Child care is one of the greatest multi-taskers that exists – it simultaneously provides both early care and education for our youngest citizens, enables parents to work and attend school, provides an economic driver for business that ensures a stable workforce, and employs more than one million workers. Each of us, whether we have children or not, has a stake in the success of child care in this country. First Focus on Children is proud to be a co-signer of Principles for Child Care: A Vision for Investing in High-Quality, Affordable Child Care. Signed by more than 25 advocacy organizations, this document lays out the core principles any comprehensive child care proposal must have. Combining high-quality, access, affordability, and a well-supported workforce will improve our child care system to provide the care, education and economic stability we need for the success of our children and the national economy.
current child care system has many challenges and areas for improvement:
Most American families cannot afford
child care. For one infant, a
two-income household spends more than 10.6 percent of its income on child care.
A single-parent household spends 37 percent of its income on child care. The
cost of child care for two children exceeds mortgage costs for homeowners in 35
states and the District of Columbia. And child care fees for two children in a
child care center exceeds annual median rent payments in each and every state.
child care hurts our economy.
The annual cost of lost productivity, earnings and revenue to our economy due
to child care problems tops $57 billion.
early childhood professionals are grossly underpaid. In 2017, child care workers earned
less than two-thirds of the median wage for all occupations in their states.
Child care workers in 21 states
and Washington, D.C. would have to spend more than half of their income to pay
for center-based care for their own infants. Forty-six percent of early
childhood professionals rely on one or more public support programs annually.
youngest children’s brains are making more neural connections than at any other
time in their lives, making it a critical time for learning and development.
The settings that our children spend their days in matter for improved outcomes
in health, well-being, education, economic stability and reduced involvement in
the criminal justice system.
We must do better for our children, their families, the professionals who care
for them every day and our economy.
As outlined in these Principles for
Child Care, First Focus on Children believes that all children should
receive high-quality child care; that families should be able to access the
high-quality child care setting that best meets their needs; should get the
financial support they need to afford high-quality child care; and that early
childhood professionals in all settings should receive the support, resource,
and compensation they need to provide high-quality care and to support their
This is an investment that is worth
making and that we must make.
When it comes to making
public policy related to children, the vast majority of Americans support the
notion that public policy and government should act in the “best interest of
the child” or, at the very least, “do no harm” to children.
Unfortunately, far too
often, children are either an afterthought or worse. In the case of Tennessee
Gov. Bill Lee’s proposal to convert Medicaid into a block grant or per capita
capped program, it is disturbing — but sadly not surprising — that children are
actually targeted and disproportionately placed in harm’s way.
A Medicaid block grant or per capita cap is simply an arbitrary financial limit that a state would receive from the federal government to provide health care. According to a recent analysis of the potential impact of recent proposals to cap Medicaid, Avalere Health estimates for a potential loss of federal funding to states, specifically for children, of $93 to $163 billion for FY 2020–2029 nationally. As Avalere explains:
A reduction in federal Medicaid funding would require states to reduce spending in Medicaid or in other areas of their budget. In particular, states may reduce eligibility for coverage, limit access to covered benefits or services, increase beneficiary cost sharing or decrease payment for care. . .
The Tennessee concept paper to radically, and
likely illegally, (more on that later) transform the Medicaid program by Gov.
Lee’s administration would likely seek a waiver from the Medicaid law from the
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) later this fall after three
public hearings between October 1–3 in Nashville, Knoxville and Jackson,
Arbitrarily capping the
Medicaid program, whether block grants or per capita caps, has been shown to
create enormous shortfalls in funding to provide health coverage to low-income
senior citizens, people with disabilities, children and adults that receive
health coverage. In a review of legislative proposals to impose Medicaid per
capita caps in Congress and to address likely significant shortfalls in
funding, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) wrote:
. . .enrollees could face more significant effects if a state reduced providers’ payment rates or payments to managed care plans, cut covered services, or curtailed eligibility — either in keeping with current law or to a greater extent, if given the flexibility. If states reduced payment rates, fewer providers might be willing to accept Medicaid patients, especially given that, in many cases, Medicaid’s rates are already significantly below those of Medicare or private insurance for some of the same services. If states reduced payments to Medicaid managed care plans, some plans might shrink their provider networks, curtail quality assurance, or drop out of the program altogether. If states reduced covered services, some enrollees might decide either to pay out of pocket or to forgo those services entirely. And if states narrowed their categories of eligibility (including the optional expansion under the ACA), some of those enrollees would lose access to Medicaid coverage. . . .
proposal comes at a time when the nation’s uninsured rate is heading in the
wrong direction. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the uninsured rate across
the country increased from 25.6 million to 27.5 million between 2017 to 2018 or
from 7.9 to 8.5 percent.
For children, the Census Bureau finds that the uninsured
rate rose from 5.0 to 5.5 percent from 2017 to 2018, which represents an 11
percent increase, and that the overall number of uninsured children rose by
425,000 to 4.3 million.
We should not be heading
backward. Every person in this country should have access to high-quality
health insurance coverage. Instead of setting arbitrary caps and putting in
place the bureaucracy to enforce cuts and limits to care, we should be looking
for ways to increase the number of insured Americans, including children, and
improving access to health care.
