Director of Policy Reform and Advocacy Michael C. Laracy guides the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s efforts to inform and influence federal and state policies that help children, families and communities thrive.
He leads the Foundation’s work on poverty reduction and federal budget issues, which includes the efforts of Casey’s KIDS COUNT state organizations and the State Fiscal Analysis Initiative. Before joining the Foundation in 1994, Laracy was assistant commissioner for policy, planning and program evaluation at the New Jersey Department of Human Services, where he served for 17 years.
Q1. We know from our work with families and communities, that living in poverty — particularly when you are a child — can have significant consequences to well-being. What can be done on a federal level to alleviate the risks of poor outcomes for low-income families?
Our nation can reduce poverty by increasing opportunities for parents and children simultaneously. We feel that efforts to reduce the deficit must align with investments that grow the economy and create jobs that lift working families out of poverty, allowing them to parent children in progressively safer and more nurturing households. At the same time, we must invest in children and youth through quality early learning opportunities and the development of a career pipeline for adolescents and young adults who need to enter the workforce.
For many years, we have been part of a national and bipartisan coalition that seeks to advance these ideas. Federal incentives for fiscally responsible, effective public and private partnerships that create opportunity could play an essential role.
Q2. What chance do these kinds of proposals have of seeing legislative action?
On many levels, creating bridges to opportunity represents a social agenda aimed at equity. Investing in children and families may seem ambitious and not easy to implement in a climate of austerity. However, getting these issues raised, discussed and debated is an extremely important step.
Q3. What are some of the issues the Casey Foundation has been watching in the 113th Congress?
Like everyone, we are paying close attention to the fiscal cliff debates around taxes and spending. We are concerned about the impact of sequestration. These cuts could have a profound cost in terms of jobs and the economy, as well as funding for education, workforce investment and services important to poor families, such as housing subsidies.
If debates on immigration reform and gun control can be resolved quickly, Congress could move forward on the reauthorization of programs providing assistance to needy families and workforce training and support. In addition, education legislation that supports children at risk of academic failure is up for renewal.
We continue to look for opportunities to educate legislators about child welfare financing reforms that support innovative, evidence-based programs that reduce the need for group and institutional care and help more children stay connected to family and other caring adults.
Q4. What are important state-level issues?
States are contemplating big changes in their budgets by phasing out the state income tax and increasing sales taxes. Careful analyses of these proposals suggest they are likely to shift tax burdens to low-income families, while further eroding the safety net and essential services and supports for vulnerable children. We are deeply concerned that such policies will adversely affect struggling families and jeopardize their well-being.
Another critical state-level issue is ensuring Medicaid coverage is extended to former foster care youth up to age 26. A federal provision mandating this coverage is scheduled to take effect in 2014, and we want to ensure that states implement it effectively.
Efforts to expand tax credits that supplement the incomes of low-income working families and help them build savings remain part of our agenda.
Q5. What are some other policy reforms that would help children and youth in crisis?
We are working to help states overhaul their child welfare policies to be friendlier to relatives so that extended families play a more prominent role and receive more resources to care for children when their parents are unable to do so. We are also focused on juvenile justice reforms that reduce the numbers of young people unnecessarily incarcerated. We have new data that show some positive movement on this issue. We want to work with states to continue this trend and support alternatives that are more cost-effective and humane.
A KIDS COUNT policy report we released in December 2012 found that nearly 6.5 million U.S. teens and young adults are neither in school nor in the workforce. With employment among young people at its lowest level since the 1950s, these youths are veering toward chronic unemployment as adults and failing to gain the skills employers need in the 21st century. We think it is imperative to help these young people reconnect to jobs and opportunity.