Continuing Resolutions Leave Kids Hanging in the Balance


Welcome to a new year with the same broken budget process.

This week, Congress faces yet another deadline to fund the government for Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18). Of course, the start of FY18 is long behind us—107 days, to be specific. Unable to compromise on an omnibus spending bill to fully fund all of the government’s discretionary programs, Congress has instead passed a series of short-term spending bills. These “stop-gap” measures, called continuing resolutions, keep things running at levels from the prior Fiscal Year (in this case, FY 17.)

On the one hand, continuing resolutions are an important tool to keep the government from shutting down in the midst of partisan gridlock. But with Congress likely needing to pass a fourth stopgap measure this week before it can work out the details of an omnibus, it’s important to take stock of what these endless continuing resolutions have meant for kids.

Perpetual divestment in children’s programs: as First Focus illustrates in Children’s Budget 2017, the share of federal spending going to children continues to decrease and is now at an all-time low. Federal spending in FY 17 is illustrative of our lawmaker’s mismatched priorities, with just 7.47 percent going to programs serving children. Meanwhile, due to inflation and growing need, this “level” funding actually functions as a cut for many already underfunded children’s programs.

Planning for children’s programs left in limbo: Many of the federally funded programs serving kids are operated through government agencies at the Federal and State level. As these agencies wait in limbo to hear how much money they’ll have for the year ahead, they lose their ability to successfully plan and implement critical support for children.

Children become bargaining chips: Congress’ inability to pass an omnibus spending bill for FY 18 has made the appropriations process the chief vehicle by which lawmakers respond to pressing legislative issues and emergencies. The fact that a spending bill is (in theory) “must-pass” makes it an avenue for lawmakers to accomplish other legislative priorities, especially when Congress is gridlocked. Take the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, protection for those in danger of deportation due to the termination of the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, and much-needed disaster relief for areas devastated by natural disasters during the fall. Rather than deal with these critical policy areas on their own, lawmakers have tied them to the spending negotiations. As a result, millions of children continue to wait in limbo: for healthcare, for their families to be safe from deportation, for assistance after having lives ravaged by hurricanes and wildfires.

If Congress is serious about investing in kids, it will stop relying on stopgap measures and start focusing on good faith efforts to fully fund the government on time, and with robust support to programs supporting families and kids. It’s time to get to work.