Netroots Nation Roundup

It’s time for a very special episode of the nation’s one and only weekly poverty podcast.

This week the TalkPoverty Radio team headed out to Phoenix, Arizona to attend Netroots Nation, a gathering to exchange ideas on how to use media and technology to influence the public debate.

              Travel Trip Phoenix Super Bowl Football

We open this week’s episode with the Weekly Worst, a round up of the week’s worst poverty news, with Alan Pyke, Deputy Economic Policy Editor for Think Progress.  We then join Rebecca on the ground in Phoenix as she talks with Katie Klabusich, writer and reproductive justice activist, who discusses the need to include economic justice in all social justice movements. Rebecca then talks to Congressman Mark Takano (D-CA) about the push to raise the income threshold for overtime pay. We then hear from Analilia Mejia, Executive Director of New Jersey Working Families, about her work advocating for paid sick days for working families amid opposition from Governor Chris Christie (R) and the state legislature. And we close with the voices of the Black Lives Matter protestors who shifted the conversation of the Netroots Presidential Town Hall.

 Here are 7 of our favorite moments from this week’s episode:

  1. “So it wasn’t the maggots. It wasn’t the unrefrigerated meatballs…it was something else!”

Prison Food Tasting

  1. “I can’t imagine how often my folks would have gotten arrested when I was a kid…”

Danielle Meitiv, Rafi Meitiv, Dvora Meitiv

3.“Is there a term for the opposite of mansplaining?”

Cordell Hull, Henry Wallace, John W. McCormack

     4.“If you’re not including economic justice in your movement, you’re doing it wrong.”

Minimum Wage

  1. “This is one of the tools that we have to raise American workers’ wages, and it can be done with the stroke of a pen.”


  1. “The devil has enough advocates.”

Germany Walpurgis Night

  1. “Welcome to Arizona, where the Martin Luther King holiday was repealed.”

Martin O'Malley, Jose Vargas, Tia Oso

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Kids Should be Focused on Homework, Not Working to Find a Home

Brandy became homeless during her sophomore year in high school. She, her mom, and her sister left a home riddled with abuse. Brandy moved more than 15 times – staying in shelters, with friends, friends of friends, and eventually with anyone who would let her sleep on their floor or couch.

Despite these constant shifts, Brandy was able to stay in the same school because of a federal law, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which among other things paved the way for the hiring of two school “homeless liaisons.” These liaisons helped her travel to and from school, made sure she had something to eat during the day, clothes to wear, and encouraged her to aspire and thrive. This law and the support she received in school proved critical to Brandy’s success in high school and later in college.

As a civil legal aid attorney with Columbia Legal Services, I help homeless students and their families address barriers to their enrollment and participation in school. I use a variety of tools such as community education about McKinney-Vento, data and policy analysis, and individual and legislative advocacy.

McKinney-Vento recognizes and provides strong protections that promote education continuity. It gives homeless students the right to transportation to and from school; the right to enroll in school immediately (even without registration records); and the right to have a district-level homeless liaison that helps out with whatever a student may need for academic success. Those protections make McKinney-Vento one of the strongest education laws and, when enforced, it has done a great deal to assist students like Brandy. But far too few students are afforded these crucial legal rights. Take Brandy’s sister, Felicity. She did not receive the support of a homeless liaison. With each move, she lost credits, friends, and the opportunity to receive a basic education. She repeated the ninth grade four times.

Felicity’s story is unjust and all too common. In Washington State alone, we have 32,000 homeless students, which represents an 82 percent increase from the 2006-2007 school year. That’s enough to fill half of the seats in the Seattle Seahawks’ enormous football stadium. It’s particularly disturbing because children are estimated to lose four to six months in academic progress each time they move during the school year.

Imagine trying to focus in school when you have moved five times during the school year because your family could not find an affordable place to stay

Children and youth who are of colorLGBT, who have limited English proficiency or disabilities are more likely to be homeless than their peers. We also know that homeless students struggle in school when compared to their housed peers; in fact, they are less than half as likely to be proficient in math, with similar gaps in other subjects. These disparities also hurt local communities and society generally, since these students are about half as likely to graduate as their housed peers and more likely to end up in the criminal justice system. It makes sense because imagine trying to focus in school when you have moved five times during the school year because your family could not find an affordable place to stay; or trying to study for an important math test in a crammed one-bedroom apartment where seven other people live.

