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Biden Administration to send much-needed Disaster Response Team to Central America

| April 8, 2021 |

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has announced that it will activate a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to respond to the urgent humanitarian needs in Central America. The team is slated to scale up emergency food assistance, jobs programs, and protection for the most vulnerable families and communities. This news is welcome after two devastating hurricanes, the ongoing pandemic, and years of violent insecurity to citizens in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

As arrivals at our border indicate, the recent natural disasters along with years of lack of physical security have greatly impacted children and families. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken rightly noted the US needs to address the root causes that drive many people to flee their homes or to send their children seeking safety and opportunity. Children in Central America experience high rates of homicide, gender-based violence, and gang violence. As the UN Special Rapporteur for the sale of children has reported, the pandemic compounds the risks of trafficking, sexual exploitation, and abuse because of school closures and increased poverty. The hurricane also destroyed critical infrastructure for children’s healthy development, such as hospitals, schools, and sanitation systems. The damaged sanitation infrastructure has left children without clean water and sanitation, and thus more vulnerable to COVID-19. 

It is our hope that as USAID builds out its disaster response in the region, it does so in a way that makes the needs of children paramount. The Biden-Harris administration has recognized programs that support children, such as schools, are important parts of infrastructure. The DART team in Central America should build up education, youth employment programs, and child protection programs in these countries. Importantly, the administration should work with local civil society organizations, especially those with expertise in child development and trauma, who best know and understand their communities to ensure the best delivery of assistance to children and their families.

Ending criminalization in schools

| March 19, 2021 |

Schools should represent the idyllic sandbox of a hopeful future. Then, they are society’s incubators where young people together begin to envision a shared world. Instead, schools often become like colanders, meant to separate high and low “achievers.” By bolstering the myth of the meritocracy, education then provides a flimsy justification for inequality. It is lauded as the cure-all for the plague of poverty. In this case, education legitimizes injustice, instead of offering ways to combat it.

In the past few decades, the criminal justice system has become more and more deeply enmeshed in American education. Last summer, the Oakland Unified school board voted unanimously to end police presence in schools, taking an important step towards ending criminalization in schools, and one which should be emulated throughout the nation. But if we hope to disentangle education from criminal justice, we have to find the roots of their union: a deep attraction between the two systems. What is the intent of the American school?

Grace, a Black high schooler in Michigan, was incarcerated for not doing her remote homework. Isaiah, a Black seventh-grade boy, had the police called to his home for playing with a toy gun on his Zoom class. When it comes to behavior and discipline, educators often become unwitting agents of the criminal justice system. Educator Henry Giroux called education a struggle over what kind of future we want for young people. We might specify: our education system decides which young people are entitled to which future.

In preschool, white students are almost four times less likely to be suspended than their Black peers. A total of 44% of youth in jail are Black, despite making up 16% of the population. Similarly, Black girls make up 16% of the school-age population, but 42% of those expelled. In some states, white youth are 10 times less likely to be incarcerated than their Black peers. Punitive practices, brutally effective at disaffecting students from their learning, are ingrained with discriminatory biases. How else can we reckon with anti-Black policies on hairstyling?

It has become en vogue to acknowledge the existence of “systemic racism.” But acknowledgment is not enough. Systemic problems require systemic solutions.

Our schools are still segregated. That is, most white students go to schools with mostly white students, and most Black and brown students go to schools with mostly Black and brown students.

For a segment of students, a primary goal of schools becomes teaching compliance and normalizing control. Schools covertly integrate the carceral system and even mild misbehavior becomes a criminal affront. Viewing schools through the framework of productivity betrays the soul of education. Instituting compliance becomes the priority.

Systemic, or structural, problems require a shift of focus from individuals to the structure itself. Yet initiatives to tackle systemic issues are often myopic: hiring a new staff member or enlisting the help of an under-resourced community organization. Efforts to fix schools cannot end at asking individual actors to bring about sweeping change. Systemic problems require systemic solutions.

Democratize Schools

As Paolo Freire said, part of the learning process requires students come to be masters of their own learning. That can’t happen in a school where students are treated like criminals. It also can’t happen when students have no control over what they learn and how they learn it.

Students must exercise power in schools. Necessarily, this process will take different forms under different conditions. But the primary engine of effective change is anempowered community. When participating in youth organizing organizations, for example, students regain a measure of autonomy over their lives, in and out of school. Democracy stems from the community. But to truly embody democratic schooling, student power must be centered.

Decriminalize Schools

Suspensions, expulsions, and arrests hurt kids. They make schools less safe. And they are expensive and ineffective. We have to get rid of zero-tolerance policies and invest in social-emotional practices and compassionate responses.

Fund for the future

Scholars point out that most of the workaround initiatives like restorative justice stem from local, under-resourced organizations. Public schools need full funding for effective practices which actually make schools and students safer, encourage learning, and help create compassionate school communities.

Lawmakers have begun to recognize the need to challenge school discipline practices. Calls for a “New Deal for Education” counteract decades of underfunding and privatization of schools, and the increasing tendency to sacrifice education at the altar of the free market. Others have called for an end to criminalization in schools, and investment in social-emotional support. We need a radical and wholesale commitment to and investment in democratic public education. Schools must pursue the now revolutionary goal to empower all students in their learning. Hopefully, they will build a more just world tomorrow.

