County tops state in kids’ poverty

Published 2:43 am Saturday, December 5, 2015

The number of children living in poverty in Covington County is growing, according to the 2015 Alabama Kids County Data Book released this week by Voices for Alabama’s Children.

The book is the state’s most comprehensive source of child well-being data and has been among the most trusted sources on the quality of life of Alabama’s children for more than 20 years.

Covington County’s numbers are slightly higher than state numbers.

Twenty-nine percent of Covington County’s children live in poverty, where families make $25,000 or less, and of those living in poverty, 14.4 percent live in extreme poverty, where there families make less than $12,000 per year.

Statewide, 26.9 percent live in poverty, while nearly have of those live in extreme poverty.

The growth shows an increase from 2000 to 2013, the most recent numbers available.

Still, the number of SNAP-eligible children has decreased from 2011 to 2015, with 3,809 eligible in the county.

In Covington County, the median household income decreased from $36,296 in 2003 to $35,187 in 2013.

Local school systems shared their free and reduced lunch numbers as of Friday.

Andalusia City Schools Child Nutrition Program Director Shan Burkhardt said 58.45 percent of students in the system receive free and reduced lunches.

Opp City Schools Child Nutrition Program Director Heather Short said 56.87 percent of students in their system received free and reduced lunches.

Covington County Schools Child Nutrition Program Director Carrie Patterson said their system had 62 percent of students on free and reduced lunch.

To qualify for free or reduced lunch, families must meet the federal poverty guidelines based on family size.

For example, a family of four would have to make less than $31,525 annually to qualify for free meals, or less than $44,863 per year to qualify for reduced lunches.

“Poverty permeates across all measures of child well-being and while it doesn’t equate to destiny, research shows growing up in poverty places children at increased risk for a wide range of problems that may impair brain development and negatively impact social and emotional development,” said Melanie Bridgeforth, executive director of Voices for Alabama’s children. “The real story is that reducing child poverty is actionable. Programs and policies that promote affordable housing, and access to resources such as health care, fresh and nutritious food and quality early care and education, help provide children with a solid foundation.

“Now, more than ever, we must remain committed to our children and their families, especially our children living in poverty,” Bridgeforth said. “This data should serve as a cautionary tale to state leaders that investing in children is not an option, but a prerequisite for the future prosperity of Alabama.”