Even worse, Tennessee is proposing to disproportionately threaten the health of children. As Figure 2 in the concept paper shows, children would represent a vast majority of those placed in harm’s way by Gov. Lee’s unique hybrid of a Medicaid block grant and per capita cap (i.e., the 62 percent of children in this chart and another percentage share of people with disabilities subjected to the caps).
Arbitrary Medicaid caps or
limits are particularly threatening for children with special health care
needs, including infants, kids with cancer, asthma,
heart conditions, and children in foster care, because the cost of their
care and coverage would, by definition, exceed the average per capita limit
included in the proposal for the federal share.
To meet the arbitrary caps,
Tennessee and its Medicaid managed care plans would have an incentive to impose
bureaucratic barriers to care, paperwork denials, limits and other forms of
rationing for Tennessee’s vulnerable and fragile children.
This is particularly
disturbing because Tennessee has already demonstrated a desire and ability to
use such mechanisms to limit care and services to children. Just a few months
ago, a study by the Tennessean found
that the state had used a number of mechanisms to limit and ration coverage for
its children over the past few years. The investigative report explains:
least 220,000 Tennessee children were cut, or were slated to be cut, from state
health insurance in recent years in an unwieldy TennCare system that was
dependent on hard-copy forms and postal mail. . . The majority of these kids
likely lost their coverage because of late, incomplete or unreturned
In an analysis titled The
Return of Churn: State Paperwork Barriers Caused More than 1.5 Million People
to Lose Their Medicaid Coverage in 2018, Families USA’sEliot
Fishman and Emmet Ruff found:
2016, [Tennessee] began making manual eligibility redeterminations after still
not having an online system to do so. Because redeterminations could not be
processed online, the state mailed a 98-page
renewal packet to
beneficiaries to renew their eligibility. The Tennessee Justice Center, an
advocacy organization that has helped Tennesseans and their families to renew
their TennCare eligibility, reports that in many cases the state mailed renewal
packets to the wrong addresses, and as a result, beneficiaries lost coverage
for failing to return renewal packets that they never received. In other cases,
the state never processed beneficiaries’ renewal packets despite receiving them
(as documented by beneficiaries’ proof of receipt).
contrary to federal law, the state failed to screen children for eligibility
under other Medicaid categories before disenrolling them, resulting in children
losing coverage despite qualifying under another category. Additionally,
because the state did not apply the same eligibility information to all members
of the same family, parents and caregivers were required to submit separate
packets for each of their children, and the state made separate eligibility
determinations for each member of a family.
None of this is about
striving to improve the health of children and families. At a budget hearing
earlier this year, Tennessee State Sen. Jeff Yarbro pushed agency officials
about how Tennessee had the highest decline in covered children across the
country in 2018. Sen. Yarbro said:
is utterly broken to the point of where it appears to be more by design than
accident. You have to conclude that this is a management decision to trim the
rolls or at least let them shrink by relying on people either not receiving, or
not completing, the gargantuan applications.
Tennessee was rationing
care to children through bureaucratic red tape.
Arbitrary Medicaid Cap Targets Kids
Although Tennessee has
finally revamped its eligibility process this year, it is disturbing that the
state is creating new barriers to the health of children by proposing the vast
majority of those that would be subjected to the newly proposed Medicaid caps
would be kids [MK1] (Figure 2 above).
Under current law, the
federal government and states have a shared partnership (65.21 percent
federal and 34.79 percent state)to cover any increase in
Medicaid’s costs due to either enrollment or inflation.
. .the financing of Tennessee’s Medicaid program will no longer operate under
the traditional Medicaid financing model. Instead of drawing down federal
dollars based on a fixed percentage, the federal government will provide a
block grant of federal funds to the state for the operation of its Medicaid
In short, federal funding
would no longer be guaranteed to cover its full share of costs under the
Recognizing the potential
for significant harm, the Governor specifically exempts most senior citizens
(“expenditures on behalf of individuals who are enrolled in Medicare”),
outpatient prescription drugs, and Tennessee’s own administrative expenses from
the caps in his proposal. In other words, the health of children would be put
at grave risk but not administrative costs and bureaucracy.
Consequently, under the
draft proposal, federal funding would be allocated to the state in the first
year in the form of a block grant and future federal contributions would be
limited in the form of per capita payments above a base block grant amount.
calculated, the block grant amount will be trended forward from 2018 to the
first year of the demonstration using an inflation factor based on CBO
projections for growth in Medicaid spending.
First, CBO is often way off
in its projections and inflation rates often vary wildly from year-to-year,
depending on a number of factors. For example, in the case of natural disasters
or some public health crises, Tennessee’s Medicaid would find itself
shortchanged at the very moment when it is in need of additional federal
Much like the Tennessee
proposal, U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of
Louisiana proposed a Medicaid cap that was supported by President Donald Trump
in his FY 2020 budget submission to do much the same but at an inflation rate
that would be below the expected medical inflation rate. According to an analysis by Avalere Health,
the Graham-Cassidy language would have cut Medicaid payments to children by an
astounding 31 percent over a 10-year period.
