The state has the money to improve the education, health care and mental health of children.
As we soon enter the third year of the pandemic, one thing has become clear. Children and families in Utah are struggling and need changes in policies and funding priorities to address the current situation.
We have a long list of unmet needs for child care, early learning, health care, mental health, and K-12 education. The following will highlight some of our concerns, but not all of them.
• Child care: Utah currently ranks 51st in accessibility and affordability. We need to support both providers and families with allowances to make the sector more affordable. We need to grow the industry statewide so that child care is available to all families who need it. Finally, we must be prepared to accept federal funds that support child care and pre-K programs.
• Early Childhood Education: We have the opportunity to increase both funding and spaces in optional enhanced kindergarten programs across the state. As our workforce has changed, so has our need for full-day options. The OEK program allows parents to choose the best option for their child.
• Health Care: Utah currently ranks 46th out of 51 (including the District of Columbia) in health coverage for children. This is a statewide problem because more than half of the uninsured live in rural counties. Funding the approximately 82,000 children would cost $5 million, but result in overall savings of $9 million.
• Mental Health: This is a national youth crisis, and we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of young teenage girls in crisis. We need to do a statewide “gap analysis” to identify our needs, and then develop a system that would meet the long-term needs of all of our children.
• K-12 education: Utah moved up to 49th in funding per student, which is a good direction. We need to continue recent efforts to increase funding, but we also need to look at all the additional burdens we are placing on staff and on the system.
There is a cost to all of these recommendations, but we have both the state money and the influx of federal support that allows us to take bold action. What we need is the political will to take the necessary steps to meet the needs.
Several bills have already been introduced to reduce both income and corporate tax rates. We are currently at a 50-year low in tax effort. We support targeted tax cuts such as a full working income tax credit, child benefits, and other policies that would benefit low-income Utahns and provide a roadmap out of poverty. .
Please get involved in this year’s legislative session and reach out to your representatives and let them know that you believe the time is right to “Invest in Utah’s Children.”
Moe Hickey is executive director of Voices for Utah Children.