Community Assessment Data
A Guide to Understanding the Well-Being of Children & Families in Erie County, Pennsylvania
The percentage of children living in poverty is perhaps the most widely used indicator of child well-being. This is due, in part, to the fact that poverty is closely linked to a large number of undesirable outcomes in areas such as health, education, emotional well-being, and delinquency.1 Classification below the poverty level occurs if the total income was less than the poverty guideline specified for the applicable family or household size. For families of three, the poverty level, as determined by health and Human Services, in 1999 was $13,880.2 In 2002, the poverty guideline for a family of three was $15,020.3
In 1997, the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) Program replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), the program that provided cash assistance to families. These payments are based on income limits and have a requirement of working at least 20 hours per week within two years of initiating the receipt of TANF funds to retain eligibility unless an exemption is granted for certain situations such as mental illness or domestic violence. Regulations allow only five years of payments for each adult in a lifetime. To be eligible, families may have no more than $1,000 in resources (bank accounts, bonds or poroperty excluding their primary residence) and must fall at or below the income limits determined by county for their family size. These limits are $316 for a two-person family, $403 for a three-person family and $497 for a four-person family residing in Erie County.1
Medicaid or Medical Assistance (MA) is a health insurance program for low-income and needy people who meet eligibility requirements. It is funded through both federal and state dollars. Eligibility requirements are higher than those for TANF so those receiving TANF are generally eligible. MA also provides for some children, aged and disabled who meet eligibility criteria.
Many studies have shown strong links between child hunger and poor performance in school. By providing free or reduced price, nutritionally balanced school lunches, children who are financially eligible for the program should not face hunger during school but should be able to concentrate on learning.
The National School Lunch Program, initiated in 1946, is a federally assisted meal program that operates in public and nonprofit private schools as well as residential child care institutions. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), through its Food and Nutrition Service, administers the program at the Federal level. At the state level, the program is administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, which operates the program through agreements with local school districts. School districts and independent schools that choose to take part in the lunch program receive cash reimbursement and donated commodity assistance from USDA for each meal they serve. In return, they must serve lunches that meet Federal nutrition requirements, and they must offer free or reduced price lunches to eligible children.
Children in families receiving TANF or food stamps, or with family incoe at or below 130% of the poverty level, are eligible for free lunches. Children in families with income between 130% and 185% of the poverty level are elibible for reduced price lunches.1