Tennessee Proposes to End
Its Future Commitment to Its Citizens
Even worse than the federal
caps, Gov. Lee’s radical proposal also would end Tennessee’s commitment to its
share of health costs of citizens covered by Medicaid to what it spends in
fiscal year (FY) 2019. According to the concept paper:
. .the state commits to maintenance of effort with regard to the non-federal
share of TennCare funding based on state expenditures on TennCare during state
Fiscal Year 2019, trended forward each year the block grant is in effect.
Limiting the state Medicaid
contribution to just what was spent in FY 2019 would create significant
shortfalls over time. This is particularly true in cases where enrollment and
costs increase due to demographic changes, economic downturns, natural
disasters, a public health crisis, the discovery of a medical breakthrough or
cure, or medical inflation.
The state’s proposal to no
longer pay its share of the costs of its citizens in the future is the most
disturbing aspect of the proposed Medicaid waiver. Although it is bad enough
that the federal government’s commitment or share to the health care
costs of those in Medicaid would be arbitrary capped, even worse, Tennessee
would no longer cover a dime of any additional future expenses.
This quickly becomes a
significant problem since Tennessee currently pays for more than one-third
(34.79 percent in FY 2020) of the costs of Medicaid coverage. Under Gov. Lee’s
proposal, it is difficult to see how Medicaid would cover newly enrolled
infants, foster children, children with cancer, people with disabilities, or
people who would need Medicaid coverage in the wake of an economic downturn or
To address the subsequent
shortfall, Tennessee assumes federal officials would be willing to give the
state “flexibility” to use their “block grant” to:
certain medical benefits, such as mental health, dental coverage, or new
treatments (Tennessee is asking to waive amount, scope, and duration benefit
requirements and to limit access to Food and Drug Administration approved
prescription drugs under current Medicaid law);
payment rates to hospitals, clinics, doctors, dentists, and pharmacies; and,
children, pregnant women, people with disabilities, or low-income senior
citizens off of coverage.
Despite the strange allure
to some state officials of the word “flexibility,” block grants and per capita
caps do not come with some sort of magic wand. “Flexibility” does not
make children, senior citizens and people with disabilities mysteriously less
expensive to cover without significant cuts to benefits, services or provider
Tennessee’s proposal to cap
both the federal and state payments in Medicaid would likely be found to be
illegal if challenged in the courts. According to a Health Affairsanalysis by Rachel Sachs and
Nicole Huberfeld entitled “The Problematic Law and Policy of Medicaid Block
Grants,” Medicaid law allows Section 1115 demonstration waivers “to allow
states to experiment with certain aspects of the Medicaid program to improve
beneficiary coverage or care.”
However, Tennessee’s waiver
proposal does nothing to improve beneficiary coverage or care and it does nothing
to further the intent and objectives of Medicaid law.
Moreover, as Sachs and
spells out federal payment within Section 1903, which states that the HHS
secretary “shall pay to each State…the [federal match] of the total amount
expended…as medical assistance under the State plan….” This language is not
waivable under Section 1115, which explicitly permits waivers of Section 1902
but not Section 1903. (HHS can approve more spending than Section 1903
contemplates to match a state’s expansion of Medicaid coverage, but it cannot
1903.) As a result, HHS cannot cap the Medicaid funds it disburses to states,
either per person or programmatically, because it must pay the federal match
for the “total amount” of a state’s spending.
Nicholas Bagley confirms this point in a blog titled
“Tennessee wants to block grant Medicaid. Is that legal?” for The
Incidental Economist. He writes:
can’t use section 1115 to waive section 1903. To the contrary, section 1903 is
pointedly omitted from the list of
statutory provisions that HHS is empowered to waive.
you can’t use Medicaid waivers to change Medicaid’s financing structure. And
that’s exactly what Tennessee is proposing to do.
Tennessee was once
considered a national leader in health care policy. In 1994, Tennessee launched
TennCare by using savings from the use of Medicaid managed care to expand
health care coverage to the uninsured. Mandy Pelligrin of the nonpartisan
Sycamore Institute explains, “This was considered the
most expansive Medicaid eligibility in the country at the time.”
Unfortunately, rather than
seeking innovative ways to expand and improve health coverage of its citizens,
now Gov. Bill Lee and the Tennessee legislature are moving in the opposite
direction and proposing an arbitrary cap on both the federal and state shares
of Medicaid. This would lead to limits and the rationing of health care
services for low-income children, some senior citizens, people with
disabilities and adults.
Our elected officials
should protect children rather than putting them in harm’s way. When it comes
to policies that impact children, the “best interest of the child” should be
arbitrary fiscal limits on the health of kids does nothing to improve their
care. In fact, it threatens their health and well-being, and for that reason,
should be soundly rejected.
The U.S. Census Bureau released annual data on
child poverty in the United States on September 10 that shows benefit programs
are particularly effective at reducing poverty for children.
The U.S. Census
Bureau calculates the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) as an alternate measure to the Official Poverty Measure. Unlike the Official Poverty Measure, which uses
an income threshold solely based on the cost of food, the SPM incorporates the
cost of food, clothing, shelter and utilities. It also adjusts for family size
and geographic differences in housing costs. The SPM further considers cash
income (including child support) and non-cash benefits, subtracts taxes (or adds
tax credits), work expenses, out-of-pocket medical expenses, and child support
paid to another household.
