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We’re a rich state with a poor  recent record on child poverty

Recently, the U.S. Census Bureau released the results of a survey on the condition of the nation’s communities. The news was not so good for New Hampshire.

For more than a decade, the Granite State was able to boast that we had the lowest child poverty rate in the country. In 2007, prior to the recession, our child poverty rate was 8.3 percent. By 2011, the rate had risen to 11.7 percent, but we were still the lowest of all 50 states.

Not so any more. The childhood poverty rate in New Hampshire soared to 15.6 percent in 2012 — a more than 30 percent increase in one year. Currently, 41,000 children under the age of 18 live in poverty in the state. Ten states now have lower rates than ours, including our neighbors Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Even worse, this rate increase is the highest in the country. And when you look deeper into the numbers, you find that for the very youngest children in New Hampshire the rate is higher still — 18.1 percent of our children under 5 live in poverty.

New Hampshire is one of the 10 richest states in the country.

So, why this big surge in 2012? We had been holding our own for a while, even during the Great Recession. We still had the lowest child poverty rate in 2011. What happened?

Of course there are many factors that must be considered when answering this question. The fact that job growth has been slow, and jobs to be had are lower-paying or part-time certainly contributes. New Hampshire is not bouncing back from the recession as strongly as in the past.

But I must say I think my friend MaryLou Beaver from Every Child Matters New Hampshire has hit the nail directly on the head when she states in the October issue of New Hampshire Business Review, “(W)e must also look at actions taken by our state Legislature, which have attributed to more children falling into poverty…”

Among the many draconian actions taken by the House under Speaker O’Brien, two particularly come into play in affecting childhood poverty. The first was the elimination of the two-parent Unemployed Parent Program. This program served families who suddenly found both parents unemployed, and was the only program for two-parent families in the state. Help was given only until employment was found, and the average time a family stayed on the program was very short — usually less than a year. The elimination of the program left 250 families with about 380 children with no income.

In addition, in 2012, New Hampshire became only the fourth state in the nation to count federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) when determining eligibility for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits. SSI is paid to the disabled who are unable to work. The modest income from this benefit had not been included when determining how much families received in TANF benefits in the past. Suddenly it was. “This resulted in 1,312 TANF households (approximately 2000 children), to immediately lose their grant, and another 420 households (approximately 640 children) to see a decrease averaging $373 per month,” reports Ms. Beaver.

Two “money saving” actions taken by the O’Brien Legislature resulted in more than 3,000 children and their families losing the help they desperately need to keep them out of poverty. In 2012, the child poverty rate soared from 11.7 percent to 15.6 percent.

New Hampshire is one of the 10 richest states in the nation.

Steps to undo some of the damage done to the Unemployed Parent Program were taken in this term’s budget, but the program has not been fully restored. Nothing at all was done to help families with a disabled parent. The dollar figure was too high, revenue estimates too low. Funding the program to pre-O’Brien levels was unrealistic without cutting something else, or finding a new source of revenue. And of course we can never ever raise a tax in New Hampshire, even if it means keeping our 2-year-olds out of poverty. The Senate would vote it down, and the voters would turn those “tax and spend” Democrats right out of office again. Live free or die.

New Hampshire is one of the 10 richest states in the nation. Yet 18.1 percent of our babies live in poverty.

The state closed out the year with a budget surplus of $76 million. Most of that will carry over to the current budget to balance the books. Both Gov. Maggie Hassan and Speaker Norelli have asked that at least some of the remaining $17 million go to Health and Human services for safety net programs. These new child poverty levels are alarming. It is time to take action.

New Hampshire is one of the 10 richest states in the nation. We can do better by our kids.

Marjorie Porter, a Democrat, is a representative in Hillsborough District 1, which includes Antrim.

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