This post originally appeared as an op-ed in The Courier Journal on June 24, 2021.
By Dr. Terry Brooks
In his remarkable book, “Shrewd,” author Rick Lawrence recalls the amazing tale of the 1969 Apollo 11 mission. After landing on the moon, the spaceship was hurtling back to earth when a failed bearing in a Guam tracking station threatened to create a re-entry disaster. All of the technical solutions failed. But, station director Charles Force saved the day when he fetched his son Greg whose skinny arm fit perfectly through a two and a half inches diameter opening in the access tunnel. With his hand packed with grease, Greg stuck his arm in the opening, spread that grease on the problematic bearing, and Apollo 11 made it home safely.
That is a solution steeped in shrewdness.
As defined by Lawrence, shrewdness is not about being conniving. Rather, it is about applying leverage at the right place at the right time in the right way. And that kind of shrewdness is exactly what we need from our leaders in Washington for Kentucky — and this nation — to rebound from the pandemic.
Within the context of Lawrence’s definition, I am delighted that both Congressman John Yarmuth and Senator Mitch McConnell actually have something in common — shrewdness when it comes to supporting Kentuckians’ recovery from the pandemic. And those two leaders — as well as every other member of the Kentucky delegation — need to hear from you that pandemic recovery can be about neither politics nor personalities.
Instead, we are expecting a Washington, D.C. response that is as shrewd as it is sustainable.
In the newly released national KIDS COUNT Data Book, the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranks Kentucky in the bottom half of states when it comes to economic well-being, education, health, and the family and community context based on pre-pandemic data. Supplemental pandemic-era survey data highlighted in the Data Book give us a clearer picture of how families are faring today — and that data underscores the urgency to invest in children to ensure an equitable and expansive recovery, including prioritizing communities of color hit hardest by the pandemic.
Let me lift up three examples of the kind of shrewd and sustainable response that Congress and the President can deliver for kids and families:
First, Congress must make the expansion of the Child Tax Credit permanent, as proposed in the American Families Plan. The Child Tax Credit has long had bipartisan support with a proven track record of helping working families meet the basic needs of their children, reducing reliance on government supports and improving child well-being. With 15% of Kentucky families with children still having little or no confidence in their ability to pay their next rent or mortgage payment at the end of March 2021 — a percent that likely underrepresents the experiences of families of color — lawmakers must find common cause and ensure the largest ever anticipated one-year drop in child poverty is not followed by a surge.
Second, Congress must expand child feeding programs available for the summer months through the adoption of the Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act. With only slight improvement from 2020 to March 2021, 13% of Kentucky families continue to worry about having enough food to eat — a family stressor felt hardest by Black households. The Pandemic-EBT program has proven critical in connecting families with grocery money while students were learning virtually. Building on that success through a summer EBT program, as well as added flexibility to the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program, would boost efforts to ensure all children can learn, grow, and thrive without worrying about accessing their next nutritious meal.
And finally, Congress must maintain a focus on increasing access to high-quality child care through the American Families Plan and strengthening the child care system’s infrastructure and workforce through the American Jobs Plan. The pandemic has shown that without child care, our families, our communities, and the economy cannot successfully function. Further efforts to stabilize the child care sector should include measures to recruit and retain early care educators, especially as women of color make up a large percentage of the early childhood workforce and are shouldering the weight of underinvestment.
Those three efforts — and so many more, such as school-based health supports, paid family leaves, and primary prevention and family preservation programming — are practical, proven, and achievable. I appreciate Senator McConnell’s and Congressman Yarmuth’s bipartisan efforts and hope they continue to apply the right leverage at the right place at the right time.
The latest edition of the KIDS COUNT Data Book ranks the Commonwealth 37th in the nation in overall child well-being, further emphasizing that simply returning to a pre-pandemic status quo is insufficient in realizing our vision of making Kentucky the best place in America to be a kid.
Now is the time for every member of our Kentucky delegation to emulate Greg Force. Grease those bearings and bring the Commonwealth home safely during our re-entry from the pandemic.
Dr. Terry I. Brooks is the executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. Read more about the 2021 KIDS COUNT Data Book at kyyouth.org.