COVID-19 Crisis Has Exacerbated Lack of Access…


December 14, 2020

COVID-19 Crisis Has Exacerbated Lack of Access to Health Care and Housing Insecurity for Vulnerable Families and Children in Georgia

Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey results show how families in Georgia are coping during the coronavirus pandemic—data reveal food, income, and housing insecurity; mental health concerns; and a lack of access to health care

ATLANTA—Georgia has the highest percentage in the nation of families with children concerned about losing their housing in the next month due to income loss from the pandemic, according to Kids, Families, and COVID-19: Pandemic Pain Points and the Urgent Need to Respond, a report developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The report, released today, provides data on how families in all 50 states are faring during the COVID-19 crisis.

More than half of adults with children in Georgia—58%—reported that they’re concerned about eviction or foreclosure due to pandemic-related income loss, with half of Georgia’s adults with children reporting that they have lost income since the beginning of the pandemic. The report also reveals that Georgia has the second-highest rate of adults who have children in their households who lack health insurance, at 19%—compared to the national average of 12%. Access to health care is always critical, but especially so during the current health crisis.

The report is generated from data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, a weekly survey of Americans seeking to understand how families have been managing in the midst of the pandemic for the past nine months. The data show that families across Georgia and the nation are struggling on multiple fronts, with Georgians reporting high economic insecurity, which includes housing and food. For example, 16% of adults with children in Georgia reported that they sometimes or often did not have enough food to eat in the past week, exceeding the national average of 14%.

“The number of families going hungry in Georgia right now is unprecedented—higher than we have ever seen,” said Georgia Food Bank Association Executive Director Danah Craft. “Georgia’s food banks are responding to a 50% increase in demand that surged in March and continues today. Kids who are food insecure are more likely to have poor health overall, getting sicker more often and needing more care. Adults who don’t have the food they need are more likely to miss work and have a difficult time holding down a job, compounding the crisis. We’re the final backstop to keep families from falling into complete crisis, and additional support for children and families in Georgia is vital.”

The pandemic is disproportionately hurting families of color. Black or African American and Hispanic or Latino adults with children reported food insecurity at twice the rate of white Georgians, and were significantly more likely to be concerned that they would not be able to afford usual household expenses.

“Every child in the United States should have the basics, and families should have support to survive the considerable stress and pain of these times,” said Lisa Hamilton, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “Our leaders can respond to the COVID-19 crisis by putting equity first, prioritizing children’s physical and mental health, helping families achieve financial stability, and strengthening schools so kids can thrive in spite of the extraordinary times.”

The data also show the mental health toll caused by the pandemic, with more than 30% of adults with children in Georgia reporting they’ve experienced anxiety in the past week, and more than 20% reporting feeling down, depressed, or hopeless in the past week.

“The pandemic has increased the rates of many determinants of mental health conditions, such as isolation, poverty, and lacking sense of security,” said Kim Jones, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Georgia chapter. “Due to this, the data show that mental health issues will be our next pandemic. In 2020, Georgia ranked 51st in access to mental health. We must do better as a state and make mental health a priority when addressing the health of Georgia’s children.”

One positive trend in Georgia is that, compared with several months ago, access to devices for digital learning for children has improved across race and ethnicity. In July, 76% of Black or African American students had access to devices for digital learning, but by September, that rate had risen to 95%. On average, Georgia’s device access increased from 80% in July to 94% in September, exceeding the national average of 93%.

Still, Georgia is either in line with national averages or worse than the national average for the majority of data points, indicating the urgent need for support for this state’s children and families. The data paint a clear picture that Georgia’s families need help across income, housing, health care, food, and several other key areas.

Overall, the data underline the desperate need for state and federal help to ensure that Georgians can make it through the pandemic, not only with their health, but without falling into poverty, starvation, and homelessness.

Given the level of need and struggle the data reveal in the report, here are recommendations for decisionmakers to consider on behalf of children and families as we move into 2021:

  • Use data disaggregated by race and ethnicity to inform decision-making. Understanding which communities have been hit hardest by the pandemic—along with sprawling side effects—will help determine where support is needed most.

  • Work with communities to craft local solutions to their urgent needs, and include their input about their own struggles and needs as decisions are made about how best to support Georgians during this critical time.

  • Prioritize both physical and mental health. Widely distributing a vaccine to all Georgians is critical, just as is supporting those struggling with anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges. In a school setting, ensuring an adequate counselor-to-student ratio could help alleviate mental health struggles in children.

  • The economic toll of the pandemic on children and families is severe. Georgia families need help with employment, housing, food security, physical and mental health care access, and other issues. Decisionmakers across sectors must provide strategies for economic relief that will keep people in their homes, keep food on the table, and allow people to get the care they need.

  • Schools have been asked to shoulder an enormous lift during the pandemic. Ensuring that schools have the funding and resources they need to support their communities amid ongoing uncertainty is paramount. Furthermore, schools located in communities that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic will need additional supports.

“We knew the pandemic would have dangerous and far-reaching effects on children and families,” said Gaye Smith, executive director of Georgia Family Connection Partnership, Georgia’s KIDS COUNT grantee. “Having these data help us better understand those effects so we can develop a response that will help our most vulnerable Georgians weather this storm in the moment, then position themselves to succeed in the new environment we’ll all find ourselves in on the other side of this crisis.”

Contact: Bill Valladares