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Housing, Child Care Workers and Adoption Emerge as Priorities

December 5, 2022

Housing and child care, two essential ingredients for thriving families and communities, have been hot topics in recent years and continue to get hotter. Adoption, on the other hand, was a sleeper issue until it broke through following the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Now more legislators are reconsidering adoption laws in their states.

Which of these issues will gain traction in your state in 2023?

Hot Topic — Housing

Until recently, the supply and affordability of housing was largely in the hands of city and county officials. Now a growing number of state legislators are seeking solutions for the extreme lack of safe, stable, affordable housing in urban, suburban and rural communities. No state or region is immune as the crisis works its way up the income ladder.

No state has an adequate supply of housing for its lowest-income renters. The hourly income needed to rent a modest home varies by state, from below $17 to $40. While many states have increased their minimum wages, nowhere has it been enough to keep up with the cost of housing. The pandemic as made matters worse, with rents increasing by an average of 18% over the last five years. Often due to a lack of affordable rental homes, an estimated 3.7 million people live in doubled-up households.

The lack of rental affordability impacts household economic security and can lead to homelessness. Homelessness was increasing before the pandemic, then slowed temporarily due to eviction moratoriums, which have mostly ended. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, on a single night in 2021, more than 326,000 people experienced sheltered homelessness, 131,377 people experienced sheltered homelessness as part of a family, and 15,763 people under the age of 25 experienced sheltered homelessness unaccompanied youths. These figures do not include unsheltered people, who have not been counted by HUD since 2019 due to the pandemic.

The dream of owning a home is out of reach for a growing swath of U.S. families. Nonetheless, cultivating homeownership is one way to reduce displacement, strengthen credit, promote asset-building and improve economic mobility. Recent data shows a 20.6% year-over-year increase in home values, with more metro areas facing rising prices than at any time in the last 20 years. Multiple factors have contributed to soaring housing prices, including supply and construction costs, interest rates and generational shifts in homeownership.

To address these issues, states are considering legislation to encourage mixed-use and transit-oriented development, zoning changes, and mortgage and financing assistance. Legislators are exploring how state housing trust funds could increase the housing supply, the role of state housing authorities in mitigating the crisis and funding housing assistance programs to promote stability. Additionally, some states are turning to manufactured homes to increase their supply of affordable units. ARPA funds are available to support many of these strategies.

Numerous interrelated factors contribute to the housing crisis, making solutions difficult to find. But states have levers to support housing stability and affordability and can collaborate with localities to identify issues and solutions.

Hot Topic — Child Care Workforce

While much of the labor market has rebounded from pandemic-related losses, one critical sector lags behind: child care. With nearly 90,000 fewer child care professionals in the field today than in early 2020, millions of working parents and employers are feeling the squeeze. Despite lengthy waitlists, many early learning classrooms sit empty due to a shortage of child care professionals. Rural communities, low-income families, families with infants and toddlers, and parents who work outside the typical 9-to-5 schedule face the biggest challenges in accessing child care.

The issues that threaten the stability and affordability of child care predate the pandemic. Extremely low wages, limited access to benefits and stressful working conditions for decades have contributed to high turnover in the workforce. Child care business owners, many of whom are self-employed women working out of their homes, have long struggled to cover the costs of doing business and pay themselves an adequate wage. And at an average annual price of over $10,000 for one child’s care, many parents find themselves priced out of licensed care altogether.

To address these issues, some states have ramped up their efforts to strengthen the workforce and help parents afford care. With the help of federal COVID relief funds, states are supporting child care professionals through retention bonuses and stipends; start-up funds and training for new child care business owners; expedited credentialing opportunities; coverage of health insurance costs; and more. Policymakers are also identifying ways to help more middle- and low-income families afford care and to incentivize employers to support child care access for employees.

States have a long way to go to put child care on stable footing. Identifying policy solutions to support child care professionals—sometimes referred to as the “workforce behind the workforce”—will be vital to ensuring economic stability for families, employers and states.

Hot Topic — Adoption

The 2023 legislative season will likely bring a substantial uptick in adoption-related legislation. NCSL predicts the increase will focus on three main issue areas:

  • Streamlining adoption processes for biological and adoptive parents.
  • Providing supports and benefits to birth parents or adoptive families, or both.
  • Clarifying rights to records of those involved in adoptions.

Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, NCSL has received a noticeable increase in research requests from members regarding adoption. Support for adoptive parents is on legislators’ radar in many states. Adoption assistance, such as education services and peer-support networks, can help prepare families for successful adoptions. In certain cases, adoptive parents can also receive financial assistance under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act. Additionally, some states provide financial assistance to encourage kinship guardianship when reunification with a child’s parent is not possible. Besides adoption assistance, some legislators are looking into adoption rights, “adoption-friendly” qualifications and policies to expedite the adoption process.

Between January and August 2022, legislatures in 21 states and one territory enacted 37 adoption-related bills. Nine bills involved updates to adoption procedures for either public or private adoptions. Seven bills addressed access to adoption records or original birth certificates. Seven bills related to supports or benefits, such as paid leave following the adoption of a child or tax credits for adoption-related expenses. The remaining legislation addressed adoption requirements, the reduction of discrimination, the legal rights of adoptees and minor language changes to existing statutes.

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