Cutting Child Poverty in Half Is Historic

| March 16, 2021 |

Children in the wealthiest nation in the world should not be living in poverty. And yet, 1 in 6 children in the United States do. The negative consequences that even short stints in poverty have on the health, education, and well-being of children is enormous. The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) issued a report in 2019 that highlighted an estimated cost of child poverty to the nation of between $800 billion and $1.1 trillion annually.

In contrast, during the 1960s, the U.S. embarked on a “War on Poverty” that successfully cut poverty among senior citizens in this country. Substantial investments were made to improve the well-being of senior citizens over a half-century ago and they have worked. As Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution writes:

In 1966, a year after [President Lyndon] Johnson expanded Social Security and enacted Medicare and Medicaid, elderly poverty was 28.5 percent. By 2012, it had fallen to 9.1 percent, a decline of about 68 percent.

Some important steps to alleviate poverty in children were also taken in the 1960s due to the creation of food stamps, child nutrition programs, and Medicaid, but the dichotomy between, for example, the successful expansion of Social Security for senior citizens and the policies of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and the subsequent Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs for kids has been vast. According to the Urban Institute, federal spending on the elderly is six times more than that on children.

Unless something changes, the gap will continue to widen.

Source: Urban Institute, Kids’ Share 2020, Jul. 2020.

Social Security successfully cuts poverty.

Source: Kathleen Romig, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Social Security Lifts More Americans Above Poverty Than Any Other Program,” Feb. 20, 2020.

Melissa Kearney at the Brookings Institution points out that “we would essentially eliminate child poverty in this country” if we “gave every child living in poverty the average Social Security benefit received by a Social Security recipient age 65 or over.” Unfortunately, for the most part, low-income children must rely on TANF, and it does far less to reduce poverty than it did even 25 years ago.

Source: Ife Floyd, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Boost TANF to Reduce Deep Poverty Among Children,” Mar. 4, 2020.

For more than half a century, we have failed to address child poverty in this country. This neglect has resulted in negative outcomes on child well-being and threatens our nation’s future. A child who grows up in poverty is far less likely to perform as well as their classmates in school, more likely to have food insecurity, more vulnerable to homelessness, and more likely to be subjected to violence, abuse, and neglect. While the United States proudly leads the world in science, technology, innovation, and sports, we sadly also leader in infant mortality, violence against children, and child poverty. Despite lots of expressed concern for children, our nation’s leaders have failed make needed investments in child well-being.

Fortunately, more than a half-century after we undertook a commitment to our nation’s senior citizens to cut poverty, now is finally that moment for children. The American Rescue Plan Act, which Congress has now passed and President Biden has signed into law, has many important provisions for our nation’s children.

However, the bill’s expansion of the Child Tax Credit (CTC) in the bill will have the most significant impact on child poverty.

The Journey Has Been a Long One, and It Is Far From Over

The legislation marks a historic improvement for millions of children in the country, and it has been a long time coming.

Specifically, the CTC provisions in the American Recovery Plan Act that were drafted by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) are borrowed, in large part, from the American Family Act, which had been introduced in different forms at least 10 times by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT).

The American Family Act, sponsored by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Reps. DeLauro, Suzan DelBene (D-WA), and Ritchie Torres (D-NY) increases the Child Tax Credit to $3,600 a year for kids less than age 6, $3,000 for older children and youth, and makes the credit fully refundable.

These improvements to the CTC are particularly important to low-income children, as the current CTC gives only partial or no benefit to one-third of children because their parents make too little to qualify for the full credit. Instead, the CTC will now be fully refundable.

Consequently, the Center on Poverty and Social Policy (CPSP) at Columbia University estimates these changes would cut child poverty by an astounding 45 percent.

Source: Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University, “A Poverty Reduction Analysis of the American Family Act,” Jan. 25, 2021.

In combination with other provisions in the American Rescue Plan Act, CPSP estimates that child poverty would be cut by more than half.

Therefore, this is why many of us in the child advocacy field argue that this is the most significant public policy change for children since the enactment of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in 1997. As the New York Times’s Jason DeParle reports:

More than 93 percent of children — 69 million — would receive benefits under the plan, at a one-year cost of more than $100 billion.

Advocacy Matters

Many advocates for children and families, such as members of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG-USA), have supported the American Family Act over many years and other efforts to reduce child poverty, including funding for child care, SNAP, and housing.

CPAG led a campaign (End Child Poverty U.S.) to support policy change, such as the Child Poverty Reduction Act by Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL), that would create a goal or target to cut child poverty in half in the short-term and to eradicate it in the long-term.

This effort was patterned off of successful efforts by British Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1999 that created the goal, the framework, and accountability for dramatically reducing child poverty in the UK. As Columbia University’s Jane Waldfogel explains, the UK child poverty rate was much higher than in the U.S. rate in 1999 but dropped dramatically and has remained below the U.S. rate for the last two decades. We remain strongly supportive of this legislation, as it creates a national goal and provides accountability for achieving it in the U.S.

Source: Jane Waldfogel, First Focus and the Foundation for Child Development, “Tackling Child Poverty and Improving Child Well-Being: Lessons from Britain,” Dec. 2010.

Furthermore, First Focus on Children is pleased to have worked closely with Reps. Lucille Roybal Allard (D-CA) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) on an appropriations amendment in 2015 that successfully secured funding for the landmark National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) report entitled A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty that was released in 2019.

As Rep. Roybal Allard explained:

The findings of this report, “A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty,” give new depth to our understanding of the causes and the devastating consequences of child poverty, and their recommendations lay out a roadmap for our government to follow as we work to cut child poverty in half in the coming decade. I commend this report to all those who care about the welfare of America’s children; I am certain it will give new depths to our nation’s perspective on child poverty for many years to come.

