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2021 is the Year to Prioritize Child Poverty Reduction

| January 14, 2021 |

Photo by Ian Hutchinson on Unsplash

2021 is off to an eventful start, full of tragedy and tumult, but also opportunity for progress with a new incoming Administration and Congress.

The Biden-Harris Administration and the 117th Congress face a daunting list of challenges, with stopping the spread of COVID-19 through improved vaccine distribution and providing financial relief to begin an economic recovery at the top of that list. While a legislative procedure known as “reconciliation” may be necessary to fast-track a COVID-19 response, we welcome a bipartisan relief package that recognizes that every aspect of our children’s lives is being disrupted. Improvements to the Child Tax Credit (CTC), as outlined in the American Family Act (AFA), as well as the establishment of a national child poverty target, are important pieces of COVID-19 aid to effectively address the persistently high — and increasing — level of child poverty in our country. We were encouraged to see recent news that President-elect Biden plans to include improvements to the CTC in his COVID-19 relief proposal.

We cannot defeat COVID-19 and have a sustained economic recovery without addressing child poverty, which was stubbornly high in the United States even before the pandemic and has since added an additional 2.5 million children to its ranks. This figure does not even fully capture the current crisis, as millions more children are living at the brink of poverty and still experience significant material hardship. Households of families of color with children are hit the hardest by the pandemic, due to disproportionately experiencing unemployment as well as higher rates of infection and fatality as parents are over-represented as essential workers and often lack access to paid sick leave.

Poverty means less income in households for a plentiful amount of nutritious food, safe shelter, proper physical and mental healthcare, clean diapers, education materials, and other resources that are critical to a child’s healthy development. During a pandemic, poverty is extra dangerous as these conditions make households more susceptible to COVID-19. Increases in child poverty correspond with increases in child homelessness, making social distancing and distance learning for children nearly impossible. These factors have not only short-term negative consequences for the health and well-being of our nation’s children, but long-term implications for their future success and financial security, as well as our country’s economic outlook.

While child poverty is a complex issue, we actually have the solutions. The problem is our lack of political will to act, but that momentum for structural change is building and opportunity to take action stands before us now. A 2019 landmark study from the nonpartisan National Academy of Sciences confirms that we know how to reduce child poverty in the United States. Written by our nation’s leading experts on child poverty, A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty models a set of policy and program changes that, if implemented, would cut our child poverty rate in half within a decade.

We urge the incoming Biden-Harris Administration and 117th Congress to take these immediate steps to reduce child poverty:

Implement a target to cut child poverty in half within a decade

Enacting a target to cut our national child poverty rate in half within a decade establishes a framework for holding our nation’s decisionmakers accountable to action, including making significant progress in reducing racial and ethnic economic disparities. Policies authorized to reach this goal must include a strong evidence base in reducing disparities such as increasing access to cash assistance for children living in deep poverty, children in immigrant families, and children living in Puerto Rico and the other territories.

There is existing federal legislation – the Child Poverty Reduction Act – that would codify a national target and task the National Academy of Sciences with analyzing and monitoring progress towards this goal. More than 120 organizations nationwide support this legislation, and examples from other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Canada, show us the effectiveness of targets in reducing child poverty.

Strengthen and expand the Child Tax Credit by converting it into a monthly child allowance

One proven way to combat child poverty is to increase a family’s cash income to pay for essential needs that make a difference in the short- and long-term outcomes for children’s healthy development and well-being. Near-term improvements to the CTC will aid our families and children who most need support to meet the rising costs of raising children, reach households of color and immigrant households left out of the current tax credit, and provide a regular, minimum income for lower‑income or no-income households with children.

A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty found that a monthly child allowance was the most effective tool in reducing child poverty in the United States, and many of our peer countries who have similar programs have realized incredibly positive results. A recent analysis by Columbia University finds that one year of the AFA improvements to the CTC would reduce overall child poverty by nearly 45%. Poverty would decrease by 52% for Black children, 45% for Hispanic children, and 61% for Native American children.

Congress should make improvements to the CTC similar to those included in the American Family Act, such as making the credit fully refundable, increasing the amount of the credit to at least $4,000 per child per year ($4,600 for children under 6), making payments on a monthly basis when expenses are due, making all children eligible for the credit, regardless of immigration status, creating equity for children in U.S. territories, designating 17-year-olds as “qualifying children,” disregarding this income for eligibility for other benefit programs, and more.

Improve federal poverty measures to fully capture hardship in the United States 

Annual child poverty figures from the U.S. Census Bureau underestimate the problem of child poverty, for families with children living at twice the official poverty threshold still lack enough income to make ends meet. It is critical that Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration take steps to do the following.

  1. Reverse any efforts taken by the Trump Administration to alter federal poverty measures that would further underestimate poverty in the United States.
  2. Instruct the National Academy of Sciences Committee on National Statistics to analyze the development of measures needed to more fully capture hardship being experienced by children and families
  3. Encourage the U.S. Census Bureau to do more frequent collection and reporting of poverty data.

Reducing child poverty is not only the right (and economically smart) thing for lawmakers to do, it also makes smart political sense. According to a Lake Research Partners’ 2020 Election Eve survey, American voters (on a tri-partisan basis) overwhelmingly support reducing child poverty through the implementation of a national child poverty target and expanding and improving the Child Tax Credit.