When taking all of these factors into account, the SPM rate for children in 2018 was 13.7 percent, compared to 16.2 percent when using the Official Poverty Measure. The nearly two-point drop in poverty illustrates that benefit programs are particularly effective for children and must not only be protected, but strengthened so they can reach many more children still living in poverty.
This year’s data shows that tax credits continue to be the strongest anti-poverty tool we have. Together, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit lifted 4.7 million children out of poverty in 2018.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) continued to be another powerful anti-poverty program for children in 2018. SNAP provides low-income households with monthly funds intended for grocery purchases, and while benefits under the program are modest (corresponding to roughly $1.40 per person per meal), they play a critical role in freeing up household resources and helping struggling families place food on the table. Given that more than 18 million children participate in SNAP—representing 44 percent of its beneficiaries—it is unsurprising that it kept almost 1.4 million children from falling into poverty last year. This data further underscores the importance of protecting children from proposed cuts to SNAP.
These Programs Lift Children Out of Poverty?
A recent landmark
study from the National Academy of Sciences, A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty, confirms that the negative outcomes associated
with child poverty directly result from a lack of income.
Studies show that
when parents and guardians receive cash assistance, they use it to provide
resources for their children such as nutritious food, stable housing and
educational supports that improve children’s healthy development. Increased
income also relieves parental stress, giving them increased time and mental
energy for their children.
More resources in a
household in the short-term also improves children’s outcomes for the
long-term. Studies show that children in households that received an increase
in income through programs such as EITC or SNAP were healthier and
earned more as adults, thereby helping to break the cycle of generational
A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty puts
forward a set of policy and program options that, if implemented together,
could cut our national child poverty rate in half within a decade. Within these options, they find that establishing
a $3,000 annual child allowance would have the biggest impact of any single
policy in reducing child poverty, and by itself could cut deep child poverty (children
in households with incomes below half of the poverty line) in half within a
decade. It would also address racial and ethnic disparities by having the biggest
impact in reducing poverty for Black and Hispanic children.
The bottom line is that money matters
to reducing child poverty. We could do more to reduce child poverty by:
a national child poverty target. Child poverty is a solvable problem
if there is the political will to take action. Establishing a national child
poverty target – similar to ones in the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand as well
as here in the United States – would be the
first step toward holding lawmakers accountable to making child poverty a
priority and implementing solutions. Bicameral legislation introduced in past sessions of Congress
established a target and we hope to see this legislation reintroduced soon.
family tax credits. Currently 26 million children are unable to benefit from
the full Child Tax Credit, and the 2017 tax law also widened income and racial
disparities and neglected to expand the EITC and the Child and Dependent Care
Tax Credit (CDCTC). Congress should alter that course and ensure that any
legislation to extend tax breaks for businesses also include improvements for
low-wage families with children.
a national child allowance – The American Family Act (S.690/H.R. 1560), the Working
Families Tax Relief Act (S.1138/H.R. 3157), and the Economic Mobility Act (H.R,
3300) would establish child allowance programs.
If signed into law, these proposals would implement one of the most
effective policy changes to reduce child poverty identified in the NASEM study
and currently adopted by numerous industrialized nations, such as Canada,
Australia and nearly every European country
— already proving the success of cash-transfer programs to struggling
families and children.
future of any society, by definition, depends on its ability to boost
the health and well-being of the next generation. When we devote the
resources necessary to support families and improve the services and
programs that help all children be healthy, get a good education, and
contribute to our nation’s future success, we all benefit.
Instead, we are shortchanging and failing our children. The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell refers to the current situation as a “War on Children” and the Post’s Petula Dvorak writes how, on issue after issue, the country is “failing its children.”
The mistreatment or disregard of American and foreign children at the hands of the United States is not a new problem. . . When issues from guns to immigration to health care to foreign affairs are viewed through the lens of how they affect children, it becomes clear the young are an afterthought when it comes to public policy.
This is underscored by what is happening to children in the federal budget. In the Children’s Budget 2019 report we released at the National Press Club last week, we found that the share of all federal spending dedicated to children dropped from 7.98 percent in fiscal year (FY) 2015 to 7.21 percent in FY 2019 — a 9.7 percent reduction over the period.
Even worse, President Trump’s proposed FY 2020 budget would cause the share of federal spending on children to drop to just 6.45 percent — a real cut of $20 billion. His budget submission would eliminate 44 separate children’s programs and make cuts to far more.
might speculate that the president’s budget attempts to reduce the
deficit, but it is important to highlight that children are
disproportionately targeted for the cuts. As our report highlights,
Trump’s budget targets children for 17 percent of the cuts in domestic
Moreover, we can also be pretty certain that the President’s proposed cuts on the mandatory side on the budget would also look to target children with greater harm. For example, according to the President’s FY 2020 budget narrative, the Administration supports “enactment of legislation modeled after the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson bill proposed in September 2017.”
