it is necessary to tackle poverty as the root cause. The event featured several speakers, including HCFA Executive Director Amy Whitcomb Slemmer,  Representative Jay Livingstone, Dr. Megan Sandel from Boston Medical Center and Children’s HealthWatch, and Diane Sullivan, the Policy Director of Homes for Families, who spoke about the issue from personal experience. Ms. Sullivan had previously been a homeless mother, and spoke about how, without access to proper resources and support, families cannot be expected to lift themselves out of poverty. Representative Livingstone, the lead sponsor of the bill in the House, spoke about how although so many children have health coverage, that does them little good if they lack the basic necessities to lead healthy lives. By viewing access to health care, housing, and food as integrated issues, the bill aims to provide children the necessary foundation to lead healthy lives.

Following the press event, a number of experts testified in support of the bill at the hearing before the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities.  Testimony covered the various sections of the bill, including:

  • A ‘common application’ for core Massachusetts safety net benefits, including MassHealth and SNAP benefits
  • Establishing a working group to assess methods for providing meals to homeless families temporarily housed in hotels and motels
  • Changing administrative processes to reduce ‘churn’ – the closing and reopening of benefits eligibility due to recipients’ income fluctuation

Particularly compelling testimony came from Dr. Lois Lee, a physician in the Division of Emergency Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital, and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Lee spoke about family eligibility for emergency shelter. Currently, families must spend one night in a setting not meant for human habitation before they can be eligible for placement in emergency shelter.  Dr. Lee spoke about how this rule puts unnecessary stress on both the families that must satisfy this requirement, and the hospitals that end up assisting them. These families seeking shelter are almost always single mothers with children under the age of 5, and the hospital is obligated to provide them with a room. When space is scarce, the obligation to provide these families with a room often means that there is not a room for another patient that may be in need. Dr. Lee also noted that while in these rooms, families are confined and limited in their ability to move around because a hospital is not suited for the needs of sheltering children and their families. For many, it’s not just a question of short-term or situational health: “Homelessness affects not just physical health, but can cause long-term developmental issues”, she said, emphasizing the importance of this comprehensive bill.

Led by Health Care For All, advocates across the spectrum of health and children’s wellbeing will continue to work to move this legislation forward so families and children have the resources to lead healthy lives. If you would like more information about the HHH coalition or the legislation please visit the coalition website.

                           - Ben Koller