We urge the Biden-Harris Administration and the 117th Congress to work together to reduce child poverty and ensure that every child has a chance to thrive. The CTC policy improvements in the AFA and a child poverty target should be included in the initial legislation considered to address the ongoing public health emergency and economic crisis. First Focus Campaign for Children and the U.S. Child Poverty Action Group will be issuing new resources and ways to take action in the coming weeks, but in the meantime here are some materials that provide additional information:


Federal Appeals Court Rules in Favor of Immigrant Children

| January 5, 2021 |

DAVID MCNEW | Credit: AFP via Getty Images

A federal appeals court in California published a decision last week on the Trump Administration’s attempt to terminate the Flores Settlement Agreement that blocks certain Administration provisions from going into effect and upholds the agreement in its entirety. The Flores Settlement Agreement is exactly that—an agreement between the government and lawyers for immigrant children that came after years of litigation against the government for putting children in jail-like settings and compromising their safety. The agreement is based on basic principles of child welfare—children should be promptly released from detention; any time they spend in government custody should be in facilities licensed to care for children; and they have due process rights to challenge their detention.

Since its first day, the Trump Administration announced its intention to renege on a vital protection the government agreed to uphold more than 20 years ago. In 2019, the Administration finalized regulations on the care and custody of unaccompanied children that applied to both the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Health and Human Services (HHS). The Flores Settlement Agreement may only be terminated when the government published regulations that implement it. The Trump Administration’s regulations did anything but. Provisions allowing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to self-license family detention facilities, adding restrictions on children’s release, and establishing an “opt-in” policy for bond hearing would have likely resulted in the indefinite detention of children, which is never in a child’s best interest and has serious consequences for their health and development. The proposed rule elicited more than 60,000 comments and multiple amicus briefs, including one joined by First Focus on Children and 19 organizations dedicated to children’s health and well-being.

In its opinion, the appeals court rejected parts of the regulations. Of the provisions related to DHS, the court held that the Administration could implement only the provisions related to initial border processing of children and transfer of unaccompanied children to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). In rejecting the majority of the DHS provisions, the court explicitly stated what many commenters to the proposed rule and amici stated—that the regulations “dramatically increase the likelihood that accompanied minors will remain in government detention indefinitely.”

In contrast, the court determined that most of the HHS provisions met Flores Settlement Agreement standards and could go into effect, and struck down just two.  First, the court struck down a provision allowing ORR to place a child in a “secure facility”—a juvenile jail—based on a catch-all justification that the child was “a danger to self or others.” The court found that this provision went beyond the clear limitations on the use of secure settings in the Flores Settlement and the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). Second, the court rejected a provision requiring children in secure or high-supervision settings to have a bond hearing on their detention only if they affirmatively request one, thus changing the Agreement’s “opt-out” provision to an “opt-in” policy. The court found that such a policy provided children with no meaningful way to challenge ORR’s decisions.

While some of the new regulations may go into effect, the most important aspect of this court’s opinion is that it upheld the Flores Settlement Agreement in full. It rejected the government’s tenuous arguments for why the agreement should be terminated, as it has done again and again. in previous decisions. In particular, the court once again affirmed that the Agreement applies to all children in government custody, including accompanied minors who arrive with their parents. All recently arrived children, accompanied and unaccompanied, will continue to have this important protection of their rights and a mechanism to keep holding the government accountable for their care and treatment.

For more than 20 years, the Flores Settlement Agreement has provided a standard of care for children in government custody based on principles of freedom from detention, family unity, and due process. What this ruling shows is that those principles must and should guide every policy that impacts immigrant children.


We must do right by children: Start by changing harmful border policies

| December 14, 2020 |

Photo by Nishant Vyas from Pexels

As I read the CBS News story about 15-year-old Marjory, I could feel my blood boiling. When her home in Guatemala was no longer safe for her due to threats of sexual abuse, she fled to the United States. Despite the urgency, she had the presence of mind to bring evidence of her abuse from a local judge. In another time, what happened to her once she got to the southern border would have been relatively straight forward: Under federal law, Marjory would have been transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and sponsored for release by her father in Pennsylvania, where she could then pursue her case for legal protection. Instead, she was sent back to danger in Guatemala with no questions asked.

Marjory is one of roughly 13,000 unaccompanied children whom the government illegally turned away from our border and one of more than 1,400 deported to Guatemala since March. Exploiting a rarely used provision of a 1944 public health law and twisting the arm of the CDC, the Trump administration shut down the border under the guise of public health, with no exceptions for asylum-seeking individuals, families, and children.

This “expulsion” policy has repeatedly put children into harm’s way. Roughly 13,000 children were denied their right to be reunited with family and apply for protection. The New York Times reported that at least 208 children from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador were forced to return to Mexico in the early months of the pandemic, even if they were not with a loving adult and they had no family or support in Mexico. We have seen the consequences of leaving children and families stuck at the southern border before. Human Rights First found 1,114 publicly reported cases of violent acts against asylum seekers and migrants under the Remain in Mexico policy, at least 265 of which were children who were kidnapped or nearly kidnapped. Additionally, hundreds of children and families were placed in hotels for days before they were expelled, violating the Flores Settlement Agreement’s mandate that all children in government custody be in licensed facilities.

