Governors’ Top Priorities for Supporting Children and Families In 2022 State of the State Addresses

Across states, Governors’ cited their commitment to strengthening families and communities.

By Isabella Cuneo

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Governors across the country are keenly focused on growth. A crucial element to building stronger states is the identification of barriers and structural challenges that inhibit families from accessing health services, participating in the workforce and advancing toward self-sufficiency. The COVID-19 pandemic presented remarkable opportunities to reimagine program designs and strategic investments that can better support strong thriving states. Governors’ 2022 State of the State addresses highlighted the importance of this moment; across states, Governors cited their commitment to strengthening families and communities.

From the addresses delivered this year, NGA has identified five high-level trends related to children and families:

  • At least 29 Governors discussed the growing MENTAL AND BEHAVIORAL HEALTH crisis and the benefits of providing community-based accessible services to children and families.
  • Governors in over 28 states highlighted the importance of CHILD CARE and EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION as crucial support to obtaining employment and supporting child development.
  • At least 23 Governors highlighted HOUSING investments and supporting families experiencing HOMELESSNESS.
  • Governors in 19 states addressed rising FOOD costs and the need for accessible and adequate NUTRITION.
  • Governors in 16 states emphasized the importance of investing in CHILD WELFARE and supporting children with safe and loving homes.

Mental and Behavioral Health

At least 29 Governors called attention to the growing mental health crisis, emphasizing the impact COVID-19 and school closures have had on children’s mental health. Rates of depression, anxiety, loneliness and suicidality are on the rise, especially among children. Governors announced strategic plans and investments to address barriers to accessing services and building a strong mental health workforce.

  • Alabama: Announced increasing investments in autism services and school-based mental health services and proposed a $12 million investment in mental health crisis centers.
  • Ohio: Highlighted a multitude of mental health initiatives including the success of OhioRise, a Medicaid program providing medical and behavioral health to children, investments in on-site mental health services in schools, and programming on trauma-informed care. Proposed growing the behavioral health workforce, increasing research and innovation, providing better crisis response services and treatments, and increasing prevention efforts and services.
  • Idaho: Proposed $50 million investment to improve behavioral health care access across Idaho to support children and families impacted by mental illness and addiction.
  • Indiana: Highlighted strategies to invest and grow mental health workforce by rolling out a 988 Suicide Hotline, expanding access to services, and investing in strategies to reduce the stigma of mental health issues.
  • Michigan: Called for an expansion of the Michigan Loan Repayment Program to recruit more mental health providers. Proposed financial investments to hire more than 560 nurses, counselors and social workers to provide greater access to care.
  • Illinois: Highlighted Illinois as the first state in the nation to require that insurers cover the cost of substance use programs and mental health treatment.
  • Wisconsin: Announced $15 million to increase children’s access to mental health services in schools through the Get Kids Ahead program. The program funds direct mental health care, mental health workforce and supports, and trauma-based care training.

Child Care and Early Childhood

Governors emphasized the critical support child care plays in child development and economic participation. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated gaps in child care funding and infrastructure: without access to child care, parents have limited options for earning a living, and businesses cannot recruit reliable workers. Over 28 Governors highlighted their strategic plans to strengthen child care infrastructure and delivery to support families and bolster workforce participation.

  • Iowa: Praised the Child Care Challenge program for creating more than 4,000 new child care placements across the state and announced expanding the program to provide an additional 5,000 placements to families.
  • North Dakota: Highlighted the importance of child care in addressing crucial workforce needs and expanding income eligibility for child care assistance to reach more working families.
  • South Carolina: Proposed expanding mixed delivery early childhood education services to give parents more choices (public, private, for-profit provider) in order to choose care that best suits their child’s educational needs. Applauded a free-market approach to full-day kindergarten for every lower-income, four-year-old child.
  • Oregon: Emphasized the need to bolster the workforce by providing access to child care so parents can go to work knowing their children are cared for and highlighted a $100 million investment in workforce-focused child care funding. Emphasized the importance of access to pre-K in the critical early years of brain development.  
  • Maine: Proposed investing more than $12 million to increase pay for child care workers and early childhood educators to strengthen the child care system across the state. Focused on barriers to working parents and the need to support families so they can stay, and succeed, in Maine.
  • Pennsylvania: Announced funding for two new child care options (increasing reimbursement rates to providers and reducing copayment rates) to help parents prioritize career and family. Praised previous early childhood work and nearly $2 billion in investments.

