Policy & Practice | Spring 2023

ore than three years after the COVID-19 pandemic sent the world into lockdown, the U.S. public health emergency (PHE) will officially end this spring. 1 By Martha Donnelly, Jamia McDonald, C. “Parker” Parker, Tiffany Dover Fishman, Amy Grippi, and Beryl Washington The Road Ahead M Strengthening Families When the Public Health Emergency Ends

Delaware, for example, is participating in demonstration projects that provide certifica tion for free or reduced-price school meals through Medicaid. Under this program, Medicaid administrators can “directly certify” a student to receive these meals, eliminating the need for a separate application. “With direct certifica tion, the administrative burden on schools is reduced and the application process for families is simplified, thereby improving the integrity of this important nutrition program,” says Dr. Patty Bennett, Food and Nutrition Services Mid Atlantic Region Administrator. 6 On the housing front, rising rents coupled with inflation will increase housing insecurity and homelessness. In 2020, the U.S. Government Accountability Office estimated that a $100 increase in median rent corresponds to a 9 percent increase in the homelessness rate. 7 Since the number of families facing housing challenges often exceeds available supports, it’s essential to target assistance effectively. Los Angeles County uses a computer model developed by UCLA’s California Policy Lab to predict clients’ risk of homelessness, allowing its outreach workers to focus their efforts on those at greatest risk. As Janey Rountree, the lab’s founding executive director, explains, “You would never have enough money to provide pre vention for everyone who appears to be at risk. You really need another strategy to find out who’s actually going to become homeless if they don’t get immediate assistance.” 8 The county’s model uses a broad range of data from eight county systems, covering everything from emergency room visits and psychiatric hospitalizations to receipts of cash and food

In its aftermath, the outlook for families that are facing poverty looks much bleaker, and the human services workforce that will answer their calls and review their cases has been depleted; the costs of food, rent, and utilities have risen sharply; 2 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits are returning to pre-pandemic levels; community food pantries are stretched perilously thin; 3 and current estimates indicate that up to 15.8 million Americans stand to lose their Medicaid coverage. 4 This doesn’t bode well for children who face increased risks as poverty exerts additional stress on parents and caregivers due to limited resources that can impact a child’s health and well-being. 5 Protecting children in these unstable situations will require a robust multi-system and com munity response, one that strengthens families’ economic well-being, minimizes disruptions to health coverage, supports the human services workforce that serves them, and enhances com munity prevention efforts to reduce the strain on our overburdened child welfare system. Strengthening Families’ Health and Economic Well-Being As PHE supports and protections expire, human services agencies should look for creative ways to offset increased food and housing inse curity for families and minimize disruptions to health coverage.


Spring 2023 Policy & Practice

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