In 2017, CPAG issued a compilation of recommendations entitled Family Tax Policy: A Path Forward to Lifting Children Out of Poverty to improve tax policy for our nation’s children and families. The study called for making the CTC: (1) fully refundable; (2) increasing the value of the credit; (3) creating a “Young Child Tax Credit” to make the credit greater for those under 6 years of age; (4) indexing the credit for inflation; (5) protecting the eligibility of the children of immigrants; and (6) establish a universal child allowance.

The report also made recommendations for improvements to the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC), such as making the credit fully refundable, and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), including expanding it to include coverage of former foster youth and other young adults under the age of 25 who are not in college.

We are pleased that the American Rescue Plan Act has adopted these critically important improvements to the CTC, CDCTC, and EITC, but they are temporary and so the work to make them permanent begins today.

The American public are strongly supportive of these improvements to the tax code and their impact on poverty. As an example, in a 2020 election eve poll by Lake Research, voters supported adoption of the American Family Act and its improvements to the CTC by an overwhelming 71–18 percent margin, including 86–9 percent among Democrats and 62–24 percent among Republicans.

The Journey Ahead

In Congress, there is some bipartisan support for making these changes permanent. For example, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) has offered a similar plan to the American Family Act entitled the Family Security Act.

Sen. Romney’s plan is actually slightly more generous in one respect: the child credit or allowance would be $4,200 per year for children under the age of 6. However, the proposal also eliminates TANF, the CDCTC, the tax deduction for head of household, and categorical eligibility that simplifies enrollment in SNAP.

In the case of both President Biden and Sen. Romney, their support for this type of historic improvement to the Child Tax Credit represents significant progress for children in comparison to positions they have taken in the past.

In Romney’s case, during his 2012 presidential run, he criticized both the EITC and CTC because the credits resulted in “47 percent of people pay no income tax” and he proposed allowing the expansions to both programs enacted under President George Bush to expire.

Although a number of conservatives are opposed to making the CTC fully refundable and becoming an allowance, Romney’s position today more closely mirrors the positions of Presidents Bush and Ronald Reagan than it did in 2012.

As conservative columnist George Will advised fellow conservatives after the 2012 election:

. . .quit despising the American people, particularly because a lot of what they’re despising them for are Republican policies. When Mitt Romney said, ‘So many Americans aren’t paying taxes,’ yeah, because the Republicans doubled the child tax credit for conservative reasons, yes, because they expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit, as Ronald Reagan did, because they thought it was an effective anti-poverty program.

In announcing his Family Security Act earlier this year, Romney said:

We have not comprehensively reformed our family support system in nearly three decades, and our changing economy has left millions of families behind. Now is the time to renew our commitment to families to help them meet the challenges they face as they take on (the) most important work any of us will ever do — raising our society’s children.

In Biden’s case, he voted for the 1996 “welfare reform” package that eliminated AFDC and created the TANF block grant with work requirements. TANF doesn’t even have “cutting child poverty” as an objective of the program, and today, kids have a poverty rate that is more than 50 percent greater than adults.

But Democrats also shifted. Recognizing the Republican abandonment of their past support of “family values” and support of tax credits to support them, the 2012 Democratic Party platform supported by President Barack Obama and Vice President Biden read:

It’s time we stop just talking about family values and start pursuing policies that truly value families. The President and Democrats have cut taxes for every working American family, and expanded the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit.

Consequently, this week, President Biden will be signing into law the most significant effort to tackle child poverty ever.

These shifts in the political support for tackling child poverty are occurring for a number of reasons.

First, as noted before, supporting improvements in child policy is increasingly recognized as good politics. Policymakers are recognizing that Americans strongly support children’s public policy improvements and investments. For example, by an overwhelming 71–18 percent margin, a 2020 Lake Research Partners poll found that voters overwhelmingly supported passage of the American Family Act. And back in 2012, counter to the position of candidate Romney, a 2012 Lake Research Partners poll found that voters supported extending the EITC and CTC credits that were scheduled to expire by an 81–12 percent margin.

Second, there is growing understanding and recognition that poverty is a public policy choice. For years, many people believed that child poverty was intractable and the sole responsibility of parents, but there is a growing understanding that policy and money matter. Other countries, including the UKCanada, and New Zealand, have demonstrated that policy changes can make an enormous difference in the outcomes of the lives of children.

As noted before, the U.S. successfully cut poverty in senior citizens over the last half-century. It is well past time to do the same for our nation’s children.

Third, there is a growing recognition that there is a multi-generational need for our children to be successful. The demographic challenge facing our nation requires the next generation of workers to build an even stronger economy to fund and support Social Security and Medicare for the huge cohort of aging Baby Boomers. As Dowell Myers at the USC Price School of Public Policy explains in a report entitled The New Importance of Children in America:

Ensuring the health and well-being of children in the U.S. has never been more critical to the nation’s economic and political future. The massive Baby Boom generation is aging and retiring at the same time that birth rates are declining and altering the social and economic landscape. . .

This relative shortage of children means each child — regardless of gender, ethnicity, geographic residence or economic background — is proportionately more important to our future than ever before. Beyond our moral obligation to care for children for their own sake, our future economy, our standard of living, and our place as a leader in the world demand that children become our highest priority.