This crisis of student homelessness comes fourteen years after the passage of McKinney-Vento. While the federal government provides grants to help schools fulfill their obligations under the legislation, these dollars are extremely limited. For example, in Washington, only 34 of 295 school districts received McKinney-Vento grants last year. That means most schools don’t have a homeless liaison, and when they do, they are juggling multiple job positions and can only devote a few hours a week to serving the needs of homeless students. As a result, students suffer and the spirit of the legislation is undermined.

The fact is that we need to increase funding for McKinney-Vento. But we can’t stop there. We must also provide housing subsidies to families experiencing homelessness. A recent study, by the Department of Housing and Urban Development found that families are more likely to maintain stable housing if provided with a permanent housing subsidy.

With this idea in mind, Columbia Legal Services is working to provide stable housing for homeless students and their families by engaging in state-level advocacy. In 2014, we helped pass the Homeless Children Education Act (HCEA) that required the state to provide comprehensive data on homeless student graduation rates. This data-driven approach is already helping advocacy groups and policy makers develop a better picture of how homeless students fare academically compared to their housed peers and which education reforms are needed to better support homeless students.

The McKinney-Vento Act alone cannot guarantee education continuity. The few schools that are able to hire full-time liaisons cannot fully address the biggest need of homeless students: safe and stable housing.  When the bell rings, kids should be concerned about homework, not working to find a home.



The Hunger and Child Care Connection

All parents of young children know that getting kids to eat healthy meals and snacks can be a near-constant battle, especially when toddlers begin exerting their newly-discovered free will. But for families that are barely getting by – working long hours for too low wages – simply providing their children with three meals a day is a financial hardship and logistical nightmare. Millions of these kids would have an even more difficult time accessing meals if it weren’t for the USDA Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), a federal program which provides snacks and meals to more than 3 million children at child care centers, family day care homes, Head Start programs, after-school programs, and homeless shelters.

While hunger is difficult for any family to endure, those with very young children seem to be the hardest hit. Researchers estimate that half of all children under age 3 live in low-income or poor households. The challenge of finding child care that is both trustworthy and affordable makes it all the more difficult for parents who are trying to work their way out of poverty.  For families with employed mothers living in poverty and making child care payments, 36 percent of the family’s monthly income is spent on child care.

As a result of these high costs, too many families are forced to choose between child care, meals, and other basic necessities.  But the CACFP indirectly subsidizes child care by providing healthy meals and snacks for young children at care facilities. By providing these resources, the tradeoffs that most low-income families make in securing child care become a little easier to manage.

Too many families are forced to choose between child care, meals, and other basic necessities.

Given that child care is now more expensive than in-state college tuition in many states, the affordability of quality child care should be the prime focus of any CACFP reform effort. The law that authorizes this program – which served nearly 2 billion meals last year, mostly to young children – is scheduled to expire this September. As Congress considers the next Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act, it marks an opportunity to renew and strengthen our public investment in quality child care and education. The CACFP not only makes quality child care more affordable for countless families, it also encourages school readiness for children who are at the greatest risk of developmental delays – health outcomes that are often connected to frequent hunger and food insecurity.

A few key changes to CACFP would allow the program to reach more children and families who need to access these benefits. Current reimbursement rates for the sites providing the meals are inadequate and out of step with rising food costs, especially as quality child care centers strive to serve healthier meals. Moreover, since many parents are now working longer and nontraditional hours, the next Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act should allow three meals per day to be reimbursed by the CACFP, instead of the current two meals.

Administrative procedures also need to be updated. Congress should reform the CACFP area eligibility test so that more sites are able to participate in the program. Further, we should recognize that CACFP is the direct point of contact between government and our most vulnerable young citizens, and use the program to ensure safe child care settings that promote best practices.

By taking these modest steps we can expect to see more accessible, affordable, quality child care centers. And if parents can count on these programs to keep their kids healthy and secure, they’re better able to work and support their families.

Editor’s note: To learn more, read How the Child and Adult Care Food Program Improves Early Childhood Education”.



Big Fat Greek Lie

It’s time for another episode of everyone’s favorite poverty podcast!

This week we talk to Joan Walsh, Editor at large for, MSNBC political analyst, and author of “What’s the Matter With White People? Finding Our Way in the Next America.” We discuss 2016, the stigma around poverty, and race in the U.S.

joan walsh

But first, we’re joined by Craig Harrington, Economic Policy Program Director at Media Matters for America, to discuss why comparing the U.S. economy to the Greek debt crisis makes no sense, and why conservatives are doing this anyway. We also talk to Liz Ben-Ishai, Senior Policy Analyst at Center for Law and Social Policy, on how we can protect workers and help business at the same time by simply making work schedules predictable, and how new legislation can help.