That proposal would have established a Medicaid per capita cap and subjected children to much lower inflation rates and much higher cuts on a per capita cap basis. In fact, according to analysis by Avalere Health, Medicaid spending on children would have been cut by 31 percent compared to less than 2 percent for senior citizens.
In Children’s Budget 2019, we also estimate that interest on the federal deficit began exceeding all federal spending on children combined this year.
Under current law, things will only get worse over the next decade. The Urban Institute’s Kids’ Share 2018 report projects that the downward trend will continue well into the future. As the author’s explain:
Children’s programs are projected to receive just 1 cent
of every dollar of the projected increase in federal spending over the
next decade, compared to 61cents for [the adult portion of] Social
Security, Medicaid, and Medicaid, and 29 cents for interest on the debt.
These facts all point to a growing crisis for children and our nation’s future. Unless dramatic changes are made to the federal budget process, and we begin to prioritize children in our society:
1)Investments in children will be a rapidly declining share of all federal spending;
burden of the fast growing federal debt will be passed on to our
children by adults who have favored cutting taxes and increasing defense
spending over investment in children and reducing the federal deficit;
rapidly growing share of Medicare and Social Security costs due to the
retirement of Baby Boomers will be assumed by the next generation;
4)At some point, fiscal austerity measures will fall disproportionately upon our children and their children.
Economist Eugene Steuerle believes that the budget crisis is already upon us. In a Washington Post Op-Ed, Steuerle writes:
The costs are being incurred now; they’re not waiting for some fiscal blowup. The evidence is abundant: Education spending and other federal investments in children, as a share of gross domestic product, will fall by about one-eighth in about a decade. Programs that might promote economic mobility and opportunity for everyone make up an ever-smaller portion of the federal budget. Support for working families declines. College students get stuck with huge debts. Anyone visiting from abroad finds our airports and other transportation infrastructure second-rate. . . . These stories all relate to the decline of fiscal democracy.
In other words, even if Congress finds political will to make much needed investments in children, doing so will be difficult because the federal budget process is heavily stacked against kids.
A recent Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) report, Budgeting for the Next Generation: Does the Budget Process Prioritize Children?, finds that the budget process systemically disadvantages and shortchanges our nation’s children.
CRFB’s analysis concludes:
While much of spending on adults is mandatory, spending on children is disproportionately discretionary and thus must be reviewed and renewed with other appropriations.
Spending on children is disproportionately temporary, and it requires far more regular reauthorization and appropriation than programs for adults.
Spending on adults is rarely limited while spending on children is often capped, constraining what can be spent for most major children’s programs.
Most programs for children lack built-in growth, leading spending on children to erode relative to spending on adults and relative to the economy.
Programs for children lack dedicated revenue and thus lack the political advantage and protection of programs for seniors that enjoy this benefit.
Growing spending on adults is burdening younger generations by driving up debt and thus reducing future income and increasing costs.
CRFB explains, “These features of the current budget process are
increasingly leading spending on children to be crowded out, as the
burden we place on children rises.”
Advocates seeking increased investments in children face serious political and structural barriers. As Children’s Budget 2019 and the reports by the Urban Institute and CRFB illustrate, children are not faring well — not at all.
However, according to a study
entitled “A Unified Welfare Analysis of Government Policies” by
Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser and published by Harvard’s
Opportunity Insights, found:
Direct investments in the health and education of low-income children have historically yielded the highest returns.
Opportunities for high-return investments have persisted throughout childhood.
Many direct investments in low-income children’s health and education have paid for themselves.
The policies that have historically invested in kids tend to be the ones that have the biggest bang for the buck. Because, oftentimes when you put in a dollar when a kid is young, it can have impact that then pays us back when those kids grow up.
The targeted investments and interventions we make now will make a lifetime of difference for the children they reach.
an effort to achieve better investments and outcomes for children, more
than 80 organizations have come together across all policy areas to
form the Children’s Budget Coalition. Through this Coalition, child
advocates have committed to work together to raise attention as to how
the federal budget is shortchanging our children, both overall and
within individual programs.
First Focus Campaign for Children, Save the Children Action Network, and other partners are also supportive of S. 1780, the “Focus on Children Act,” by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and S. 1776, the “Children’s Budget Act,” by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ).
two bills would direct the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the
Office of Management and Budget (OMB), respectively, to provide reports
to Congress on spending levels related to annual appropriations bills
and the President’s budget with respect to spending on children.
status quo of shortchanging our children is unacceptable. It leaves
children worse off in both the short- and long-term. We can and must do
better by our children, who are the future of our country.
Today, the U.S. Census Bureau released its annual national data on poverty in America and it paints the picture that we know all too well: Our child poverty rate remains stubbornly high despite the fact that we have the solutions to address it.
According to the Census Bureau’s Official Poverty Measure
(OPM), 16.2 percent of children (11.9 million) were living in poverty in
2018. (The official poverty line for a
family of four with two children is $25,465 a year.)
And due to the continual racism and discrimination ingrained
in our country’s institutions, children of color continue to experience rates
of poverty three times that of white children.
29.5 percent of Black children and 23.7 percent of Hispanic children
were living in poverty in 2018 compared to 8.9 percent of white children.