Demographer William Frey at the Brookings Institution adds:

Perhaps just in the nick of time, we have a new administration that understands the urgency of policies that benefit children, including the direct cash benefits proposed in the American Rescue Plan or other initiatives to support child nutrition, public education, and family caregiving. These efforts — as well as a renewed call to reduce racial and ethnic inequalities — suggest that the Biden administration understands the importance of investment in children. These policies could help ensure that today’s children and tomorrow’s working-age citizens have the opportunity to advance a growing middle class, raise healthy families, and contribute to older generations’ and the nation’s future well-being.

Source: Brookings Institution, Metropolitan Policy Program chart, Feb. 2020.

Fourth, there is overwhelming evidence that making investments in children has a high rate of return. As noted before, the NASEM found:

Child poverty costs for the U.S. range between $800 billion and $1.1 trillion annually, based on the estimated value of reduced adult productivity, increased costs of crime, and health expenditures associated with children growing up in poor families.

Furthermore, in a study entitled The Costs and Benefits of a Child Allowance by CPSP, Irwin Garfinkel and his colleagues found the value to society of an expansion of the Child Tax Credit and its sizable reduction in child poverty reaps “current and future benefits for society” that are “more than eight times initial costs.”

As the CPSP concludes:

We find that child allowances are a winning investment in our children’s future mobility.

Fifth, we need a new social contract for our nation’s children. On a whole range of international child well-being indicators, U.S. children are not faring well.

Our nation has one of the highest rates of child poverty among Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development (OECD) countries, the percentage of uninsured children has been rising for the last four years after two decades of progress, the U.S. ranks 33rd out of 36 OECD countries on infant mortalitysuicide rates among children are rising dramatically, the number of homeless children is growing, and child hunger has been increasing. It is important to note this was happening to our kids even before the global pandemic and economic recession.

Unfortunately, as First Focus on Children’s Children’s Budget 2020 finds, the overall share of federal investments in children dropped from 8.19 percent in fiscal year (FY) 2016 to just 7.48 percent in FY 2020 — a drop of 9 percent — with the Trump Administration proposing even further cuts.

Trump proposed cuts to children’s programs despite the fact that the U.S. ranks at the bottom of the world’s wealthy nations in support to children and families.

With all the challenges facing children, Frey points out:

It did not help that the Trump Administration avoided investments in child-centered programs, be they education, health care, or other family supports. Nor did it make efforts to reduce racial inequalities on any of those fronts.

President Biden likes to quote his father as saying, “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” Clearly, we have not been valuing our children.

Fortunately, in contrast to the divestments in our kids in the last four years, the American Recovery Plan Act’s commitment to cut child poverty in half is potentially life-changing for millions of our nation’s children. I say potentially because the provisions in the bill are temporary. Therefore, it is critically important for Congress to take the next step and, among a long list of policy improvements, make the CTC expansion and child care investments permanent.

Sixth, the American Rescue Plan Act was designed to, as Chabeli Carrazana and Errin Haines write, “to address long-standing racial and gender disparities laid bare by the pandemic” and economic recession. In addition to reducing racial disparities with respect to child poverty, the American Rescue Plan Act also addresses race and gender equity issues with regard to educationchild carechild hungerhealth care (including maternal mortality), vaccine distribution, child and family homelessness, expanded broadband access to children and families, and child abuse prevention.

The legislation underscores a long-term problem facing our nation’s children with respect to race equity and how federal support and engagement is critically important in helping reduce racial disparities that arise across states because southwestern (disproportionately Hispanic and Native American children) and southeastern (disproportionately Black children) states are poorer, provide less fiscal support and effort to kids’ programs, and have worse outcomes for children than the rest of the country.

Source: Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2020 KIDS COUNT Data Book, Jun. 2020.

And last, it is the right thing to do. Conor P. Williams writes:

The point is that children are both vulnerable and blameless. They are born into a world they did not choose. Each child’s life is ultimately her own project to develop and complete, but it is many years before she gets to take control. She deserves a childhood free from want, a childhood in which she is cared for, safe and well fed. A country as rich as ours can choose to reduce child poverty because doing so will improve children’s academic achievement and allow us to reduce our spending on remedial education, health care and more.

Or we can reduce child poverty simply because she deserves a real chance to grow into a healthy adult life full of opportunities to thrive. We can do it because there is no actual virtue in allowing millions of children to suffer simply to flatter our national disinclination to pay for a humane, modern, developed, democratic society. Or, put simply, we must do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Children are not just human “becomings” who deserve support because of the potential long-term return on investment or ROI. Children are deserving because they are human beings with fundamental needs in the here and now.

The American Rescue plan puts us on a pathway to end child poverty within a generation if…

| March 11, 2021 |

Moments ago, President Biden signed legislation that will do more to improve the lives of children than any other law in nearly 25 years. Children whose lives have been derailed by the pandemic will see immediate relief through child care, nutrition, education, and mental health aid. Most notably, the American Rescue Plan will cut child poverty by more than half this year alone

Plus the bill’s one-year expansions to programs like the Child Tax Credit puts us on a pathway to end child poverty within a generation  — if (and that’s a big if) we can finally make these long-needed improvements permanent.

Thankfully, Champions for Children have already moved to capitalize on this momentum by introducing a bill that would do just that — offering proven and permanent solutions to end child poverty. But the bill needs your support if it is to become law like the American Rescue Plan.

Let’s seize this moment — ask your member of Congress to support the American Family Act of 2021 today!

