Rio Grande Valley Child Poverty

Historical and current policies have created and maintained large disparities in children’s health, education and financial security, according to State of Texas Children 2017: Child Well-Being in the Rio Grande Valley, a new Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP) report released today.

The Rio Grande Valley has a unique place in Texas history, but like many Texas regions, a history of discriminatory local practices denied equal access to opportunity for several generations through discrimination and segregation in schools, neighborhoods, places of employment, and the courts. Barriers to housing, employment, and education contribute to far too many children living in poverty and experiencing other troubling disparities.

"These policies and practices may be from the Rio Grande Valley’s past, but they still have a profound effect on the present," said report author Kristie Tingle, a research analyst with CPPP. "The effects of discriminatory policies can last generations, which we can see in the nearly half of children in Hidalgo and Cameron counties that live in poverty."

Graciela Camarena of Children's Defense Fund–Texas and Marsha Griffin from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley spoke as part of an Edinburg event and community discussion about child well-being in the Rio Grande Valley. McAllen Monitor Opinion Editor Sandra Sanchez moderated the conversation, which was sponsored by Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc.

Key report findings include:

  • The majority of children in the Rio Grande Valley live in high-poverty areas (68 percent), while statewide 18 percent of children live in high-poverty areas. High-poverty areas tend to have fewer public and private resources, which means Rio Grande Valley children are more likely than other Texas children to experience under-resourced schools, an unequal opportunity for job-training programs, and more.
  • Nearly one in two women in Hidalgo County between the ages of 15 and 44 lacks health insurance. In the rest of Texas, fewer than one in four women of childbearing age lack health insurance. Lack of coverage is related to delayed or inconsistent care should a woman become pregnant.
  • An estimated 30 percent of children (or 123,200 children) in Hidalgo and Cameron counties are food-insecure, meaning they lack consistent access to enough food for a healthy diet. Statewide, 27 percent of children are food-insecure. Hungry children have a harder time focusing on school and are more likely to have social and behavioral problems.

Key policy recommendations:

  • Create partnerships between schools, workforce development programs and businesses to promote pathways out of poverty and better support for families.
  • Increase access to affordable health insurance for underserved families and women of reproductive age.
  • Expand access to school-based child nutrition programs, such as Afterschool Meals, Summer Nutrition and School Breakfast.
  • Preserve current health insurance coverage policies to help protect Texas children and families’ physical and financial health:
    • Do not block grant or cap Medicaid. It would lead to fewer Texans covered or coverage with limited benefits.
    • Renew funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) – about 400,000 Texas children rely on CHIP to receive the health care they need.
    • Protect the federal subsidies for families who buy health insurance on their own. They are under attack in Congress. Without subsidies, family budgets would take an enormous hit, forcing many families to go without health insurance and not get preventive care or postpone necessary treatments for chronic conditions.

"As an area of the state with hard-working families and an important economy, the Rio Grande Valley can only thrive if we invest in the health, education and financial security of the region's children—across neighborhood and income," said Chris Yanas, Director of Governmental Affairs for Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc. “Looking at the data, we find that too many children in the Rio Grande Valley today continue to face tremendous barriers to opportunities because of the legacy of discriminatory policies.”