Housing and Homelessness

A top priority for Governors is the development of strategic and sustainable plans to provide access to affordable housing, over 23 remarks addressed climbing housing costs and policies to increase housing access by reforming zoning laws, investing through public-private partnerships, and providing wraparound services to families experiencing homelessness.

  • Utah: Highlighted the lack of affordable housing and affirmed support for legislation to remove government regulations that increase housing prices. Called for support on the Unified Economic Opportunity Commission’s policy initiatives to increase housing availability and reduce costs for Utahns.
  • Vermont: Praised permanent housing initiative that supported over 1,300 families in their transition out of homelessness. Housing investments resulted in over 800 new affordable units created and another 800 under development.
  • Massachusetts: Spotlighted successes in reforming exclusionary zoning laws to unleash cost-effective housing production and $500 million investment in eviction program that provides rental and mortgage assistance to prevent homelessness.
  • Delaware: Praised $50 million investment in rental and mortgage assistance to prevent evictions across the state.
  • Hawai’i: Praised the Ohana Zones for assisting over 5,500 homeless families and supporting more than 1,300 with direct permanent housing and building over 10,000 new homes. Proposed infrastructure development to increase the inventory of affordable homes.
  • New Mexico: Announced $230 million in rent and utility assistance to keep the heat on in hundreds of thousands of households across the state.

Food and Nutrition

Over 19 Governors addressed the need to make food affordable and accessible to families through financial investments, community partnerships, grocery tax cuts, and school lunch programs. Multiple Governors highlighted the exacerbation of food insecurity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to take strategic action to prevent children and families from going hungry.

  • West Virginia: Recognized the importance of fighting food insecurity, especially during the pandemic. Praised state investments in food banks and proposed continued funding to address hunger needs.
  • Massachusetts: Highlighted the Massachusetts food insecurity program that served millions of residents across the commonwealth and brought together local partners and providers to invest in supplying and distributing food to those who need it.
  • Virginia: Called for the state to tackle the high cost of living in Virginia by eliminating the grocery tax so more families can have access to affordable food.
  • Nevada: Announced federal dollar investment to provide free school lunches to all students across the state for the next school year.
  • Kentucky: Called for renewed focus and state attention on reducing the number of children and seniors who go to bed hungry each night.
  • Kansas: Requested the legislature complete a bill  to totally eliminate the grocery sales tax to save Kansas families hundreds of dollars a year.

Child Welfare

Foster care and adoption were addressed by at least 16 Governors in their State of the State addresses. Governors expressed the need to prioritize strategic investments, support foster parents and decrease the number of children in the child welfare system. A number of Governors called attention to relatives who are caring for children without a formal foster care agreement, recognized the benefits of keeping children connected with loving family members, and proposed funding and policy solutions to better support these arrangements.

  • Arizona: Called for grandparents and relatives who care for children to be treated and recognized as foster parents. More than 6,000 children in Arizona live in informal foster arrangements and impressed the need for family members to have access to the same resources as any other foster family.
  • Georgia: Proposed $28 million to allocate a 10%  provider rate increase for all foster parents, relative caregivers, child care institutions and child-placing agencies.
  • Tennessee: Announced continued support for Tennessee Fosters Hope, an initiative to certify new foster families, provide training in trauma-informed responses, and recruit foster-friendly businesses. Proposed funding of relative caregiver placement to promote family stabilization and proposed a childcare support program for all foster care families, regardless of formal state foster license status.
  • Kansas: Praised Kansas’s 15% decrease in the number of children in foster care and applauded the creation of the Division of Child Advocate, an independent accountability system to investigate complaints and explore data resources to help families navigate complex systems and promote continuous improvements to the child welfare system.
  • Oregon: Highlighted an 11% reduction of the number of children in foster care with just over 5,000 kids remaining in foster care– the lowest number in Oregon in over 16 years, contributing these successes to the state’s efforts to connect families to prevention services and critical supports.