The impact of today’s signing cannot be understated — not since the Children’s Health Insurance Program was authorized in 1997 has a bill been so poised to help our nation’s children. It is also a long-awaited admission by Congress of something you and I have known for years — that the moral crisis of child poverty existed long before the COVID-19 crisis, and it will continue long after unless we commit ourselves to ending it now. 

We’ve taken a massive leap forward in the fight to prioritize children today but just think of all the setbacks they’ve had to endure throughout this pandemic. At least 2.5 million more children fell into poverty in the past year while countless other families have struggled to keep their kids healthy and fed. Let’s celebrate today’s victory, but let’s hold everyone accountable to a better future for the post-COVID generation.

Congress is Taking Action to Ensure We Cut Child Poverty in Half

| March 3, 2021 |

Photo by Stanley Morales from Pexels

House and Senate Democrats are poised to re-introduce the Child Poverty Reduction Act tomorrow. Led by Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) and Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), the bill would establish a national target to reduce the number of children living in poverty in the U.S. by one-half in 10 years. With all of the action taken recently on reducing child poverty, this bill will hold our leaders accountable to action.

No child in the world’s wealthiest nation should go to bed hungry or be deprived of clean air or be without the opportunities that come from having a safe, affordable place to call home.

Yet even before the outbreak of the COVID-19 health emergency, child poverty was a moral crisis in the United States that affected each and every one of us. Our child poverty rate remains consistently higher than that of our peer countries, and children in the United States continue to experience poverty at a rate 54 percent higher than adults. Due to our country’s long history of systemic racism and discrimination, poverty rates for children of color are nearly three times that of white children. Annual child poverty figures from the U.S. Census Bureau underestimate the problem: Families with children living at twice the official poverty threshold still lack enough income to make ends meet.

Growing up in poverty has life-long consequences for a child’s physical and mental health and economic well-being. In addition to negative consequences for individual children, child poverty has serious economic implications, costing our country approximately $1 trillion a year. A 2019 landmark study from the nonpartisan National Academy of Sciences confirmed that we know how to reduce child poverty in the United States, we just lack the political will to do it. 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.

Passing the Child Poverty Reduction Act is critical to sustaining and improving upon any progress made on child poverty in 2021 through President Biden’s COVID-19 relief package. By codifying a national child poverty target and tasking the National Academy of Sciences with analyzing and monitoring progress towards that goal, this legislation will ensure that we continue to build the political will and have the research necessary to make progress on child poverty reduction beyond emergency relief efforts.

Other provisions of the Child Poverty Reduction Act include:

  • Requiring the U.S. Census Bureau to develop an anchored Supplemental Poverty Measure to use to annually track progress on child poverty that includes data on children in the U.S. territories;
  • Directing the National Academy of Sciences to establish a Child Poverty Reduction Strategy Clearinghouse;
  • Mandating the National Academy of Sciences to update A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty within three years;
  • Directing the National Academy of Sciences to publish a new consensus study on policies to reduce long-term, intergenerational child poverty.
  • The future of our nation depends on the well-being and success of our children.

This Black History Month, The Biden Administration Must Stand with Black Immigrant Children

| February 16, 2021 |

For many, the inauguration of the Biden Administration represented a change in direction from the many harmful policies of the previous administration, particularly in immigration. Unfortunately, this had not been the case for Black immigrants, both within the United States and those seeking safety at our border.

On the very first day of Black History month, an ICE flight returned migrants to Haiti, including children and infants. A February 8, 2021 flight returned 21 children to Haiti, including one as young as two months old. The administration is removing these children under the Title 42 order, which completely shut down the southern border under the pretext of public health, denies families the opportunity to seek protection from persecution and violence in violation of U.S. law; the Biden administration has announced that expulsions under the order will continue. Additionally, almost every day since the beginning of the month, the government has returned migrants to multiple Black majority countries, including Haiti, Cameroon, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Children generally pay the highest price during conflicts, and the conflicts that Black immigrants are being returned to are no different. In Cameroon, children are disproportionately targeted for violence and recruitment as child soldiers, make up 64%  of those internally displaced, and 70% remain out of school. Haiti is in the middle of a political uprising, adding to compounding economic, public health, and political crises. In Mauritania, one African country to which the Trump administration increased deportation flights, Black children experience high rates of enslavement and child marriage due to racism within the country. The impact of these conflicts on children, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, make it unsafe to return children and families to these countries.

Our broader immigration system has a legacy of anti-Black racism. Because of racist policies, law enforcement targets Black immigrants as it does other Black people in America. Additionally, despite the life-or-death consequences of the immigration system, immigrants are denied many of the constitutional protections that exist in the criminal legal system, including the right to legal representation that can help immigrants challenge detention and file claims for humanitarian protection. As a result, Black immigrants disproportionately face longer periods in detention, higher costs of bond, and greater risk of deportation. Though they make up 7% of non-citizens in the United States, Black people make up one-fifth of those facing deportation on criminal grounds though all racial groups, citizen or non-citizen, commit crimes at similar rates, displaying the intersection of racism impacting our immigration and criminal legal systems. During the COVID-19 pandemic, almost half of the families in family detention were Haitian, and U.S. citizen newborns of Haitian and other descent born at the border were returned to Mexico without birth certificates, likely leaving them stateless.

Racism in our immigration system impacts children. The American Academy of Pediatrics has clearly outlined the impact racism has on child and adolescent health and development. On top of other systematic barriers and inequalities they experience in the United States, Black children of immigrants also face higher risks of family separation and emotional trauma. In particular, children separated from family experience high levels of stress for long periods, which can wear and tear on their physical, mental, and emotional health. Families who lose a family member due to detention or deportation can also experience economic hardship, including housing instability and lack of healthy nutrition. Black children of immigrants should have what we know all children need—stable family settings and access to resources that support their healthy development, future success, and engagement with their family, peers, and community.

