Prior to the pandemic, Montana was making progress in many areas of child well-being, according to the 2021 KIDS COUNT Data Book developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Montana moved up in the health rankings with a decline in overweight or obese children and low birthweight births. However, thousands of families still struggle to afford housing, and many make poverty-level wages. KIDS COUNT Coordinator Xanna Burg explains.

“We are really focused this year on the economic well-being portion of it,” Berg said. “And that's really because we know that the pandemic has impacted the financial situation for many families this last year. In terms of economic stability, even before the pandemic, so data from back in 2019, too many families could not afford safe and stable housing. So in 2019, 52,000 Montana children lived in households that spent more than 30% of their income on housing. So for comparison, that's like every first through fifth grader in the state living in unaffordable housing.”

Burg said housing has become so unaffordable that many Montanans were unsure about paying their rent or mortgage payments on time. 

“There is one data source that kind of gives us a sense of more of that story of what it's been like for families in the last year,” Burg said. That recent survey shows that 15% of households in Montana were unsure about paying their next rent or mortgage on time. So it's really telling us that many families do still need support to make ends meet.

According to Burg, housing is not the only thing they will focus on next year. They want to look at the education system as a whole and the potential impact of school closures across the state. 

“One area of data that we want to keep a close eye on in the next year is the education indicators,” Burg said. Two that we want to keep an eye on is the reading proficiency of fourth graders and the on time graduation rate for high schoolers. We really want to see how that data changes over the next year to see how school closures and changes to the education system might have impacted children.

Burg said some new federal funding could really help the children and families in Montana.

“Montana has a really unique opportunity this summer because of the American rescue plan funds, which is a federal relief program that was passed earlier this spring,” Burg said. “There are special legislative commissions that are meeting all throughout the summer to make decisions on how those funds are spent to improve public health, childcare, and economic recovery. We really want the decision makers who are on those Commission's to not just think about how we recover from the pandemic and return to how it was before, but to build back stronger and really reimagine how we can support children and families in our state.

Montana KIDS COUNT recommends policymakers continue to support programs like SNAP and Healthy Montana Kids, which help families get the food and health care they need.

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