Last week, I wrote about the recent Title IX Anniversary Young Parents with Dignity Briefing, which was co-sponsored by the National Women’s Law Center. But, I didn’t tell you the full story (too many words for one blog post!). The young mothers also talked about their struggles finding affordable healthcare, housing, and childcare.
Leydi Bautista, one of the young mothers on the panel, characterized her housing hunt as follows: “Discrimination comes first … I can afford to pay [the rent], but the [would-be landlord] asks all these questions that are uncomfortable like, ‘How big is your family?’ ‘Are you planning to have more kids?’”
Shatia Burks, another young mother panelist, who had graduated high school at age 15 and started college, nonetheless found herself homeless after her pregnancy, surrounded by the refrain that having a child would ruin her life. She was unable to enroll in Medicaid, because she refused to name her son’s father, a man who had been a toxic force and whom she did not want to have rights to her kid.
Again, the advocates on the panel echoed the young mothers’ woes and described just how universal they are. For example, while 20 percent of homeless youth are expectant and parenting, the federal government requires communities to focus their homelessness-related resources on single adults, forcing them to neglect expectant and parenting youth.
And, young parents face many barriers to accessing healthcare for themselves and their children. For example, even though a young person can stay on her parents’ health insurance plan until she is 26, some employer-based plans may not cover labor and delivery for young mothers still on those plans. Moreover, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) denies tax credits and Medicaid coverage to undocumented immigrants [PDF], including those who are legally-present as part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and it prevents them from buying insurance coverage with their own money. This puts some of the most vulnerable young people — those at the intersections of race, class, immigration status, and parenting status —and their children at even more risk.
As if that isn’t enough to struggle with, finding high-quality, affordable childcare is also daunting. Only a fraction of families who are eligible for government help with childcare are able to get it, because the programs are dramatically underfunded.
Fortunately, the advocates also offered policy solutions. For example, the Strong Start for America’s Children Act would provide universal pre-K for low-income families. Congress also has the opportunity to increase childcare funding in the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education appropriations bills that are currently pending. Meanwhile, the Runaway Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act reauthorization and the Homeless Children and Youth Act would increase services for homeless youth and allow states to choose to prioritize homeless young parents. Finally, the HEAL for Immigrant Women and Families Act would close the ACA loophole and allow young immigrant mothers access to health insurance.
As I explained in my last post, of course, the young mothers themselves are the true experts. Their lives are evidence of the effect of the policies these bills seek to implement. Both Shatia Burks and Octavia Davis, another young mother panelist, lived in New York City’s group homes for homeless pregnant and parenting youth. All of the young moms benefited from the LYFE program, which provides childcare to parenting students in NYC public schools. These young women and their kids are living proof that with the right supports, expectant and parenting students — and their children — can and will succeed. Hopefully, the congressional staffers at the briefing took note and will get to work on some of these important bills.