Here are 6 moments you can look forward to hearing on this week’s episode:

1) “Charlie, it was meant to mock you. You’re an idiot!”

2) “Hashtag Trump your cat, for our listeners.”

3) “In defense of Donald Trump, he’s had some crowds – they were just paid actors.”

Donald Trump

4) “One thing that makes a good ally is doing more listening than talking.”


5) “People say dumb things on Twitter – I’m not talking about Paula Deen here…Oh boy.”

Paula Deen

6) “It seems odd to employ tactics or strategies that undermine your business.”


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The State of America’s Babies

Zero to Three – a leading advocate for infants and toddlers – recently released its 2015 State Baby Facts, examining how 12 million babies and toddlers in every state and DC compare with the nation in three areas critical for healthy development: good health, strong families and positive early learning experiences.

While the broad range of indicators presented reveal both opportunities and challenges for our country’s newest citizens, one startling truth leaps out: Nearly half (48 percent) of infants and toddlers live in families who are poor or near poor, while  young children of color have the highest poverty rates. Black infants and toddlers have a poverty rate that is triple that of their white counterparts; Hispanic and American Indians have a rate that is more than double.

What is the takeaway? An alarming number of today’s babies – tomorrow’s workforce – are spending their early years in distressed economic circumstances, impacting their health, their families, and their opportunities for learning.

Low Birth Weight

What happens before a baby even enters the world can impact later development.  Low birth weight can stem from the limited access to resources facing families in poverty, such as lack of early prenatal care and health insurance. States with higher rates tend to be those with higher poverty rates.  These infants are more likely to have serious health problems and long-term disabilities, which can impair learning and affect school readiness.

The state of America’s babies is critical – it’s when we lay the foundation for our future workforce.

Nationally, about 8% of babies are born with low birth weight.  In fact, babies born in the U.S. are more likely to be low birth weight than those born in almost every other developed country.  States with the lowest rates cluster between 6% and 7%, and states with the highest go up to 11%.  The national health goals established a target of 7.8%, which 23 states currently meet. However, this goal is much more modest than the 2010 goal of 5% – which no state and only small pockets around the country ever achieved.

The disparity between African American newborns and other racial or ethnic groups is particularly striking.  African American babies are almost twice as likely as white babies to be low birth weight.  This difference has puzzled scientists for decades and cannot solely be explained by access to prenatal care or socioeconomic status.  Much current attention is focused on the cumulative stress African American women experience during their lifetime.

 Stress at a Young Age

The young children behind the poverty stats are spending their most vulnerable years in stressful circumstances that undermine healthy child development – from food insecurity to unstable housing to parents struggling to make ends meet. By age three, almost half of the toddlers in poverty have had one or more adverse experiences, such as childhood abuse, neglect, or exposure to other traumatic stressors. Chronic stress can undermine development – emotionally and biologically – and can be toxic to the developing brain.  It changes how the nervous system manages adversity and how the immune system resists infection, as well as impairs brain areas that affect attention, memory and thinking.  Poverty literally gets under the skin.

The good news is that babies are resilient, even in the face of such challenges. The key is strong, nurturing relationships – they can buffer the toxic effects of chronic stress. Close relationships with trusted adults give babies security, allowing them to become confident learners.

Quality Child Care

All parents want to give their children the right start, but it’s not always easy. Three of every five mothers with an infant are working, meaning access to high-quality child care is essential to supporting family economic security and early learning.  Working parents quickly learn that without paid family leave it’s too costly to stay home and care for one’s baby.  Moreover, child care takes a big bite out of paychecks. For single mothers, the average cost of infant care is more than 40% of median income.

Quality child care can have a positive effect on cognitive, language, and social-emotional development, and thus school readiness.  The strongest effects are found with the most at-risk children – but they are often the ones whose families can least afford it.

The reverse is also true: poor quality care can have a detrimental effect.  Much of the infant-toddler care in this country is of poor to middling quality.  Few states set sufficient standards that promote quality interactions for children with well-trained – and suitably compensated – providers. Simply put, child care is not just a work support, it’s an integral part of early childhood education.

The state of America’s babies is critical – it’s when we lay the foundation for our future workforce. When babies and families have the supports they need, we create innovators, thinkers, and stronger communities. Our shared vision of a prosperous future will be realized only if there is a robust quality of life for babies today.