Thankfully, lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, and OxFam sued the administration for its expulsions of unaccompanied children, and a federal judge sided with them and ordered an end to the practice. Not only did this ruling come too late for Marjory and many other children like her, the Trump administration has expelled at least 66 children in violation of the order. The order also does not apply to thousands of other asylum-seekers, including children in families, who are still seeking safety.

If President-elect Biden does not act quickly to end this policy, more children and other asylum-seekers will be denied their right to seek safety at our border. With such a policy in place, the United States cannot reclaim its legacy as a beacon of hope for those fleeing danger.

Our laws are clear that those who have fled persecution, torture and other types of violence must be allowed to seek protection in our country. We signed an international treaty saying so. Forty years ago, Congress passed and President Carter signed a law that said so. Our obligation to not send people back to a country where they would face danger is almost absolute. Yet, this administration has done it time and again. We have an opportunity to stop repeatedly violating human rights and restore our government’s adherence to the rule of law and the dignity and safety of every human being that comes to our border.

It is patently false that we as a country must choose between protecting public health and our legal and moral responsibility to provide a safe haven for adults, families, and children who have fled persecution and violence. Public health officials have said so. They have given the government a blueprint for how to continue to process asylum-seeking families and children safely. As these recommendations note, humane and orderly border processing requires the end of other harmful immigration policies, such as prolonged custody by Customs and Border Patrol and the use of Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention, that are entirely within the administration’s control to end. Border processing at any time, and especially during a pandemic, should quickly process children and families so that they can join family or other sponsors in the United States as they wait for their case. For unaccompanied children, ORR policies that prolong detention, like information-sharing with DHS, must end so that children can be safely released to family as soon as possible after necessary public health safety measures are followed.

U.S. border policy must prioritize the safety and well-being of children without compromise. That means that from the moment children and families arrive at our border, they should be met with welcome—in child-appropriate spaces where their basic needs are met, where professionals with specific experience and training speak to them, where they can stay together with loving family members, where they can move to their next destination with confidence that the system they are about to go through is fair and just. I think Marjory put it best in her message to the U.S. government after she was forcibly returned to Guatemala:

“Listen to us, look at our cases to see how we feel after all that has happened and give us an opportunity to be with our family, who we love.”


Report says more than 4,000 NY children lost a caregiver due to COVID-19

| December 11, 2020 |

Between March and July of this year, 4,200 children in New York State lost a parent or caregiver to COVID-19.

Four-thousand, two-hundred individual children.

In just one state.

During just five months of a pandemic that continues to rage across the country.

Although experts continue to debate how COVID-19 affects children physically, the pandemic has taken its toll on children in countless and lasting other ways, including through the trauma of losing a parent, increased food insecurity, increased poverty, mental health issues, and school and child care closures. Children of color disproportionately suffer these impacts.

The United Hospital Fund’s recent report, “The COVID-19 Ripple Effect: The Impact of COVID-19 on Children in New York State”, offers a devastating snapshot of the situation in the Empire State. The researchers found that in five months of this year:

  • One out of every 600 Black children and one out of every 700 Hispanic children in New York lost a parent;
  • An additional 325,000 children in New York are newly in or near poverty (on top of the 350,000 New York children who were already in or near poverty)
  • Up to 23% of New York children who lost a parent or caregiver due to COVID-19 may be at risk of entering foster or kinship care.

The long-term impacts of these traumas include increased poverty and housing instability, prolonged financial hardship, and increased mental health illnesses, among others.

United Hospital Fund’s Suzanne Brundage, an author of the report, joined First Focus on Children to discuss the implications of the research and how we can use it to protect children in the future. Please find the conversation in the video at this link/above. For comprehensive information on children and COVID-19, please see our resource Key Stats on the Effect of COVID-19 on Kids.


European Court of Human Rights embraces case charging that climate change violates children’s human rights

| December 7, 2020 |

The European Court of Human Rights has accepted — and fast-tracked — a case asserting that climate change violates children’s human rights. The lawsuit, filed by Portuguese youth Sofia and André Oliveira and four other young people, argues that the governments of the 33 European countries have not taken sufficient action to prevent the impact of climate change, thus violating their citizens’ human rights.

The case is the first of its kind to be filed at the European Court of Human Rights, and the court has granted it priority status. Only 15% of the cases received last year made it to this point. Should the court decide in favor of the Portuguese children, it could require national governments in Europe to take more meaningful steps to reduce their carbon emissions.

The United States, in contrast, has rebuffed climate change cases from young people. In January of this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit dismissed the most prominent American climate lawsuit to date, which had been filed by 21 young Americans, saying the issue was not a matter for the courts.


Voters Have Spoken and They Support Children

| November 23, 2020 |

A 2020 election-eve survey of voters by Lake Research Partners reflects a divided nation on politics but finds American voters bridge that divide in their common support of a better life for children.

This vision includes ensuring that the “best interests” of children (81–13 percent support) govern decision-making involving them, an independent Children’s Commissioner is established (65–26 percent) “to protect and improve the care and well-being of children,” and that Congress and the President will work together to address issues such as cutting child poverty in half (70–20 percent) and covering all children (85–12 percent) with health insurance coverage.

