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Advocates say child poverty rates in Virginia are low thanks to pandemic-related relief

In this photo taken Feb. 12, 2016, kids send large blocks flying at a learning center.
Elaine Thompson
In this photo taken Feb. 12, 2016, kids send large blocks flying at a learning center.

Pandemic-era relief for families may end up pulling many children out of poverty in Virginia.

New numbers from the Census Bureau show that child poverty levels are at a record low.

"It is definitely the fastest decline I have seen in poverty rates in close to a decade," says Lauren Snellings at Voices for Virginia's Children. She attributes the decline in the supplemental poverty measure to the safety net programs for families included in COVID relief efforts.

"We're seeing three-year averages of 2019 to 2021 of 9%, and I haven't seen that in a long time. When I look at numbers closer to before 2019, those numbers were around 13%. So really dramatic decreases."

This week, the Census Bureau reported that child poverty fell to a record low of 5.2%. Greg Acs at the Urban Institute says that’s the result of things like stimulus payments and the expanded child tax credit.

"Now that we've had a chance to take a look back at well what did happen in 2021, all the resources that we provided to families to meet their emergent and acute needs worked," explains Acs. "Not only did we keep many families from utter economic disaster, we provided enough support to actually lift many families and children above the poverty line."

He says progress could be temporary, though, if the expansion of the child tax credit expires and lawmakers fail to renew it.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.