Black-led organizations have led calls to the administration and members of Congress to stop deportations. Their leadership resulted in a victory when flights to Haiti were briefly halted. However, Black immigrant communities should not need to seek out intel on every flight and engage in ongoing advocacy for the administration to stop inflicting pain on their communities. Swift executive action could put in place systemic changes that promote the health and well-being of Black children of immigrants by preserving their families and connecting them to resources in their communities here in the United States.

The Biden administration has failed to use a racial equity lens in executive orders to reform the immigration system. It has also failed to consider immigration status in the executive order on race equity. As Dr. Ibram X. Kendi argues, policies are either racist or anti-racist, and it is racist to continue to ignore the needs of Black immigrants and their families. Immigration is a children’s issue, a Black issue, a Black children’s issue. A fair and just immigration system is one that is in the best interests of children and where Black immigrant children and their families are seen, heard, and centered in defining the future of the American immigration system.

This Black History Month and moving forward, the Biden Administration should:

  • Immediately designate Cameroon and Mauritania for Deferred Enforced Departure and Temporary Protected Status, and redesignate Haiti for Temporary Protected Status.
  • Immediately halt deportations and expulsions under the Title 42 order to Black-majority countries, and resume the processing of asylum seekers at the border as recommended by public health professionals.
  • Provide a right to return to the United States for those wrongfully returned under the Title 42 order and those who fall outside the administration’s interim enforcement priorities.
  • End family detention and ensure all recently arrived children and families have a fair opportunity to seek humanitarian protection while connected with services in the community.
  • Address anti-Black racism throughout the immigration system, including policies and decisions related to detention, deportation, adjudication of humanitarian protection, and the visa system, in partnership with Black-led immigrant organizations.

Ultimately, Congress has a role in putting forth permanent solutions to make our immigration system fair and just for everyone, regardless of the color of their skin. Congress should pass laws that provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, reform family, and diversity visas, and strengthen our asylum and refugee systems in ways that are racially equitable.

Promises to Keep: A Historic Moment to Cut Child Poverty

| February 11, 2021 |

No child should live in poverty in a country with the wealth of ours. Yet, there were 12 million children in the United States living in poverty in 2019. Children were more than 50 percent more likely to live in poverty than adults. In a great nation, there is simply no excuse for this.

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The following chart from the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution further highlights the disproportionate impact of poverty upon children.

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Even before the pandemic and recession, the kids were not alright. In an international comparison, our nation is well behind other wealthy nations in a report by UNICEF on dozens of child well-being measures, including child poverty and child mortality. In that report, the United States ranks just 36th out of 38 countries — behind counties like Romania, Estonia, Slovakia, Latvia, Greece, Poland, Lithuania, and Malta.

Unfortunately, it all got worse for children in 2020, as kids and their families confronted a global pandemic, a worldwide economic recession, and high-profile cases of racial injustice. Every facet of the lives of children were and continue to be negatively impacted. The issues of poverty, hunger, and homelessness are striking families who never imagined that they could find themselves telling their kids that they don’t have any food or that the electricity has been shut off.

Fortunately, we may see significant relief and much needed immediate support for children and families if the Biden-Harris “American Rescue Plan” is enacted into law in the next few weeks.

The package would provide for:

  • An additional $1,400 in checks to both adults and children on top of the $600 passed in December — a significant improvement on the original CARES Act passed in early 2020 that provided $1,200 to adults and just $500 to children.
  • $400-a-week in extra unemployment insurance payments.
  • $170 billion to public schools and higher education.
  • $39 billion for child care.
  • Important improvements to the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC).
  • Extension of credits for paid sick and family leave.
  • $350 billion in relief to state and local governments.

These are all important for children.

However, what stands out is the Biden-Harris proposal to make the Child Tax Credit (CTC) fully refundable to help the 23 million children in this country — one-third of all of our kids — whose parents make too littleto qualify for the full child benefit, which is $2,000 annually under current law. The legislation also raises the amount of the CTC to $3,600 to families with children 5 and under ($300 per month) and $3,000 to families with children 6–17 years-of-age ($250 per month).

According to the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University, it is estimated that the package would cut child poverty by more than half. If passed into law, this proposal would represent the most significant public policy change for children when it comes to addressing poverty in this country since the CTC was first enacted by Congress in 1997.

There are many members of Congress and their staff who deserve immense respect and thanks for their work over the years to push for this important improvement in the CTC. Among them:

  • Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Suzan DelBene (D-WA) for introducing and refining the “American Family Act” over the last few sessions of Congress and pushing hard to make it a top priority in Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration.
  • Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) for making this a centerpiece of the Senate and House relief packages, respectively.
  • Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) for successfully offering the amendment to fund the 2019 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s (NASEM) landmark reportA Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty, which gathered the evidence-based research supporting the importance of cutting child poverty for our economy (costing as much as $1.1 trillion annually) by improving the life chances and potential success of our children. The study also offered bipartisan pathways for reducing child poverty by more than half that centered around improving the CTC.
  • Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) for introducing the “Child Poverty Reduction Act,” which takes the lessons learned from the United Kingdom and Canada to create a national “child poverty target” that ensures that there is attention, focus, and accountability in government for cutting child poverty by more than half.
  • Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Tim Scott (R-SC) also deserve credit for offering proposals to significantly improve the CTC to cut child poverty, as Romney did last week, and Rubio, Lee, and Scott proposed back in 2017.