While there is no doubt that our nation is deeply divided on most issues and the 2020 election results and aftermath confirm those divisions, there is uniform and tremendous “tripartisan” support for making significant progress on children’s issues with little to no demographic divide by gender, race, age, income, geography, education, marital status, or religion.

While there is no doubt that our nation is deeply divided on most issues and the 2020 election results and aftermath confirm those divisions, there is uniform and tremendous “tripartisan” support for making significant progress on children’s issues with little to no demographic divide by gender, race, age, income, geography, education, marital status, or religion.

As our nation seeks to heal and come together again on improving our “now” and our “future,” children are clearly a pathway toward finding common ground.

Unfortunately, since children do not vote, do not give campaign contributions, and do not have lobbyists or political action committees (PACs), they have often been treated as an afterthought by policymakers in the past.

At the close of 2019, Fatherly highlighted how dozens of bipartisan bills that would improve the lives of children across a variety of issue areas were left unacted upon by the U.S. Senate. It cited the Legislative Scorecard by First Focus Campaign for Children (FFCC) that could not identify a single vote throughout the entire year that was specific to the needs and well-being of children.

As Michael Freeman, author of The Moral Status of Children, writes:

All too rarely is consideration given to what policies…do to children. This is all the more the case where the immediate focus of the policy is not children. But even in children’s legislation the unintended or indirect effects of changes are not given the critical attention they demand…

But where the policy is not ‘headlined’ children…, the impact on the lives of children is all too readily glossed over.

In the past, the President and Congress have largely ignored or neglected the needs of children and the consequences are that outcomes for children are declining with respect to health coverage, child poverty, child hunger, child homelessness, child suicide rates, etc. Federal investments in children as a share of overall federal spending dropped 9 percent in just the last four years.

The American people see this and believe that children should be a greater priority in budget and policy decisions by our political leaders. In the Lake Research Partners election-eve survey, voters overwhelmingly supported action to address the unique and special needs of children.

Establish a “Best Interest of the Child” Standard in Federal Policy

With regard to the question on whether federal policy “should be governed by a ‘best interest of the child’ standard that makes the protection and the safety of children the first priority,” an overwhelming 81–13 percent of voters — a more than 6-to-1 margin — supported the establishment of such a standard with 64 percent in strong agreement. Voters of all political persuasions believe the “best interest” standard should be in place for decisions that impact children.

  • Democrats: 92-6 percent (78 percent strongly support)
  • Republicans: 73-17 percent (54 percent strongly support)
  • Independents: 77-17 percent (59 percent strongly support)

Voters are also supportive of a focus on children whether they have children or not.

  • Fathers: 76-18 percent (55 percent strongly support)
  • Mothers: 79-14 percent (63 percent strongly support)
  • Childless voters: 83-12 percent (66 percent strongly support)

In sharp contrast, the regional divides in this country politically, support for the enhanced standard for children are overwhelming regardless of geography or location.

  • Northeast: 85-10 percent (70 percent strongly support)
  • Midwest: 80-16 percent (62 percent strongly support)
  • South: 81-13 percent (69 percent strongly support)
  • West: 79-13 percent (53 percent strongly support)
  • Urban: 79-14 percent (63 percent strongly support)
  • Suburban: 82-13 percent (64 percent strongly support)
  • Rural: 81-11 percent (68 percent strongly support)

Creation of an Independent Children’s Commissioner

Nearly two-thirds of voters also supported the creation of an independent Children’s Commissioner to improve oversight and “to investigate and make recommendations on ways to protect and improve the care and well-being of children” by 65–26 percent (a 39 percentage point margin). Such a position would track the actions of other countries across the world to ensure children are not ignored or treated as an afterthought and, since kids can’t vote, to give young people a voice in government policies that impact their safety, care, and well-being.

Regardless of political party, voters support U.S. attention to protecting and improving the lives of children with an independent voice.

  • Democrats: 82-13 percent (68 percentage point margin)
  • Republicans: 52-37 percent (15 percentage point margin)
  • Republicans under age 35: 63-27 percent (36 percentage point margin)
  • Independents: 60-30 percent (30 percentage point margin)

Across all racial groups, there is strong support for the creation of an independent Children’s Commissioner.

  • White: 65-27 percent (45 percent strongly support)
  • Black: 72-18 percent (56 percent strongly support)
  • Hispanic: 64-26 percent (51 percent strongly support)
  • Asian American or Pacific Islander: 74-19 percent (50 percent strongly support)

There is also strong support across all age groups for having an independent body focused on ensuring children are not treated as an afterthought by government.

  • Gen Z (age 18-23): 68-22 percent (46 percentage point margin)
  • Millennial (age 24-39): 70-22 percent (48 percentage point margin)
  • Gen X (age 40-55): 65-27 percent (38 percentage point margin)
  • Boomer (age 56-74): 60-29 percent (31 percentage point margin)
  • Silent Generation (age 75-91): 69-26 percent (43 percentage point margin)

Set a Child Poverty Target to Cut Child Poverty in Half

The survey also found that, on an array of specific policy issues, voters strongly supported actions to improve the lives of children. On the question of whether the “U.S. should set a Child Poverty Target to cut child poverty in half in 10 years,” American voters supported it 70–20 percent (50 percentage point margin).

