Sustainable San Mateo County’s 2023 Indicators Report reveals some surprising facts about pressures that are making life difficult for families in the county. At a Launch Event attended by 80 people on October 26, speakers described how county agencies and local nonprofits are still struggling to keep up with the increased demand for services triggered by COVID-19.
“We learned a lot through the pandemic,” said keynote speaker Mike Callagy, county executive for San Mateo County, when the virus “highlighted the disparities we had, especially with families and kids.” Among the examples he cited in our county, “one of the richest counties in the country”:
- One-third of county residents live below the Self Sufficiency Standard, a living wage measure that defines the real cost of living for working families at a minimally adequate level.
- Second Harvest of Silicon Valley gave away 9.2 million pounds of food during the last quarter to local residents facing food insecurity, including 40,000 people with children.
- One out of every five people in the county qualifies for Medi-Cal, a state program that provides Medi-Cal services to those with low incomes.
- During the last 12 months, the county served 1,100 families who are experiencing homelessness.
“What amazes me is that children are being robbed of their childhood so the family can survive,” he said, noting that some are asked to care for grandparents or drop out of school to work with their parents.
Sarah Hubbard, Sustainable San Mateo County’s new executive director, moderated a panel discussion about the current outlook for families in San Mateo County. Tracy Weatherby, vice president of strategy and advocacy for Second Harvest of Silicon Valley, said the need for food doubled during the pandemic, and the need still persists. At first, the National Guard was deployed to help distribute food. Fortunately, the nonprofit now has twice as many volunteers as before.
Like many other nonprofits, Peninsula Family Service (PFS) briefly shut down when the virus took hold, according to CEO Heather Cleary. When it reopened in June 2020, one of the biggest problems affecting families was the lack of early educators. PFS offered associate teacher training and now, said Cleary, “We are fully staffed in early learning.”
The demand for services through the county’s Family Health Services division also skyrocketed. Dr. Kismet Baldwin-Santana, the county’s new Health Officer, said the pandemic put a spotlight on inequities and really moved health providers at the local, state and federal levels to do more. Although it was hard on the staff, she said new ways of connecting with the public, such as remote access to doctors, have resulted in better service.
Faced with children who couldn’t attend remote classes because they didn’t have computers and/or Internet access, Callagy worked with the county’s Office of Education to create hotspots and offer notebook computers to many students.
Callagy said the county Board of Supervisors has made families and children one of its current priorities for tax dollars, along with seniors, homelessness and emergency preparedness. “We’re really focused on kids and making sure they get a healthy start. If we’re going to make an investment, the best investment we can make is in kids,” he said.
The 2023 indicators Report, “The Well-Being of Children, Youth and Families in San Mateo County,” is available at bit.ly/2023IndicatorsReport. A guide to key facts in the report, organized by topic, is located at tinyurl.com/IndicatorsKeyFacts2023.