A new report released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that Utah children are falling behind national averages in measures of health, family/community, economic and educational well-being.
Moe Hickey, the executive director of Voices for Utah Children, said the Casey Foundation data shows that a higher proportion of Utah children lost health insurance than other states in 2020.
However, he said the data is incomplete and that the situation is actually worse than reported.
“In the past month, we found out that 6,000 children were taken off the rolls of CHIP (the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which were not counted in these numbers,” he said. “So even the numbers that were holding flat or looking like they were even getting a little better, we're really concerned because of what we're seeing out there in real time."
Hickey said the families that lost CHIP benefits missed enrollment deadlines due to lack of communication on the part of the state.
He said that the problems cross ethnic and class lines as well in majority-white Utah.
"We see almost mirrored in the rural counties, and rural counties tend to be more Caucasian, low income,” he said. “So, there are all those different factors that go into it. And sometimes it's frustrating because I think there is a default mechanism, that it's, you know, low-income minority families that are struggling. And it's not the case. As a matter of fact, with children that are uninsured, there's a higher total number of Caucasian children in rural districts, a pure number, that are uninsured, than there are minority children in urban districts."
Voices for Utah Children Data Specialist Martin Munoz said that before the COVID-19 pandemic, 24% of families allocated more than 30% of their income toward housing.
With housing costs on the rise, the group is concerned about this measurement of economic well-being.
In educational indices, meanwhile, 58,000 — 60% — of Utah children don't go to preschool, which is four points below the national average. The state ranks third-to-last in this regard.
Hickey said his group has measured every school's free and reduced lunch population statewide, and the comparisons from 2010 to 2019 show much broader poverty than before.
“Utah has a long history of not having concentrated poverty,” he said. “So that's something that's very concerning."
Hickey said his focus this year is encouraging the state legislature to invest in children because the economy is strong.
"We keep hearing how great the economy was that we came out of the pandemic as the best economy in the country, so that's a great time,” he said. “A concern of ours is that we hear rumors of a tax cut being proposed in the next legislative session, if the legislature honors Amendment G, which was to fund education at a certain percentage and grow it every year, then what happens to all the social services that need to be funded out of the same fund, now that they've combined them.”
Hickey said COVID relief funds and unemployment benefits had helped low-income families over the past year, but many women and mixed-status families are not eligible.
KPCW news reports on issues affecting young children and their parents are brought to you by the Park City Community Foundation’s Early Childhood Fund. For more information, visit earlychildhoodalliance.net.