Washington – Children’s Budget 2015, an analysis released today by the bipartisan children’s advocacy organization First Focus, finds that funding for federal initiatives serving children has dropped 9.4 percent during the past five years (2011-2015). Overall federal spending dropped 4 percent during the same period.

“When families face tough budget choices, parents’ first priority is to protect the kids,” said First Focus president Bruce Lesley. “But Congress is actually cutting funding for children more than twice as fast as spending overall.”

The analysis largely credits the 2009 economic stimulus law (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or ARRA) with increased federal investments in children during and following the economic recession. The report largely attributes the decline since 2011 to the exhaustion of ARRA funding and to across-the-board “sequestration” budget cuts imposed in 2013. A bipartisan budget deal mitigated sequestration’s impact in 2014 and 2015. Nevertheless, the consequences include funding cuts to children’s initiatives ranging from elementary and secondary education to child abuse and neglect prevention and response. Unless Congress acts this year to raise those caps for federal fiscal year (FY) 2016 and beyond, the report predicts deeper cuts to children’s initiatives funded through the “domestic discretionary” budget category.

“Sequestration and the resulting budget caps are the driver here – that’s why America is no longer investing in children,” said Lesley.

Children’s Budget 2015 provides a detailed funding analysis of more than 200 federal investments in children over the last five years. These initiatives range from investments that benefit children every day, like health care and education, to those that address acute problems such as homelessness and child abuse or neglect. The analysis also includes initiatives not traditionally recognized as investments in children, like Social Security, which provides support for children and other survivors of deceased workers.

A 2012 Public Opinion Strategies poll conducted for the First Focus Campaign for Children found that voters want Congress to allocate an average of 28 percent of federal funding to children’s initiatives. Children’s Budget 2015 reports that Congress allocated less than 8 percent of federal funding to children’s initiatives in 2015.

The publication was released by First Focus today at an event in Washington, D.C. Overall findings from Children’s Budget 2015 includeL

  • Just 7.9 percent of the 2015 federal budget is invested in children;
  • Since a recent high in 2011, total federal spending on children has dropped 9.4 percent after adjusting for inflation;
  • Sequestration continues to impact children, with inflation-adjusted spending on children’s initiatives in 2015 still below 2012 levels.

“Voters want a real investment in children, but Congress hasn’t delivered,” said Lesley.

The analysis also breaks down funding for children’s initiative categorically. Key inflation-adjusted category and program-specific findings include:

  • Education funding overall dropped 19.8 percent from 2011-2015, due to sequestration cuts impacting initiatives aimed at helping low-income and disabled children succeed in school;
  • Child abuse and neglect prevention and response funding dropped nearly 12 percent from 2010-2015, despite polling showing more than three-fourths of voters oppose cuts to these initiatives;
  • Housing funding allocated to children dropped 5.2 percent from 2011-2015, despite federal reports indicating record numbers of homeless children in America;
  • “WIC,” the Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants and Children, saw an 8 percent funding cut from 2011-2015, though nutrition overall funding was approximately flat.

“From schools to hunger to homelessness, Congress is cutting investments in nearly every aspect of children’s lives,” said Lesley.

Medicaid was one initiative showing a significant inflation-adjusted 2011-2015 funding increase: 22.4 percent. But as the analysis details, most of the actual increase in Medicaid spending since 2013 has been due to the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. Since that policy change disproportionately benefits adults, it is likely the Children’s Budget 2015 Medicaid funding level will be revised downward, as new data shows how the ACA expansion has changed the share of Medicaid funding allocated to children.

“Medicaid is critically important to children, but the ACA’s Medicaid expansion is focused on adults,” said Lesley.

This analysis comes at a critical moment, as Congress considers federal funding legislation with direct consequences for children. Federal FY 2016 appropriations debates have begun in both chambers of Congress, and budget caps on domestic discretionary caps threaten to constrain investments in children’s priorities ranging from education to child abuse and neglect prevention and response. The concurrent budget resolution adopted by Congress for FY 2016 technically maintains the sequester levels set by the Budget Control Act. But it adds defense funding through the “off-budget” Overseas Contingency Operations account. By doing so, the congressional budget increases defense spending while continuing to constrain non-defense discretionary spending that affects children’s initiatives.

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

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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.