In November, GEEARS commissioned a poll of 400 Georgia parents with children ages birth to five. The results were striking. In the last year, according to our pollster, Hart Research Associates, eight in 10 of our respondents reported “having had difficulty affording at least one key necessity for their family, including food (which half had trouble paying for), housing, utilities, and a litany of other basic needs.”
These survey respondents can be painted with a remarkably broad brush, making them exemplary representatives of Georgia parents with young children. They have a range of income levels. They come from urban, suburban, and rural areas across the state. They hail from all points on the political spectrum—Republican, Democrat, and independent. And yet, a large percentage of them agree that. . .
1) Parents of young children need help affording both daily necessities like food and diapers, and more complex needs like parental paid leave, healthcare, and child care.
2) Our state could do more to support families with young children.
“Even people with a job are struggling to put food on the table and make sure bills are paid, but can’t get help because they make too much,” one parent reported. “Speaking for my family, we’re not even running our heat this season because the bill is too high. The normal everyday working people are the ones really having a difficult time.”
Response after response said much the same thing:
“Before having a child, we were doing well and able to save money. Now there is nothing in savings and paychecks are spent almost as quickly as they hit the account due to the prices of mortgages, taxes, gas, insurance, diapers, formula . . . I mean it’s insane.”
“I think the income cut-offs should be reassessed when it comes to qualifying for state assistance for food, housing, etc. People are struggling to afford safe housing and good healthy food.”
“Middle class parents are struggling and we are unable to receive any assistance with groceries or child care.”
While Georgians with a range of income levels are enduring hardships like these, we found that the most challenged are mothers, parents in lower-income or single-adult households, and those in rural areas or small towns. The effects on parents’ well-being are significant. Our poll found a strong association between financial struggles and mental health challenges. Of the respondents earning less than $50,000/year, only 39% said they were “doing very or pretty well” when it came to their family’s stress levels and mental health. Even only a bare majority of those who earn more than $100,000/year (51%) say they are doing well on that measure.
The pervasiveness of families’ struggles wasn’t the only revelation in the poll. We also found that an overwhelming number of respondents believe the state should do more for families with young children.
When we asked parents to rate their approval (or disapproval) of policies ranging from food and infant formula subsidies to continuous Medicaid coverage for young children, the approval ratings were notably high. A whopping 94% of respondents, for instance, supported eliminating the state sales tax on diapers. Ninety-three percent favored increasing access to paid parental leave.
Using Lottery funds to increase the salaries of Pre-K teachers? 91%.
Assisting with housing costs for families of young children who are at risk of losing their homes? 89%.
Increasing funding for child care scholarships? 89%
Says Hart Research: “What is remarkable in these results is the degree to which parents across the political spectrum favor these policies. Support for nearly all policies exceeds 80% in each partisan group. The one exception is financial supports and cash assistance for families, but even there, support is very high: 65% of Republicans, 72% of independents, and 95% of Democrats say they are in favor.”
One respondent put it bluntly: “Our family is in the top one percent of income earners and we identify as politically conservative. We have seven children. We strongly believe in increased access to affordable diapers and formula, paid family leave, easy access to affordable healthcare, and support for new moms. Let’s support new moms and babies, please. Inflation is a real burden for most people.”
This is one reason why, in our lobbying during Georgia’s current legislative session and in our 2024 policy agenda, GEEARS is advocating for supports that include a state funding increase of at least $20 million for the child care subsidy program, Childcare and Parent Services (CAPS), additional TANF investments to help lift more children out of poverty, and elimination of the state sales tax on diapers.
Here’s another reason we’re making these asks, this year. The federal child care stabilization grants provided by the American Rescue Plan Act expired at the end of September. Without that support, countless child care programs are now in danger of shuttering, leaving working parents without the care they need to remain in the workforce. This is in a landscape in which, according to our poll, child care resources are already too scarce. Three in four (73%) of our respondents told us there are “only some” or “very few” child care and early learning programs in their area that are both high-quality and affordable. Instability in employment, of course, has the ripple effect of leaving children under five, already at the greatest risk of eviction, even more vulnerable to losing the fundamentals they need to stay happy and healthy.
There’s a third reason we’re asking for these investments, as well as policy that focuses on early education and health—Georgia can afford them. As noted in our policy agenda, our state’s budget surplus has ballooned each year since 2021. In FY2023, we reached a record surplus of $16.09 billion, $10.7 billion of which is undesignated. If only a small portion of those available funds were put to work for families, the benefits would reverberate through their lives and for years to come. This is a point well-proven: If we prioritize young children during their critical zero-to-five years, when their brain development is more rapid than at any other time of life, the return on that investment is profound.
While our November poll numbers are new, GEEARS has long lifted the voices of parents, early educators, and young children. We know that our legislators have been listening; that they care deeply about helping Georgia’s families. With a record budget surplus, public support from both political parties, and the imperative created by this moment of intense need, we feel confident Georgia’s lawmakers will do whatever they can to give young children, and their families and caregivers, the basics to survive and the tools to truly thrive. We look forward to seeing such policies remain at the forefront this session.