Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Slightly more Yolo kids living below poverty line

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy
October 17th, 2010
Enterprise staff writer
reprint courtesy of the Davis Enterprise

There's good news and bad news about Yolo County children in the latest U.S. Census Bureau figures on poverty and health care.

The bad news: The percentage of children in Yolo County living below the poverty line increased slightly in 2009, as did the percentage of families living in poverty.

According to recently released figures, the poverty rate for children under age 18 rose from 13.4 percent in 2008 to 14 percent last year, while the percentage of families in poverty increased from 7.8 percent to 8.7 percent.

The poverty rate is defined as an annual income of $18,310 for a family of three, $22,050 for a family of four.

The numbers actually improved for Yolo County's youngest children: The poverty rate for children under age 5 decreased from 19.7 percent to 15.2 percent, though the margin of error also was higher for that age group.

All of the poverty figures remain lower — and in some cases significantly lower — than the period from 2005-07 when the poverty rate for Yolo County children under age 5 was as high as 28.5 percent, according to the census.

Health insurance rates

Yolo County also is doing better than the rest of the state in terms of both child poverty and the percentage of children with health insurance. Statewide last year, 19.9 percent of children under age 18 and 22 percent of children under age 5 were living in poverty and almost 10 percent lacked health insurance.

In Yolo County, that number was only 4.5 percent, or about 2,053 children without health insurance, according to the Census Bureau.

The advocacy group Children Now recently reported that number has dropped further in 2010, putting Yolo in the top third of counties statewide in terms of the number of children with health insurance.

Program serves area kids

It's no surprise to folks from First 5 Yolo and the Yolo County Children's Alliance, partners in the effort to provide health insurance to all low-income Yolo County children through the Children's Health Initiative.

Since the initiative was started in 2006, 2,472 children have been enrolled in one of four health insurance programs for low-income families in Yolo County: Healthy Families, Medi-Cal, Healthy Kids and the Kaiser Child Health Plan. Children whose parents earn 300 percent or less of the federal poverty level are eligible for at least one of the programs.

That success is largely the result of excellent collaboration throughout the county, according to Jackie Hausman, program coordinator for First 5 Yolo, which covers Healthy Kids' premiums for children under age 5 through tobacco tax proceeds.

Funds covering children ages 6 to 18 come from a variety of sources, including the Blue Shield Foundation, Yolo County, local foundations, cities and individual donors. Kaiser Permanente also provides children unlimited access to the Kaiser Child Health Plan.

“We have great partnerships and collaboration with social services and other agencies,” Hausman noted.

In particular, she cited the efforts by Maria Romero of the Children's Alliance to find and enroll children throughout the county without health insurance.

“Maria has done an excellent job with outreach,” Hausman said.

Romero said those efforts are indeed widespread. “Whatever opportunity we get, we take advantage of it,” she explained.

That means being at community events, food assistance distribution centers and community clinics, as well as getting referrals from Head Start programs, schools and other social service agencies.

No wait list for insurance

It's largely a matter of finding the families and helping them with all the necessary paperwork, Romero said, since the insurance itself is readily available through the Children's Health Initiative without any current wait lists.

In fact, both women said, there should not be a single child in Yolo County lacking health insurance.

According to Romero, the bulk of children currently without health insurance live in Woodland and West Sacramento, as well as small rural communities. Actual numbers are very hard to come by, Hausman said, since the Healthy Kids Survey used to determine those figures is largely unreliable in counties as small as Yolo.

She adds, though, that she is certain the number of children who have lost a parent's employer-based insurance is on the rise in this down economy. “I'm 100 percent sure those numbers are going up,” she said.

However those families may be harder to reach, Romero noted, since their parents may be less likely to come forward for assistance. “They're just embarrassed,” she said.

— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at aternus@davisenterprise.net or (530) 747-8051. Comment on this story at www.davisenterprise.com

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