Congress Is Shortchanging ChildrenFederal Budget
As part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) in 2021, Congress made unprecedented investments in children, as the share of federal spending on kids rose from an all-time low of 7.56% at the close of the Trump Administration in fiscal year (FY) 2020 to 11.97% in FY 2021.
President Joe Biden and the 117th Congress understood that the global pandemic and recession were reaping negative consequences for children in almost every aspect of their lives.
To extend these investments in and protections for children, in 2021, the House of Representatives passed the Build Back Better Act (BBBA) to extend funding for the improved Child Tax Credit, child health, child care, early childhood, education, child nutrition, and family medical leave. This could have been the most significant piece of legislation to be enacted for children in decades.
Unfortunately, due to opposition from Senate Democrats Joe Manchin (WV) and Kristen Sinema (AZ), many of those provisions were eliminated in the Senate-passed Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The number of mentions of children dropped from 436 in the House bill to just 1 in the Senate and final bill.
The Budget and Policy Crossroads for Children
Children are at a crossroads. We can invest in their well-being now and for the long-term or we can shortchange them and our nation’s future.
Frankly, President Biden has proposed continuing to make investments in our children. His FY 2024 budget provides for a 12.26% children’s share, which would be a substantial increase that includes an extension of the improved Child Tax Credit and investments in child care, early childhood, education, child nutrition, and family medical leave.
At our Children’s Budget Summit on September 23, 2023, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said:
There is no better investment the federal government can make than in children and families.
C. Kirabo Jackson, a recently appointed member to the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, has done critically important studies that confirm “money matters.” Specifically, his work finds that a 10% increase in per-pupil spending in education leads to increases in education attainment, higher earnings, and lower levels of adult poverty.
As he explained to participants at the Children’s Budget Summit:
Money matters. It matters a lot. It matters for the most vulnerable groups. And beyond that, it matters exactly how we spend it.
Dr. Jackson added:
These investments pay for themselves. . . Increased spending in schools and also elsewhere meaningfully improves the outcomes of children in both the short run and in the long run.
While the Senate has also worked in a bipartisan way to continue to make investments in children, the House has repeatedly proposed policies that shortchange our children. If the House proposals were to be enacted, our kids would be pushed down a pathway full of roadblocks and potholes and detoured away from a productive future.
First, as Children’s Budget 2023 shows, the overall share of federal funding to children already has declined from 11.97% in 2021 to just 9.89% in FY 2023 – a nearly 18% decline.
As one example of the impact, due to the expiration of the improved Child Tax Credit, families across the country received a $1,000 to $3,600 tax increase per child in 2022 at the very same time that food and housing costs were rising.
Therefore, at a time of rising inflation, income support for children dropped by an astounding 50% between FY 2021 and FY 2023. As the data in our Children’s Budget 2023 report reveals, the refundable portion of the Child Tax Credit dropped from $131 billion in 2022 to just $30 billion – a 77% reduction.
This has real consequences. Just last week, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that child poverty more than doubled – from 4 million children (5.2%) in 2021 to 9 million children (12.4%) in 2022. This negatively impacts education, child health, and brain development and leads to increases in child hunger, child abuse and neglect, and child homelessness.
In fact, the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) estimates the adverse consequences of child poverty are costing our nation up to $1.1 trillion annually.
Compounding the harm, protections to the health coverage of children in ARPA expired and so states across the country have engaged in efforts to disenroll children from Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Hundreds of thousands of children are now losing health coverage.
Moreover, funding for child care expires at the close of September unless Congress acts. Despite appeals to lawmakers, it appears that Congress is prepared to allow that funding to end. The Century Foundation estimates that 3.2 million children are likely to lose access to child care due to this failure to act.
We are also simultaneously shortchanging our youngest citizens. In the joint Babies in the Budget report by First Focus on Children and Zero to Three, we found that the share of federal funding dedicated to children 0 to 3 years of age dropped from 1.93% in FY 2021 to just 1.54% in FY 2023 – a more than 20% reduction.
Congress is also failing children worldwide. Even though children represent about one-third of people internationally, Children’s Budget 2023 finds that only about 9 cents of every $1 of FY 2023 foreign assistance funding benefits children. Therefore, the federal share of funding to children internationally is just 0.10% (or just a dime out of every $100).
As if this is not bad enough, the House has proposed even further cuts to children in the future. For example:
- In the debt ceiling bill, while entire portions of the federal budget were protected, children were disproportionately targeted for cuts.
- In its version of the education appropriations bill this year, the House of Representatives (118th Congress) proposed cutting Title I education funding for low-income students by an astounding 80% or nearly $15 billion.
- Others in the House have introduced bills and amendments to abolish the Department of Education and to eliminate the vast majority of funding for federal education, early childhood, child care, and after-school programs. Fortunately, that idea, as exemplified by the Massie Amendment, was defeated by a vote of 161-265 on March 24, 2023, but it continues to be promoted by far-right organizations and several presidential candidates.
- To keep the government from shutting down at the end of the month, the President and the Senate are seeking a straight continuing resolution, which the Senate passed on September 26, 2023, by a 77-19 vote, to give them time to work out the final budget details. In sharp contrast, the House is proposing additional cuts simply to extend the government. Sadly, once again, funding for children would be disproportionately slashed.
- To compound the harm, Congress may fail to extend the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). If PEPFAR expires at the end of the month, funding to combat the worldwide AIDS crisis could expire and so could funding to assist the health and well-being of millions of children who have been directly harmed and orphaned by the ongoing AIDS crisis.
Again and again, the House keeps targeting children for cuts and harm. These are policy and budget choices that fail our kids.
Don’t Be Fooled – Shortchanging Children Never Benefits Them
Do not let any politician try to fool you into believing these steps are necessary to reduce the federal deficit and help children. Shortchanging children does not benefit them.
Children did not drive the deficit and are not to blame for the decisions that politicians have repeatedly made to increase the federal budget deficit. However, while the argument could be made that everyone must sacrifice to pay down the deficit, that is not what is being proposed.
Instead, whole aspects of the federal budget would be protected from reductions by the House, while others (including the wasteful border wall) would be increased. If all aspects of the federal budget were being cut equitably, then the share of federal spending dedicated to children would remain unchanged, even as the overall amount declined.
However, the numbers in our Children’s Budget 2023 report expose the truth, which is that children have been repeatedly targeted for cuts and harm by the House of Representatives. This must end.
Since children do not vote, do not have Political Action Committees (PACs), and do not have paid lobbyists to represent their needs and best interests, they need our voices. There are three ways that you can help: (1) contact Congress and urge them not to shortchange our children; (2) join us as an Ambassador for Children; and/or, (3) donate to us to help fund the work of First Focus Campaign for Children and the Children’s Budget Coalition as we seek to ensure that Congress invests in children and that children receive their fair share of funding.