It is well past time that we recognize that children are not doing well and take action to improve their lives and well-being.

Four years ago, a report by the Child Poverty Action Group, led by First Focus on Children, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAETC), Save the Children Action Network (SCAN), MomsRising, and Prosperity Now (formerly for Corporation for Enterprise Development), called for improvements to the CTC and CDCTC to improve fairness in the tax code for our nation’s families, so that low-income families are no longer penalized for earning too little to qualify for the full CTC and CDCTC credits. These recommendations have been included in the Biden-Harris proposal and the draft congressional packages.

If enacted, this will be historic for our nation’s children. Poverty vanquishes the hopes and dreams of our children. It negatively impacts their health, education, nutrition, safety, shelter, and overall well-being. We must stop averting our eyes, ears, and hearts to the plight of children living in poverty.

In his book Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics, Sen. Joe Biden spoke of the promises to make and keep, including those to our children. He writes:

It’s time for a president to stand up and remind the American people that we have promises to keep — promises to the world, promises to one another, promises to our children and to our grandchildren. In rededicating ourselves to the hard work of fulfilling those promises, we restore America as the hope of the world and the vision of a brighter future.

He adds:

These are the promises we must make to our children. These are not someone else’s children — they are our children, America’s children. . . We have always counted on the next generation to carry forward the goals we fail to reach in our own time, and if we don’t protect the health and the dreams of all of our children, we are betraying our own best intentions.

Although the stimulus package is temporary, the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that it would provide $110 billion in tax credit improvements to children and families this year. The Biden-Harris Administration and Congress should pass this now and come back later this year to make these changes permanent.

Our children are not alright. The American people understand that we cannot wait any longer. In an election eve poll of American voters by Lake Research, voters supported passage of the “American Family Act” by an overwhelming 71–18% margin.

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Our children are hurting. Our children cannot wait. Congress must act now to protect the dreams of our kids this year and into the future.

More than ever, we need Champions for Children — these are policymakers meeting the moment

| February 4, 2021 |

Our nation’s children face multiple challenges to their well-being stemming from years of a declining share of federal investments in their future, the COVID-19 global pandemic, the ensuing economic recession, and racial injustice that begins at birth.

Every aspect of the lives of children is being negatively impacted by these factors. The kids are NOT alright, and we must do better.

Consequently, in an attempt to recognize and thank those lawmakers in the 116th Congress who actively worked to make children a greater priority in the halls of Congress, First Focus Campaign for Children is pleased to present our Legislative Scorecard for the 166th Congress.

The growing needs and problems facing children demand attention, policy solutions, political will, and action that make children a priority. Unfortunately, kids are far too often an afterthought in Congress. The problem is that children don’t vote and don’t have Political Action Committees (PACs) that garner and demand attention.

As a result, children are facing a variety of problems that are impacted by federal policy, including:

  • Declining Federal Investments in Children: The share of investments in children has declined from 8.02 percent in FY 2016 to 7.48 percent in FY 2020 of the federal budget – a decline of 9 percent. President Trump’s FY 2021 budget proposal would have eliminated or consolidated into block grants 59 children’s programs and imposed real cuts of $21 billion in spending on children. Consequently, the President’s budget proposal would have caused the share of funding for children to drop to just 7.31 percent.
  • Rising Uninsured Children: After two full decades of decline since the enactment of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in 1997, the children’s uninsured rate has grown for each of the last three years and is expected to show a continued negative trend when the government releases final numbers for 2020.
  • High Child Poverty: After a few years of improvement, the child poverty rate is expected to rise significantly in 2020 and that level already was more than 50 percent higher for children than for adults. The U.S. rate for child poverty ranks 38th among the 41 wealthiest countries in the world, according to a recent UNICEF report. A 2019 landmark report from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released estimates that child poverty costs the nation more than $1 trillion annually.
  • Rising Child Suicide Rates: The suicide rate nearly tripled for children aged 10-14 from 2007 to 2017 and increased 76 percent for people aged 15-19. Suicide is now the 2nd leading cause of death for children in both age groups.
  • Increasing Child Abuse and Neglect: After years of decline, there has been a 10 percent rise in the number of children placed in foster care largely due to increased levels of substance use, including but not limited to opioids. Furthermore, between FY 2013 and 2017, the fatality rate for children from abuse and neglect increased by 11 percent.
  • High Infant Mortality: The U.S. rate remains far higher than in comparable countries based on Gross National Product (GNP). According to the Peterson Center on Healthcare and Kaiser Family Foundation, the U.S. infant mortality rate is 71 percent higher than in comparable European nations.
  • High Rates of Food Insecurity: In 2017, 12.5 million children lived in food-insecure households, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Department’s report finds “food security to be statistically associated with various outcomes involving health, nutrition, and children’s development….”
  • Rising Child Homelessness: The number of identified and enrolled students reported as experiencing homelessness at some point during the school year to the U.S. Department of Education increased 10 percent, from 1.36 million students in school year 2016-2017 to over 1.5 million students in school year 2017-2018.
  • Endangering the Children of Immigrants: Federal policy should ensure that the “best interest of the child”, but federal agencies are separating migrant families, placing children in detention centers for lengthy periods, failing to provide basic health and safety protections for children, and compounding the trauma facing immigrant and migrant children.