Support for making child poverty a focus of federal policy is “tripartisan.”

  • Democrats: 85-10 percent (73 percent strongly support)
  • Republicans: 56-29 percent (37 percent strongly support)
  • Republicans under age 35: 62-26 percent (more than 2-to-1 margin)
  • Independents: 67-22 percent (51 percent strongly support)

Both Biden and Trump voters support the creation of a Child Poverty Target by wide margins.

  • Biden voters: 86-9 percent (77 percentage point margin)
  • Trump voters: 53-32 percent (20 percentage point margin*)

Furthermore, in past polling on children’s issues, we sometimes saw some divide based on age, as support was strongest in younger adults and strong but lower among senior citizens. This survey shows broad support across generations for children. On the issue of creating a Child Poverty Target, support was strong from young to old.

  • Gen Z (age 18-23): 78-18 percent (60 percentage point margin)
  • Millennial (age 24-39): 75-18 percent (56 percentage point margin*)
  • Gen X (age 40-55): 71-21 percent (50 percentage point margin)
  • Boomer (age 56-74): 61-24 percent (37 percentage point margin)
  • Silent Generation (age 75-91): 75-15 percent (60 percentage points and a 5-to-1 margin)

Support the American Family Act

On a specific question that would go a long way in reducing child poverty, voters were asked whether they supported the “American Family Act”, which would “expand the Child Tax Credit” for children under the age of 16, create an added credit for families with children under the age of six, and make it “fully refundable for all families with low incomes” with the expected outcome of reducing “child poverty by nearly 40 percent.” By a wide 71–18 percent margin, voters said they would favor such improvements in the Child Tax Credit to help children and families and reduce poverty.

On a “tripartisan” basis, voters widely favor rather than oppose this legislation.

  • Democrats: 86-9 percent (76 percentage point margin)
  • Republicans: 62-24 percent (38 percentage point margin)
  • Independents: 64-25 percent (40 percentage point margin*)

Both Biden and Trump voters support improving the Child Tax Credit for children.

  • Biden voters: 85-9 percent (76 percentage point margin)
  • Trump voters: 58-28 percent (30 percentage point margin)

The “American Family Act” maintains strong support by voters across all age groups.

  • Under 30: 81-15 percent (66 percentage points margin)
  • Age 30-39: 67-23 percent (43 percentage points margin*)
  • Age 40-49: 68-19 percent (49 percentage point margin)
  • Age 50-64: 73-18 percent (55 percentage point margin)
  • 65 and over: 68-18 percent (50 percentage point margin)

The “American Family Act” support is strong among all racial groups.

  • White: 70-19 percent (53 percent strongly support)
  • Black: 83-13 percent (64 percent strongly support)
  • Hispanic: 74-16 percent (56 percent strongly support)
  • Asian American or Pacific Islander: 69-22 percent (43 percent strongly support)

Support for the “American Family Act” and improving the Child Tax Credit is high regardless of whether voters have children at home or not.

  • Fathers: 70-22 percent (47 percentage point margin*)
  • Mothers: 77-16 percent (60 percentage point margin*)
  • Childless voters: 71-18 percent (53 percentage point margin)

Ensure Every Child Has Health Coverage

Finally, on the matter of child health, voters said it was important (85–12 percent) to them “to ensure that every child in the U.S. has health insurance coverage.” Like all other issues for children, covering all kids receives overwhelming “tripartisan” support:

  • Democrats: 93-5 percent (82 percent said this was very important and 11 percent said it was somewhat important)
  • Republicans: 77-20 percent (55 percent said this was very important)
  • Independents: 84-12 percent (64 percent said this was very important)

Support was strong with both Biden and Trump voters.

  • Biden voters: 94-4 percent (83 percent said this was very important)
  • Trump voters: 75-22 percent (54 percent said this was very important)

Women and men express vast support for ensuring all children have health insurance coverage.

  • Men: 83-15 percent (64 percent said this was very important)
  • Women: 87-9 percent (72 percent said this was very important)
  • Women under 35: 95-3 percent (84 percent said this was very important)

Furthermore, support of every child having coverage cuts across all groups by race.

  • White: 86-11 percent (66 percent said this was very important)
  • Black: 90-7 percent (82 percent said this was very important)
  • Hispanic: 89-9 percent (76 percent said this was very important)
  • Asian American or Pacific Islander: 78-14 percent (68 percent said this was very important)

Support Making CHIP Permanent

On the specific matter of making the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) “permanent like other federal health programs including Medicare and Medicaid,” voters strongly agreed (68–20 percent). Currently, CHIP is the only federal health coverage program that is temporary and repeatedly needs to be reauthorized by Congress and such a change would end this disparity.

CHIP has historically had strong bipartisan support and that continues in this survey of voters, as voters across party lines overwhelmingly support making the program permanent.

  • Democrats: 86-7 percent (75 percent strongly support)
  • Republicans: 52-32 percent (35 percent strongly support)
  • Independents: 65-22 (49 percent strongly support)

Support for CHIP, which protects the health coverage of 10 million children, was also uniformly strong in all demographic categories. For example, across all racial groups, support for making CHIP permanent was more than 3-to-1 with White voters and nearly 7-to-1 with Black voters.

