A national survey released this week is another confirmation that low-income families – in the nation and in Washington – have suffered disproportionately from the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a national report sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, “Kids, Families and COVID-19: Pandemic Pain Points and a Roadmap for Recovery,” low-income families are suffering increased food insecurity, mental illness and housing instability.
That’s hardly news in northeast Spokane, where staffers at The Zone, a local nonprofit, have seen firsthand the effects of the pandemic.
“COVID has been devastating for many families,” said Jene Ray, associate director of The Zone.
The statewide numbers are depressing:
• 9% of Washington households with children say they sometimes or often did not have enough to eat. That’s lower than the national average of 14%.
• About 12% of families said they had slight or no confidence that they would be able to make the next payment on their rent or mortgage, compared with 18% nationally.
• Almost one in five adults with children, or 19%, felt depressed or hopeless; nationally, it’s 21%.
Those percentages are higher for households of color, the report said.
Much of that trauma has been inflicted by the closure of schools, which serve as a safety net in the best of times.
For many low-income families, the neighborhood school provides food, counseling and a watchful eye for potential abuse in the home.
For Zone Project director Amber Waldref, the most troubling statistics was the rise in food insecurity.
Prior to the pandemic, the 2018 Healthy Youth Survey showed that 18% of youth in northeast Spokane identified as food-insecure.
Two years later, data from Feeding America estimate food insecurity at 43% among children in all of Spokane County.
“We can’t say with certainty how much child food security has increased in northeast Spokane, but it most certainly has risen disproportionately in neighborhoods with working families,” Waldref said.
Local organizations have risen to the occasion. From mid-March to mid-August, more than 60,000 food boxes were distributed by Sodexo, Communities in Schools, the Zone Project and Gonzaga University.
Those groups also have gone door-to-door, bringing food to families without transportation.
While the statewide numbers are less dire than the national average, they’ve drawn a call for action from the Legislature.
“When lawmakers gather in Olympia next month, our kids and families will need them to protect what’s working – avoiding knee-jerk cuts that would only exacerbate the health and economic crisis,” said Misha Werschkul, executive director of the Washington State Budget & Policy Center.
The group also advocated expanded health care access, direct cash assistance to affected families and maintenance of restrictions on evictions.
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