The figures also show a modest decrease in children living
in deep poverty, with 6.9 percent of children living in deep poverty in 2018 ($12,732
a year for a family of four with two children).
This number remains particularly worrisome, since households living in
deep poverty lack the income to meet their children’s basic needs.
Despite the vulnerability of children living in households
of deep poverty, they
often lack access to assistance. Many anti-poverty programs are contingent on a
household having some income, yet families in deep poverty have little to no
earnings due to barriers such as disability, substance abuse, mental health or
other complex and persistent issues that prevent them from working full time or
The good news is that we are making more progress than the OPM indicates. The Supplemental Poverty Measure, also released today, tells us that when we take anti-poverty programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Child Tax Credit (CTC), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), housing assistance and other programs into account (as well as other factors) the child poverty rate drops to 13.7 percent.
We Know How To End Child Poverty
However, no matter what measure you use to indicate child poverty in the United States, our rate remains high – an inexcusable trend considering that findings of a landmark study released earlier this year from the nonpartisan National Academy of Sciences show that we know how to make progress. A Roadmap to Reducing Child Povertyputs forward a set of policy and program changes that, if implemented, would cut our national child poverty rate in half within a decade. While the study committee finds that no single policy can cut our child poverty rate in half within a decade, establishing a $3,000 annual child allowance would have the biggest impact by far and would cut our deep child poverty rate in half within a decade. Structural improvements and funding increases to the EITC, SNAP and housing vouchers would also make a serious dent.
The study committee also finds that implementing these changes are
costs our country upwards
of $1 trillion a year due to reduced economic activity and output, yet cutting
our child poverty rate in half within a decade would cost less than $110
billion a year.
Yet our country is going in the opposite direction. Today
First Focus on Children released our annual Children’s Budget
Book, which reports that the share of spending on children in
the United States declined to an all-time low of just 7.21% in FY2019.
And recently, we have also seen a slew of harmful regulations from the
Trump Administration that if implemented, would further increase our child
poverty rate by restricting access to critical resources for millions of
For this reason, First Focus on Children, with our
partners at the U.S. Child Poverty Action Group, launched
the End Child Poverty campaign
earlier this year and is calling upon the United States to establish a national
target to cut our child poverty rate in half within a decade. Setting a target
would provide advocates, the media and other stakeholders with a tool to hold
our lawmakers accountable for reducing child poverty. We
have seen evidence of the effectiveness of targets in the United Kingdom, Canada
and New Zealand
as well as here in the United States. Bicameral legislation introduced in past sessions of Congress
established a target and we hope to see this legislation reintroduced soon.
Please join us in this effort! You can start by
participating in our upcoming Twitterstorm on Tuesday, September 24th
at 2pm EST using the hashtag #EndChildPoverty. Please also attend our webinar on Wednesday,
September 25th at 3pm EST. For additional details, sign-up for our
listserv here and
follow us on Twitter at @CPAG_USA.
The U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA) released
new data Sept. 4 showing a continued
decline in food insecurity (uncertain access to enough healthy food.)
Unfortunately, even with this progress, food insecurity continues to
disproportionately impact households with children. In fact, as of 2018, 11.2
million children (nearly 1 in 7) lived in a household struggling to put food on
Food insecurity takes a costly toll on
children. Not only does it increase the likelihood of poor nutrition and
hunger, it impacts their health, school performance and behavior. The harmful
effects of child food insecurity can reverberate into adulthood.
Trump administration also recently issued a final rule that imposes sweeping changes on
long-standing, bipartisan immigration policy by
allowing government officials to consider the use of an applicant’s broad range
of services — including SNAP — when determining eligibility for green cards
and/or lawful admission to the United States. Individuals who are eligible for
SNAP will now be punished for using those benefits, meaning parents and
children will likely disenroll from the program in order to avoid a public charge determination.
Take Action: The Administration’s Proposed Rule for the Revision of Categorical Eligibility in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is open for comments until September 23rd. We encourage partner child advocacy organizations to submit comments by customizing our model comment template. Individuals may submit a personalized comment using Feeding America’s comment portal.
The Trump administration has finalized a rule that will expand the definition of a public charge when determining eligibility for individuals applying for admission to the U.S. or for adjustment of status to that of lawful permanent resident (green card). This expansion will allow for the consideration of an applicant’s use of services such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Federal, State and local cash assistance programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and subsidized housing vouchers. To make this determination, DHS will look at the “totality of a person’s circumstances” including their age, health, assets, education, and financial status. A person may be deemed a public charge if he/she has used one or more public benefits for more than 12 months in the aggregate within any 36-month period (receipt of 2 benefits will count as 2 months). The rule is expected to go into effect on October 15, 2019.
The final rule included some changes from the proposed regulation. For instance, Medicaid will not be
considered for those under the age of 21 and pregnant women through 60 days
after giving birth. Additionally, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP),
Headstart, WIC (Nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children), and
Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) will not be included in the
list of services considered for a public charge determination. But the
regulation directly targets family-based immigration and specifically singles
out children. Here are some of the ways in which it
will impact children.