Now, more than ever, children need policymakers to be their Champions and Defenders who are willing to focus on, support, raise their voices, and attach their name to legislation that would improve the lives of our nation’s children and to actively oppose legislation or regulatory and administrative actions that would harm kids.

The Gender Gap Persists on Children’s Issues

Women in the last Congress were more than two-and-a-half times more likely than men to be Champions or Defenders of Children — with 43.3 percent of the women in Congress named either a Champion or a Defender. In fact, women made up 46 percent of our list this year, despite representing only 24 percent of Congress. There were 65 men among the Champions and Defenders, however, less than 7 percent of the men in Congress scored high enough to be named a Champion for Children.

The Regional Divide on Children

FFCC’s Legislative Scorecard identifies significant differences in support for our nation’s children by region:

  • The Northeast leads all regions: The percentage of Champions or Defenders among House and Senate members from the Northeast (Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware) rose to 42 percent at the close of the 116th Congress.

Overall leaders in the Senate and House from this region include: Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ed Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), James McGovern (D-MA), Jahana Hayes (D-CT), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA).

The worst scoring scorecard member from this region was Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD).

  • The West is a close second: The West region led all regions in the 2019 report but dropped to a close 2nd with 37 percent of Western (Alaska, Hawaii, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Nevada) House and Senate members qualifying as Champions or Defenders.

Overall leaders in the Senate and House from this region include: Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA and now Vice President-elect) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), and Karen Bass (D-CA).

The lowest scoring member from this region was Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA).

  • The Midwest is well-represented: 24 percent of House and Senate members qualified as Champions or Defenders in the Midwest (Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri).

Top 10 leaders in the Senate and House from this region include: Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Reps. Gwen Moore (D-WI) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).

The lowest scoring members from the region were Reps. Justin Amash (I-MI), Jim Banks (R-IN), and Jim Jordan (R-OH).

  • The Southwest and Plains states lag behind: Among Southwestern (Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas) and Plains (Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota) states, just 9 percent of House and Senate members qualify as Champions or Defenders.

The top-ranked members from this region were Sen. Michael Bennett (D-C) and Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Deb Haaland (D-NM), who was recently nominated to be Secretary of the Interior by President-elect Joe Biden.

The worst scoring members from this region were Reps. Chip Roy (R-TX), Ken Buck (R-CO), and Andy Biggs (R-AZ).

  • The Southeast continues to largely fail kids: In the Southeast (Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas), a paltry 5 percent of House and Senate members were Champions or Defenders.

The top-ranked members from this region include Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Reps. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) and Darren Soto (D-FL).

The lowest scoring members were Ralph Norman (R-SC), Ted Yoho (R-FL), and Thomas Massie (R-KY).

Biden Administration Plan Will Likely Cut Child Poverty in Half in 2021

| January 21, 2021 |

President Biden’s American Rescue Plan pledges emergency relief for those affected by the public health and economic crises caused by COVID-19. It is also likely to quickly — if temporarily — cut child poverty in half.

According to analysis from Columbia’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy, Biden’s plan is likely to cut child poverty by at least in half in 2021 (51%, or 5 million children). This analysis measures child poverty using the Supplemental Poverty Measure and incorporates the effect of the December 2020 COVID relief package, as well as assumes a 6% average unemployment rate for 2021. 

The Center’s experts examined the following specific policies contained in the American Rescue Plan:

  • A fully refundable Child Tax Credit valued at $3,000 (ages 6-17) and $3,600 (under 6);
  • Extension of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit increases through the end of 2021;
  • A one-time direct payment of $1,400 per eligible adult and child recipient;
  • Extension of current unemployment insurance expansions through September 30, 2021 (with a $400 per week national supplement);
  • An expanded Earned Income Tax Credit for workers without children.

Note that the plan includes other forms of relief, such as emergency Temporary Assistance for Needy Family (TANF) funds, rental assistance, a minimum wage increase, and more that the Center did not take into account for this analysis, so the impact on child poverty is likely to be even greater than the projected 51% reduction in 2021.

We recently urged the incoming Biden-Harris Administration and the 117th Congress to prioritize child poverty reduction in any upcoming COVID-19 relief efforts and so we are encouraged to see this fairly robust relief package that would provide immediate aid to support the healthy development of children impacted most significantly by COVID-19. If implemented, this package provides a good start to making more significant and sustained progress to reducing our high rate of child poverty in the United States

First Focus Campaign for Children has long advocated the establishment of a national target to cut child poverty in half within a decade as well as a permanent child allowance, and will continue to work with Congress to a) codify a child poverty target through the Child Poverty Reduction Act and b) pass the American Family Act so we can ensure progress on reducing child poverty beyond 2021. It is our hope that we will gain bipartisan support for this relief package and additional efforts to reduce child poverty through critically important investments in all our nation’s children. 

An open letter to President Biden and Vice President Harris From America’s children

| January 20, 2021 |

Dear President Biden and Vice President Harris:

Congratulations on rising to our nation’s highest offices. We’ve been talking to America’s children about what the next four years under your leadership might bring, and we think you’ll want to hear what they have to say.

We applaud your agenda, which reveals your intention to reduce child poverty, treat child care like the national infrastructure that it is, expand children’s health care, prioritize families in immigration, address climate change, and enact many other initiatives that are in the best interest of children. We urge you to consider the measures proposed here in these videos by children themselves in response to our #DearGrownUps campaign.

Thank you for letting their voices be heard.


Bruce Lesley
President, First Focus on Children

Christine French Cully
Chief Purpose Officer, Highlights for Children