1 in 4 kids now living in poverty

One in four children in Bexar County lives in poverty, an 8 percent increase since 2000, according to a new study assessing the health and well-being of family and youth in Texas.

One in seven children in Bexar County lacks health insurance, which is higher than the national average but better than all but 14 other counties in the state, according to the study by the Center for Public Policy Priorities, an Austin research and advocacy group that focuses on the needs of low-income Texans.

“Still, the ranking (of 15th) says something about the system and the state when you can be in the top 20 and still have 17 percent of children without health insurance,” said Frances Deviney, who discussed the center’s study, “Choices: The State of Texas Children in 2012” on Thursday.

Deviney spoke before more than 300 policymakers, nonprofit officials and service providers in San Antonio, releasing a flood of data that compares the progress — or lack thereof — in the status of families and children in Texas over the past decade.

Recent years have seen an increase in Texas children receiving public services — something Deviney said was a positive sign, since it shows more eligible low-income families are signing up for and getting help, even as economic turmoil makes such help necessary.

In Bexar County, the proportion of kids receiving food stamps nearly tripled, from 11 percent in 2000 to 29 percent in 2010. Those enrolled in Medicaid also rose 70 percent, from 19.6 percent in 2000 to 33.4 percent in 2010, an increase Deviney attributed to reduced barriers to enrollment, more staff and other improvements.

But cuts by the Legislature in 2011 to Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program — and in other areas such as public education, dropout prevention and child abuse/neglect prevention services — are going to prove “penny-wise and pound-foolish,” Deviney said.

She was especially critical of the $73 million cut to state family planning programs — a 66 percent reduction. Coupled with the recent end of federal funding for the Women’s Health Program — which died over a political fight concerning the inclusion of Planned Parenthood — many low-income Texas women will lose access to contraception and preventive health screenings, Deviney said.

“We do expect to see an additional 20,000 births, paid for by Medicaid, which is going to cost Texans an additional $100 million,” she said.

There is some good news, she added: The percentage of births to girls ages 13-19 dropped from 16.1 percent in 1998 to 13.6 percent in 2008. Still, Texas ranks No. 2 for teens having more than one baby.

In the past decade, 2 million children were added to the U.S. population, with Texas accounting for half of that growth.

Regarding the various child well-being indicators — poverty, health care, education and so on — Bexar County’s children fare “somewhat in the middle,” Deviney said.

“But kids in Texas are in the middle of a tug of war when it comes to decision-makers deciding what the priorities are,” she said. “We’ve got to start putting children and families first. If we don’t do that, we’re not going to remain the No. 1 state to do business in.”

Added state Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio: “We need to stop defining this as a partisan issue. This is about the future of our community.”

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