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REPORT: Louisiana ranked as worst state for children during COVID-19 pandemic

Save the Children's 2021 Childhood Report map reports Louisiana is the worst state for children...
Save the Children's 2021 Childhood Report map reports Louisiana is the worst state for children amid the COVID-19 pandemic.(KSLA)
Published: Mar. 7, 2021 at 12:33 AM CST
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(Editor’s note: This story was originally published March 2, 2021 at 10:37 AM CST - Updated March 3 at 3:48 PM on ksla.com)

SHREVEPORT, La. (Great Health Divide) - As we approach the one-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic’s beginning, one nonprofit has put together a report showing the effects it has had on children in America.

Save the Children’s report looks at hunger, lack of tools for remote learning and families’ difficulty paying bills as the top three hardships making it more challenging for children throughout America to reach their full potential.

“Evaluating four months of data on these three factors in all 50 states, Save the Children found families are suffering in every state and at every income level, but huge disparities exist along geographic, income, and racial/ethnic lines, depriving children of the futures they deserve,” the report states.

The 2021 Childhood Report ranks all 50 states by how well they’re protecting and providing for children during the pandemic; it puts Louisiana in last place. Louisiana is followed by Mississippi and Texas. Arkansas ranks 45th, with Oklahoma at 44.

The report takes into account child poverty, child deaths, child hunger, school dropouts and teenage pregnancy.

Breaking down Louisiana’s parishes, the report finds Lincoln as the best and Madison as the worst in the state. The report states there was no significant data for Cameron and Tensas parishes.

“Far too many children in America are faced with disadvantages that have been magnified by COVID-19. We know kids need full bellies and minds to succeed in school and life,” said Betsy Zorio, vice president of Save the Children’s U.S. Programs and Advocacy. “Policymakers at all levels of government, from the president down to local school administrators, need to adequately invest in programs and services that protect America’s kids. We must act now to ensure our children, and future generations, have the childhood they deserve.”

Save the Children has been compiling an annual report for the past five years. Shane Garver, Save the Children’s senior director of rural education, says the pandemic has only magnified disparities that were already there.

“We examined levels of food insecurity, whether a family had the tools they needed to access remote learning and whether a family was able to pay for their basic bills.

“For instance food insecurity. In our report, 90% of the counties with the highest food insecurities are rural,” Garver said. “When you turn on the news and see long lines in New York City and other urban areas at the food banks, kids across the country are struggling with the pandemic.

“But this was a daily reality for kids across the country before the pandemic began. They were going to bed hungry,” Garver continued. “Childhood is in crisis in this country. There are millions of more kids who are hungry, falling behind in their education and families falling into poverty than then before the pandemic began.”

U.S. Sen. Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy, of Louisiana, says the report shows the importance of fully reopening schools.

“If you look at the transfer payments that Congress has already set up, a family of four that have been unemployed from March to March of this year would end up receiving, conservatively, $70,000-$110,000 in benefits,” he Sen. Cassidy said. “That’s a lot of money and a lot of that is tax free. That includes unemployment benefits, SNAP or food stamp benefits, earned child tax credit going forward. So there has been a lot of resources already put to that family financially.

“A huge impact has also been schools being closed and the access, or inability to have distancedistant learning for those who couldn’t show up in person,” the lawmaker continued. “Now if we are speaking of a child in poverty, they are less likely to have access to the internet. Studies show that even if they are given access to the internet, their family is less likely to use it. For example, mom has to go to work, dad has to go to work and the young child is by himself or herself all day long and she or he doesn’t get on the internet to log into school. So I am thinking that study in Louisiana is particularly weighted toward lack of internet access, the lack of the use of the internet and the lack of in-person learning.

“As a credit to our state, we are one of the states that has had the highest percentage of students involved in in-person learning,” Cassidy noted. “But even when they are involved in in-person learning, it’s not five days a week. It’s only two days a week.

“Why is that important? Not only do you have a better learning experience, but the child is more likely to receive the meals they receive if they are at school. Teachers and counselors are also there and trained to look for signs of child abuse.

“So I think a lot of what you are describing can be addressed as schools reopen. As I have mentioned, so much money has already been put out there that about 50% of it hasn’t even been spent. So I am hoping local and state governments catch up with the federal resources made available so that can get better.”

Save the Children agrees, according to Garver; schools need to reopen when it is safe.

“We know in the meantime though, there is a rural digital divide in this country and kids are struggling to learn,” Garver said. “It’s not equitable. We are seeing kids in rural communities lacking internet access compared to their urban peers, especially for kids of color.”

Cassidy said he is pushing for is increased access to internet in rural areas of the state. “Is there a way, in the next few years, that we can expand internet services throughout Louisiana?

“I have former state Sen.Senator Gerald Long working on my staff, and we are going around the state working with the governor’s office and with local government on how to get the regulations in place, how to get the programs in place that we can implement on a federal, state and local level to deploy everything we need to get rural broadband,” Cassidy said.

“It’s been very well received. Police juries and local governments are setting up those regulations they need to allow this to happen. The governor’s office just hired someone from Mayor Broome’s office in Baton Rouge who will be the one guiding this program. We are going to work at all levels of government. We need those rural broadband services out there so that tele-education, tele-health and tele-commerce can begin to happen for the people of Louisiana no matter where they live.”

Meantime, Garver said, Save the Children is working at the state and federal levels to ensure elected officials prioritize families. “It’s no one single policy that gets a state to the top or the bottom. It’s consistently prioritizing children and families across health care, education, food insecurity issues, a number of different things that provide a safety net for families or guarantee they fall through.

“Particularly now, investments need to be made with stimulus bills and recovering dollars,” Garver added. “Those decisions need to be made with an equity lens in mind. Making sure that a bulk of the resources are going to those communities that need it the most. And through the data, it’s very clear where investments need to be made.

“If you are a child growing up in generational poverty, if you are a child in rural America or you’re a child of color: Each one of those things stacks the deck against you. But all three together is what we see net out in the results of reports like this. Where it is, more often than not, the rural South communities of generational poverty where kids are struggling the most.

“As a country, we need to have the courage to act and make investments that will help protect kids in those communities across the country,” Garver concluded. “We know we can’t do this alone. Save the Children will use our voice to advocate, but it is going to take citizens across the country to get involved.”

Great Health Divide is an initiative addressing health disparities in the Mississippi Delta and Appalachia funded in part by the Google News Initiative.

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