  • White: 66-21 percent (52 percent strongly support)
  • Black: 81-12 percent (67 percent strongly support)
  • Hispanic: 77-14 percent (61 percent strongly support)
  • Asian American or Pacific Islander: 74-15 percent (55 percent strongly support)

Voters who said that “Social Security and Medicare” were their most important issue strongly supported parity for CHIP by ending its temporary status. Among those voters, support for making CHIP permanent was 83–11 percent (72 percent strongly agree).

Across the vast divide on abortion, both pro-choice and pro-life voters strongly support CHIP.

  • Pro-choice voters: 78-14 percent (64 percent strongly support)
  • Pro-life voters: 55-29 percent (41 percent strongly support)

Moreover, although there was a partisan divide in the electorate along urban, suburban, and rural lines, that divide disappears when it comes to children’s health. As an example, on the matter of making CHIP permanent, there is little to no disparity.

  • Northeast: 70-21 percent (50 percentage point margin*)
  • Midwest: 62-26 percent (37 percentage point margin*)
  • South: 71-18 percent (53 percentage point margin)
  • West: 66-16 percent (50 percentage point margin)
  • Urban: 69-19 percent (50 percentage point margin)
  • Suburban: 68-21 percent (47 percentage point margin)
  • Rural: 66-19 percent (48 percentage point margin*)

As the Lake Research Partners’ survey demonstrates, there is uniform and strong “tripartisan” support for children with little to no demographic divide by gender, race, age, income, geography, education, marital status, or religion.

According to Lake Research Partners founder and principal Celinda Lake:

It is evident from our 2020 election survey that voters are fully in support of a child-focused policy agenda. As we transition to a Biden-Harris Administration, elected officials across the country are going to be looking for points of unity to act on. The child-focused policy agenda — including permanently instituting the Children’s Health Insurance Program, reducing child poverty, and passing the American Family Act — receives broad support across party identification, 2020 presidential vote decision, and many other demographic subgroups. Children’s health and well-being is a point of unity for our current divided nation and voters across the country are extremely willing to express their support.

As the nation looks to move forward, our political leaders should heed the desire of voters to make children a much greater priority in budget and policy decision making.

As an example, the Children’s Budget 2020 and Kids’ Share reports issued by First Focus on Children and the Urban Institute, respectively, highlight the continued downward trajectory in federal investments in children over the last four years. As Children’s Budget 2020 shows, the share of federal investments in kids domestically has declined by 9 percent over the past four years and has dropped to an all-time low of 7.48 percent.

Federal investments on international children’s programs amounts to just 0.11 percent in the federal budget and has continued to decline as a share of spending.

While the country remains divided on many issues, there is common agreement that we can and must do better to focus on, support, and protect all of our children.

As former UNICEF President Carol Bellamy said:

So together let us build a better future for every child — secure in the knowledge that in serving the best interests of children, we will serve the best interests of all humanity.

* Numbers related to the percentage point difference may appear not to add up correctly due to rounding of the underlying support and opposition numbers.


For World Children’s Day, the US Should Give Kids Their Rights

| November 20, 2020 |

On November 9, 2020, United Nations member states gathered in person and virtually to evaluate the United States’ human rights record. This process, called the Universal Period Review (UPR), happens every four to five years for all UN member states. For the United States, the review came at a remarkable time, as countries evaluated the Trump Administration’s record and made recommendations that would be implemented by a Biden-Harris administration.

During the three-hour review process, certain themes came up again and again, many of them affecting children. Almost every country raised concerns about systemic racism, racial discrimination, and police brutality in America. Many countries called on the United States to end the sentence of life without parole for children. Countries repeatedly decried hateful rhetoric and policies against immigrants, particularly family separation and detention. Botswana and Myanmar voiced concern about the inequality of education based on race and socioeconomic status. Multiple countries noted that the U.S. has no central mechanism to implement human rights throughout the country. Notably, at least 44 countries called on the U.S. to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), as it is the only country in the world that has not.

The CRC was adopted 31 years ago today, Nov. 20, which is also World Children’s Day. The treaty emanates from the principles of non-discrimination, best interest of the child, child survival and development, and child participation. It prohibits the sentence of life without parole for children. It states that immigrant families should be together and reunified — and that immigrants have rights that countries must protect. It outlines a right to an education that develops a child’s abilities, personality, and understanding of the world. In short, the Convention addresses all the child rights violations that advocates have cited time and again in the United States.

While the United States has not ratified the CRC, our country can still manifest child rights in our laws and policies. We can uphold the same principles by ensuring that our policies and procedures do not discriminate against children based on their race, gender, immigration, or any other status; consider the best interest of the child; protect child survival, development and well-being; and uplift and consider children’s voices. The recommendations released from the UPR process offer an opportunity for the new Biden-Harris administration and a new Congress to remedy the human rights violations of the past four years and bring human rights home for all of us. On this World’s Children’s Day, here are our recommendations for the United States government to respect and ensure the rights of children.

Racial Equity

  • Prioritize the outcomes and experience of service users. The outcomes, experiences, and the expertise of communities harmed by racial disparities should play primary roles in system reforms.
  • Develop and use race equity policy tools that acknowledge the history and context of policy proposals, include the perspectives of racialized and oppressed communities, identify potential disparate impacts, and analyze racially disaggregated data.
  • Train and fund equity-focused data collection. Both national and local human services systems need ongoing training and funding to establish and maintain data technology systems that provide racially disaggregated data.
  • Create culturally competent services and interventions that have been developed and tested in the diverse communities.

