Washington – An analysis released today by the nonpartisan Urban Institute finds that discretionary budget caps resulting from the 2013 congressional budget sequestration have resulted in cuts to federal initiatives that matter for children. The report, Kids’ Share 2015: Report on Federal Expenditures on Children Through 2014 and Future Projections, also shows that only 10 percent of federal funding is invested in children. It was funded by First Focus and the Annie E. Casey Foundation and written by Urban Institute researchers Julia Isaacs, Sara Edelstein, Heather Hahn, Ellen Steele, and C. Eugene Steuerle.

“When families face tough budget choices, parents’ first priority is to protect the kids,” said First Focus president Bruce Lesley. “But if budgets reflect our nation’s priorities, Congress is failing children.”

“Building a bright future for our children—all of our children—should be our nation’s top priority.  If we are to fulfill this fundamental promise to the future, our policymakers at the local, state and national levels must invest in putting all kids on a path to success,” said Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “That means doing far better at giving children the good start in life they deserve, and ensuring kids and their parents have the resources and opportunities they need to succeed.”

Following 2013’s across-the-board “sequestration” budget cuts, Congress capped funding for “discretionary” initiatives, as part of the 2011 Budget Control Act. Caps affected national defense, as well as children’s initiatives ranging from K-12 education to child abuse and neglect prevention and response. Kids’ Share finds that, though budget caps were not the only contributing factor, children’s initiatives affected by budget caps were more likely to face funding cuts than those exempted by Congress.

“Spending on children’s programs constrained by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) declined by $2.3 billion between 2013 and 2014, while spending on children’s programs exempt from the BCA increased by $1.4 billion,” the report details.

The analysis also projects future spending based on an analysis of data from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and the authors’ estimates. Though Kids’ Share projects $1.4 trillion in federal spending increases between 2015 and 2025, Congress will invest only 2 percent of those additional resources in children. It projects that rising health care costs and broader eligibility for care will bump up investments in children’s health, but interest payments on the national debt will exceed total federal investments in children by 2018. Taking inflation into account, the report also projects that by 2025:

  • Education funding will drop 8 percent ($3 billion);
  • Education funding will account for less than 1 percent of federal spending;
  • Funding for Head Start, federal child care subsidies, and other early childhood initiatives will drop 7 percent ($1 billion); and;
  • Medicare and the non-children portions of Social Security and Medicaid will consume nearly half (49 percent) of all federal spending.

“Kids already get a very small slice of the pie from Congress today,” said Lesley. “Ten years from now, they’ll be dividing the crumbs.”

“The federal government will soon be spending more for interest on the national debt than on children,” said Julia Isaacs, the report’s lead author and a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. “This highlights how the federal budget is tied to the past and fails to invest in the future.”

Federal policymakers are considering proposals that could slow the drop in federal investments in children and begin to turn the trend around. First Focus and other advocates for children and families wrote to congressional leadership in August, urging them to raise budget caps that arbitrarily constrain funding for children’s initiatives. As that letter noted, the 2016 congressional budget resolution employs a budget gimmick to effectively raise the budget caps on defense spending.

“If Congress is going to turn this around, they’ve got to raise the budget caps for kids, not just weapons systems,” said Lesley.

Kids’ Share also demonstrates that Congress is well out of step with American voters, on the issue of investments in children. A 2012 poll commissioned by the First Focus Campaign for Children found that voters want the federal government to commit an average of 28 percent of resources to meeting children’s needs – nearly triple children’s current share of the federal budget.

“Voters get it – it’s Congress that can’t see they’re shortchanging America’s future every time they cut funding for kids,” said Lesley.


First Focus is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. For more information, visit www.firstfocus.org.