Children are not exempt
from the rule.
there is a list of certain groups who are exempt from the public charge
determination including victims of severe forms of trafficking or criminal
activity (T and U-Visas), refugees and asylum applicants, Special Immigrant
Juveniles, and others,
children are not exclusively exempt. In the rule, DHS recognizes that children
are not making decisions to apply for benefits themselves, yet they make no
exemption for those who fall under a head of household. Alarmingly, they go out
of their way to argue that there is no need for a child to have the capacity to
understand the consequences of these actions. While children are specifically
exempt from Medicaid, other benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition
Assistance Program (SNAP) or federal, state and local cash assistance programs
such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) will be used against
children seeking when adjustment of immigration status.
Children are considered
negative factors both for themselves and for the consideration of their parents
in the totality of circumstances
rule states that it will consider an age of less than 18 as a negative factor,
as under 18 they are unable to be meaningfully employed. Additionally, household
size will be viewed as a negative unless the household members are contributing
to the household income. While the rule states it will not include the use of
benefits by U.S. citizen children within the household, DHS may still count the
U.S. citizen child as a negative factor in the totality of circumstances for
the parent’s application. Therefore, the simple act of being a child within a
home is weighed negatively on multiple accounts.
MILLIONS of children will
lose access to health care, housing and nutrition services
there are exclusions in Medicaid specifically for children, it is likely that the
parents of these children will choose to forego health care coverage and
services to avoid negative immigration consequences. According to a report by the Kaiser Family
Foundation approximately 8 million children enrolled in CHIP and Medicaid live
in a household with at least one noncitizen and may be at risk for
disenrollment. Research shows
that when parents don’t have health insurance, their children are less likely
to have health care coverage or seek health care services.
it comes to housing assistance, there is no way to separate benefits to parents
and their children who live in the same home. You cannot divide up a home or an
apartment based on who is eligible for assistance, so when parents lose
assistance and housing becomes unaffordable, the entire family, including
children, is put at risk of homelessness. In writing the rule, the Administration
noted that it expects to see “Increased rates of poverty and housing instability…”
rule threatens children’s access to food both at home and at school. Parents
and children may disenroll from SNAP in order to avoid a public charge
determination as approximately 3.4 million citizen kids who access SNAP
live with at least one non-citizen family member. Even if eligible children
remain on the program, when parents drop out this means less food in the house.
Additionally, kids enrolled in SNAP automatically receive free school meals.
Once they forfeit SNAP enrollment, they would not have that automatic
follow-through. They are unlikely to apply for free meals at school because of
a host of issues including, language barriers, lack of enrollment information,
and fear of negative immigration outcomes.
The impact will reach
beyond the intended targets
those families directly subject to the rule, expanding the public charge
determination will have a broad chilling effect and will deter all immigrant
households from accessing any essential services out of fear it will negatively
impact their immigration status. Parents may choose to also give up benefits not
covered out of general fear of repercussions and an increase in distrust of government
services. We have already seen the chilling effect responsible for a 10 percent
decline in SNAP participation during the first half of 2018 by eligible
disproportionately affects family-based immigration.
public charge rule is a direct attempt to cut family-based immigration. In 2016,
approximately 68 percent of the total persons who obtained Legal Permanent Resident
(LPR) status were immediate relatives of U.S. citizens or had a family-based
The rule would make it more difficult for families to stay together or reunify,
as families both in the U.S. and abroad will be forced to meet the new
requirements for a wide range of demands.
Administration is knowingly subjecting children to these hardships. They acknowledge
in the rule that children and other vulnerable populations will be impacted. It
specifically states that disenrollment from public programs will result in
declining child health, increased poverty and homelessness, reduced
productivity and educational attainment.
When we talk about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), we focus on the politics. Discussions of the law almost always lead to heated partisan debates, and health care has been a major issue for presidential hopefuls. Nevertheless, what we should question is how changing this law would affect millions of children.
Yet another court case attempting to demolish the ACA began oral arguments in early July. The case could potentially move to the Supreme Court in the thick of the 2020 presidential election. While you can bet that partisan politics will be at the forefront of the discussion, the implications of this direct attack on the ACA cannot be ignored.
While researching the impact of the ACA, I have learned about its life-saving effect on America’s children. Children born with pre-existing conditions, such as asthma, juvenile diabetes, cystic fibrosis, and many other diseases are no longer denied coverage. Lifetime and annual dollar limits on care were eradicated, meaning that children with health conditions that require extensive care will not exhaust their coverage amounts in their early years. Losing the ACA would be disastrous for these and other children.
It is important to remember what losing the ACA would actually mean for tens of millions of Americans, especially children. Before the ACA, a child born in the NICU could exhaust his or her entire health care coverage in those first few months of life because of the misfortune of being born with birth defects. A child with asthma may not have had access to medicine that helps him or her breath because it is too expensive, and insurance would not cover it. Too many times, parents were faced with an impossible decision: foregoing life-saving medical care or going bankrupt trying to do what is best for the health and well-being of their children. These scenarios were harsh realities for millions of families and their children before the ACA, and they could be the realities of our future, should it be rescinded.
If we believe that children are the future, we must prioritize upholding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to protect the health and well-being of America’s children.