Juvenile Justice

  • Monitor and address disproportionate contact between the police and youth of color by providing substantial funding and technical assistance to states and local juvenile justice agencies.
  • Eliminate the solitary confinement of children and support behavioral health and restorative justice professionals in all facilities serving juveniles.
  • Set a minimum age for juvenile court to ensure that young children are not experiencing a violation of international human rights.
  • Protect kids’ Miranda Rights and reduce the number of false confessions by ensuring youth have legal representation before waiving their constitutional rights.
  • Ban for-profit facilities, including detention and correctional centers.

Immigration

  • Welcome children at the border by implementing orderly and humane border processing, providing for basic needs, and providing basic information about the immigration process.
  • Protect family unity. End family separation unless there is imminent harm of risk to the child.
  • Ensure the right to liberty. End family detention and institutionalized care for unaccompanied children by using family- and community-based case management. 
  • Guarantee fair immigration proceedings by providing all children with legal representation in their immigration cases. 
  • Restore asylum access and refugee resettlement for children and families.
  • Prioritize child health and well-being by considering the best interests of children in all immigration policy decisions, including immigration enforcement actions and immigrant access to services.

Education

  • Ensure universal access to adequate and equitable education without barriers based on class or race, disability or citizenship status, by prioritizing the funding of public schools over charter and voucher systems. Ban for-profit management of charter schools.
  • End the use of harmful and exclusionary disciplinary practices like suspension and expulsion, which disproportionately target Black, brown, and indigenous children.
  • Support culturally responsive and sustaining curriculums, as opposed to test-based standards.
  • Provide suitable education for students with disabilities, English learners, and students in foster care and experiencing homelessness by expanding Title I funding.
  • Expand socialemotional learning in schools to support student mental health.
  • Desegregate schools as a necessary step toward civil rights in education.

Child Rights Mechanisms

  • Establish an independent Children’s Commissioner to report and provide recommendations on advancing children’s rights, in consultation with children and youth.
  • Create a White House Office of Children and Youth to facilitate interagency coordination on policies affecting child health and well-being.
  • Establish a national best interest of the child standard. 
  • Require child impact statements for all policies that impact the health and well-being of children.

Ongoing budget process offers lawmakers an opportunity to reverse trend and invest in kids

| November 18, 2020 |

Our Children’s Budget 2020 – released this fall during our annual Children’s Budget Summit – underscores an alarming trend: the share of federal spending on children continues to decline despite continued need. Fortunately for lawmakers, this trend could be reversed in the ongoing appropriations process by making proactive investments in children’s programs for the rest of Fiscal Year (FY) 2021.

In FY 2020, which ended on September 30, 2020, the federal government committed just 7.48% of its resources to children’s needs. That share has steadily decreased over the last few years, falling 9 percent since FY 2016. (An important caveat is that these figures do not include federal relief for COVID-19, but we do know that the vast majority of that relief thus far has not been spent on children.)

The fact that the share continues to drop is, in and of itself, concerning; that it does so while overall federal spending climbs higher – and specifically discretionary spending, which is decided annually by Congress and the President via appropriations – highlights not only that children are being ignored, but that lawmakers are actively choosing not to invest in their futures. We’re now almost two months into FY 2021, and Congress chose to continue funding levels from FY 2020 – meaning the trend will continue until and unless lawmakers choose to reverse it when the continuing resolution (CR) currently funding the government expires in December.

In 2019, Congress passed and the President signed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019, which raised statutory caps on discretionary spending for FY 2020 and 2021 that were established by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 and reduced by “sequestration” – an across-the-board cut to discretionary spending that neither political party wanted but nevertheless incurred because of Congress’s failure to agree to deficit reduction targets. As a result of the BCA and the sequester, discretionary spending has been inadequate for addressing any of the country’s needs, let alone children’s needs, for almost ten years. The Bipartisan Budget Act was a welcome development that should have allowed lawmakers to make the critical investments in children that they had ignored for the past decade.

Yet despite the fact that more than 80 percent of children’s programs are discretionary and discretionary spending was set to grow by $66 billion, children got just $3.5 billion of that increase in the annual appropriations process. Though Congress increased nondefense discretionary spending – which accounts for half of annual appropriations that benefit domestic programs – the children’s share of that spending went down.

Were it not for the fact that mandatory spending grows automatically from year to year at a faster rate than prices, children’s spending would have seen a cut on an inflation-adjusted basis. The bottom line: lawmakers are choosing not to invest in children and instead allocate a smaller and smaller slice to kids annually.

The FY 2021 appropriations process was supposed to be completed by October 1 but has been repeatedly delayed by the election and COVID-19 relief, with the Senate just introducing its bills for the current fiscal year last week (several months behind schedule). The CR currently funding the government will expire on December 11, at which point Congress and the President must either come to an agreement on full appropriations for FY 2021 or kick the can down the road with another CR. It is our sincere hope that they take advantage of the lame-duck period by focusing on children’s needs and passing, at the very least, the appropriations bills that children rely on most, like the Labor-HHS-Education bill, the Transportation-HUD bill, and the Agriculture bill – with funding that moves towards investing in kids rather than ignoring them.

