New Census data reveals how good policy choices can cut poverty, keep Alabamians healthier

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People-friendly federal policies reduced poverty and made it easier for people to get health care in 2021, U.S. Census figures released this week show. Perhaps the most eye-opening improvement was a dramatic reduction in child poverty nationwide.

The recent Child Tax Credit (CTC) expansion alone kept 5.3 million Americans above the poverty line. The one-year expansion under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) made the full CTC available to children living in families with low or no earnings. It increased the maximum credit to $3,000 per child and $3,600 per child under age 6. And it extended the credit to 17-year-olds. The expansion expired in 2022 after Congress failed to renew it, but lawmakers could revisit that decision later this year.

Child Tax Credit improvements fuel record drop in U.S. child poverty

CTC expansion helped reduce disparities for Black and Hispanic children. It also drove the U.S. child poverty rate to a record low of 5.2% under the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). Unlike the traditional poverty measure, the SPM reflects the poverty-reducing effects of tax credits and non-cash benefits like food assistance.

Alabama’s official child poverty rate was 22% last year under the American Community Survey (ACS), a more traditional measure that accounts for fewer factors than the SPM. That was an apparent increase from the pre-pandemic level of 21.1% in 2019, though within the margin of error. (ACS data for 2020 is unavailable due to pandemic-related data collection disruptions.)

SPM data paints a fuller picture of the poverty-reducing power of supports like the expanded CTC. Alabama’s three-year average overall poverty rate under the SPM was 10.3% in 2019-21. By contrast, the state’s overall ACS poverty rate moved from 15.5% in 2019 to 16.1% in 2021. That change was not statistically significant.

“The success of the Child Tax Credit expansion was undeniable,” Alabama Arise executive director Robyn Hyden said. “This policy slashed child poverty and helped families make ends meet across our state and our country. Congress needs to renew the Child Tax Credit expansion and make it permanent. And our state lawmakers should do their part to help Alabama families keep food on the table by ending the state grocery tax and replacing the revenue in a responsible way.”

Uninsured rates fall nationally despite tumult of COVID-19 pandemic

Federal policy choices also fueled a slight reduction in the number of uninsured Americans last year. The U.S. uninsured rate dropped to 8.6% last year, down from 9.2% in 2019. Alabama’s uninsured rate stayed relatively flat, moving from 9.7% in 2019 to 9.9% in 2021. That change was within the margin of error.

Alabama continued a years-long pattern of outperforming the national average in insuring children in 2021. The state’s rate of uninsured children (4%) remained the best in the Deep South last year. Much of that sustained success is attributable to ALL Kids, the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) created in 1998. ALL Kids has played a crucial role in reducing Alabama’s rate of uninsured children from 20% in the late 1990s.

A key factor in the overall health coverage improvements was the federal requirement for state Medicaid programs to keep participants covered throughout the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency declaration. That declaration may end later this year, underscoring the importance of helping many enrollees transition to new coverage.

Enhanced subsidies under ARPA also helped make health coverage more affordable for millions of Americans with private plans. This includes many of the 219,000 Alabamians with marketplace plans through the Affordable Care Act. Congress renewed subsidy enhancements through 2025 in the Inflation Reduction Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law last month.

“Medicaid, ALL Kids, and ACA marketplace coverage have saved and improved the lives of millions of Alabamians,” Hyden said. “Alabama should build on these successes by expanding Medicaid to help more than 340,000 people who are uninsured or struggling to afford health insurance.

“It’s time for Gov. Kay Ivey to say yes to the generous federal incentives for Medicaid expansion. It’s time for her to say yes to a healthier future for Alabama.”

Alabama Arise is a statewide, member-led nonprofit organization advancing public policies to improve the lives of Alabamians who are marginalized by poverty. Arise’s membership includes faith-based, community, nonprofit and civic groups, grassroots leaders and individuals from across Alabama.

Republished with the permission of Alabama Arise.