Journal Issue: Children and Poverty Volume 7 Number 2 Summer/Fall 1997
This article reviews six federally funded in-kind public assistance programs that are intended to mitigate the effects of poverty on low-income children by providing access to basic human necessities such as food, housing, education, and health care. The evidence suggests that, while each program can be improved, these programs do achieve their basic objectives. In general, food stamps, the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and school nutrition programs are successful at providing food assistance to low-income children, starting with the prenatal period and continuing through the school years. The Food Stamp Program provides food assistance nationwide to all households solely on the basis of financial need and is central to the food assistance safety net for low-income children. The WIC program has helped reduce the prevalence of iron-deficiency anemia in infants and children and has increased intakes of certain targeted nutrients for program participants. The school nutrition programs provide free or low-cost meals that satisfy the dietary goals of lunches and breakfasts to most school-age children. The Medicaid program has extended health insurance coverage to millions of low-income children. However, many children remain uninsured, and children enrolled in Medicaid do not have the same access to medical care as privately insured children. Relatively little is known about the effects of Medicaid on children's health status. For Head Start, empirical evidence suggests that participating children show enhanced cognitive, social, and physical development in the short term. Studies of the longer-term impacts of Head Start are inconclusive. Although housing assistance improves housing quality and reduces housing costs for recipients, there is a large unmet need for acceptable, affordable housing among poor families. Important gaps remain in our knowledge of the effects of these programs on the well-being of children. Questions regarding a program's effects over time on health and developmental outcomes particularly need more study.