Since its passage in 2010, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has withstood many challenges at the state, local and federal levels in court and from within Congress. In the House, votes to repeal the ACA have been on the floor more than 60 times. During the summer of 2017, the ACA came within just a few votes of repeal in the Senate, but the vote failed after massive public outcry. As the law faces yet another court challenge, we are reminded what children stand to lose if the ACA is dismantled and all its benefits disappear.
Though not thought of as the principal beneficiaries of the ACA, the law has impacted the health and lives of children in dramatic and unanticipated ways. From coverage for pre-existing conditions to well-child visits without co-pays, Medicaid coverage for former foster youth, and reduced maternal and infant mortality rates, children have benefitted from the ACA and would suffer if the law were dismantled. The Affordable Care Act provides children with services and benefits that improve their lives and health outcomes.
In this issue brief, we examine the potential consequences of dismantling the ACA–in taking away the provisions and services that children need to grow and develop, we would reverse positive trends in children’s health that have emerged since the law’s implementation.
In anticipation of the House Oversight subcommittee hearing entitled “Kids in Cages,” I waited in the halls of the Rayburn House Office Building for more than two hours to secure a seat in the hearing room. Given the high-profile subject matter, many others from Capitol Hill and human rights organizations stood alongside me hoping for the chance to hear Yazmin Juárez’s emotional testimony about the loss of her daughter Mariee six weeks after being released from detention by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The hallway was crowded and hot and the standing was uncomfortable.
In that moment, I thought about the children in Clint and Dilley and El Paso.
I pictured them separated from their parents, denied knowledge of their whereabouts, deprived of basic safe and sanitary conditions, and unsure about when the nightmare would end. As I walked out of the hearing room after hours of testimonies, tears and calls to action, I felt as though I had gotten a very small glimpse of the emotional and physical damage forced upon these immigrant children at the border.
Congress recently allocated more than $4 billion to assist
with conditions at detention centers, but money cannot and will not solve this
moral crisis. Children should not be separated from their families unless there
is an immediate threat to the child and they should never be placed in
cage-like facilities. Detention of children and families is utterly cruel and
traumatic. Ms. Juárez testified that she immediately recognized sick children
upon her arrival at the facility in Dilley, Texas and called the cells “ice
boxes” due to the extreme cold. She vehemently emphasized that the conditions
she faced failed to meet the definition of “safe and sanitary” as outlined by
the Flores agreement. To her, the United States represented the land of
opportunity, liberty, dreams, work and great doctors…the land in which she
could do the things she was unable to do in Guatemala as a result of threats to
her and her daughter’s safety. Yazmin’s experience in detention gave her a
picture of America that will forever be tainted by the negligence and apathy that
robbed her of her daughter.
Our current immigration
system not only lacks humanity, it revels in unnecessary institutional cruelty.
Despite the necessity to
always consider the best interest of the child, children are kept in conditions
that blatantly contradict the safe and sanitary guidelines set by the Flores
agreement. Since lawyers, pediatricians and politicians gained access to the
centers, the truth has emerged regarding children in filthy conditions. Many
children smell rank, lack access to clean toilets and showers, are unable to
brush their teeth, cannot protect themselves from the extreme cold, face lice
infestations, are exposed to flu outbreaks, and do not receive adequate
nutrition, among other things. Above all else, many are forced to endure their
lengthy detention without the comfort of their parents.
Detention is portrayed by
the Trump Administration as a deterrent and a way to hold immigrants
accountable for attending court proceedings. However, according to Syracuse
University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which obtained court
records through the Freedom of Information Act, 99 percent of families who were
released from detention with representation attended all of their hearings.
When the family is released from detention but not represented, 80 percent
still attended all of their hearings. When
families do fail to appear, it is most often not because they want to skip the
hearing, but because they could not read the English instructions, received
incomplete information, or failed to receive any information at all. In fact,
absentia rates have rarely ever been a problem. Department of Justice
statistics report that between 2013 and 2017, 92 percent of asylum seekers
appeared in court to receive a final decision on their claims.
Despite historically high attendance, the current system punishes children and
their families under the pretense of an attendance problem that does not exist.
In fact, the Administration has testified that the reason they ended the successful
family case management program, which served as a cost-efficient alternative to
detention, is because the number of removals wasn’t high enough. When children
and families have representation, they are better equipped to navigate our
broken immigration system, and therefore have more successful outcomes.
Children are being used as pawns to advance a political agenda when our priority should be the safety and well-being of these innocent lives. These children face incredible risk on the journey to the U.S.-Mexico border. They should not also have to fear for their safety once in the custody of American officials.
During the “Kids in Cages” hearing, one statement in particular stood out to me. Rep.Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) said: “We as Americans should be ashamed of what has transpired at these detention centers and if you are not, you have lost your soul and compassion for others.”
First Focus Campaign for Children urges the Administration and members of Congress to support legislation that protects immigrant children in our custody.
The Humanitarian Standards for Individuals in Customs and Border Protection Custody Act (H.R. 3239) offers much needed provisions to meet medical, nutritional and safety standards for children and families. We call on Congress to pass this bill and others like it that will assure clean, safe circumstances for children and mitigate the trauma they suffer at our border. We can and we must do better by the children.