Failure to invest in kids will have consequences over the coming weeks, months, and years. Even prior to the COVID-19 crisis, children’s programs were neglected year after year. This neglect has resulted in a shocking statistic: we now spend more on interest payments on the $27 trillion national debt than we do on children’s programs. It’s time to reverse that trend and commit to kids for FY 2021 and beyond.

Past does not have to be prologue; policymakers can come together during the upcoming appropriations negotiations to choose to commit to kids and invest in their development and well-being. It is our hope that lawmakers will grasp the desperate need to increase, not decrease, the share of federal spending towards children – both at home and abroad.


Make CHIP permanent — before it’s too late

| November 17, 2020 |

Photo by Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

The U.S. Supreme Court — now with a full slate of justices — has just heard a case to overturn the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that the Trump administration supports. In addition to robbing 23 million Americans of health care coverage, eliminating the ACA would threaten a critical and long-term consequence that is largely overlooked: the demise of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

But Congress — even in its “lame duck” session — has a grand opportunity to prevent this.

CHIP provides 10 million children a year with child-specific health care such as pediatricians and children’s hospitals, which sometimes go missing from typical insurance plans. Aimed at families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford private health insurance, CHIP is one of the most effective and affordable mechanisms for providing care to our country’s kids.

Ironically, CHIP is also the only federal health insurance program that is subject to the continuous threat of expiration. During its two-decades of existence, CHIP has repeatedly been subject to high-stakes political gamesmanship and “hostage taking” by an ever-more dysfunctional Congress. For instance, in 2017, Congress actually allowed the program to expire — for more than four months — endangering the health care of millions of children, including those undergoing treatment for cancer and other serious illness.

Eleven-year-old Roland, a lung cancer patient, was one of them. His mom, Myra Gregory, described the family’s outrage and anxiety in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, writing:

“… I cannot understand…how the U.S. Congress could make the health security of kids like Roland a guessing game, and their lives bargaining chips…I have always known that our situation could get worse, but I never imagined that Congress would be an obstacle in my son’s battle with cancer.”

We do not allow — and would never put up with — the expiration of Medicare, health coverage for veterans, tax credits for private health insurance, or insurance for members of Congress. So why do we repeatedly risk the health of 10 million of our children? Simple fairness dictates that we should treat them at least as well as our seniors, veterans, and lawmakers.

The bipartisan “Comprehensive Access to Robust Insurance Now Guaranteed (CARING) for Kids Act” (H.R. 6151) would do just that. The bill would permanently authorize CHIP’s health coverage and contingency funding; express lane eligibility option; outreach and enrollment grants; and other provisions that make CHIP so successful and cost-effective. Simply put, it would make CHIP permanent. But time is running out.

The fight over the ACA is unfolding in the middle of a global pandemic. And against a grim backdrop: The U.S. Census Bureau recently reported that the number of U.S. children without health insurance rose for the third year in a row, hitting 5.7% in 2019. Hispanic children registered the greatest loss of insurance by far, up a full percentage point to 9.2%, the highest among any race or ethnic group. Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families estimates that an additional 300,000 children have become uninsured since the beginning of 2020.

If the Court decides to repeal the ACA, it will impact millions of children directly: more than 17 million children with pre-existing conditions would be denied coverage, and children with serious illnesses — like Roland — would quickly exhaust their annual and lifetime coverage limits. The repeal would also take Medicaid from former foster youth between 18- and 26-years-old and purge others in that age group from their parents’ health insurance plans. The 10 million children enrolled in CHIP would become collateral damage.

Congress calculates the cost of CHIP and other federal programs using arcane “scoring” practices that arrive at relative costs by using offsets from other programs. Abolishing the ACA could radically alter the “scoring” of CHIP, making its future extension nearly impossible. 

Such toxic uncertainty undermines the health — and future — of the program and the families it is meant to protect. It alarms parents and forces pediatricians to devise contingency plans for children on treatment regimens. During the 2017 expiration, many states suspended enrollment activities, forced to focus instead on what to do if the program vanished. The result of this uncertainty could not be clearer: The 2017 episode helped increase the percentage of uninsured children for the first time in more than two decades. And declines in coverage have continued every year since.

Congress must immediately make CHIP permanent by passing the bipartisan CARING Act and must also prepare to protect the ACA from harmful interventions by the Supreme Court.


Nearly 1 Million Children Infected with COVID-19 Since Pandemic Began

| November 12, 2020 |

Nearly 1 million children across the United States have been infected with COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to a new report by The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association. Using publicly available data from 49 states, New York City, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam, the organizations found that 927,518 children — or 11.3% of all cases nationwide — had been infected as of November 5.

Nearly 74,000 new cases were reported among children in the first week of November alone, the data show, the highest weekly increase since the pandemic began. Cases among children rose 17% during the two weeks leading up to Nov. 5. The report also finds that up to 6.4% of pediatric COVID-19 cases result in severe illness and hospitalization.

Fewer than 1% of pediatric COVID-19 cases result in death, according to the numbers, but as more children become infected, doctors and researchers must track the long-term physical and mental health impacts of the disease.