“Babies in the Budget” outlines federal investment in the nation’s youngest children

WASHINGTON, August 23, 2023 — New research released today shows that the federal government grossly underinvests in our nation’s youngest children, forfeiting an opportunity to nurture the next generation during its most critical period of development and to address economic and social inequities.

Babies in the Budget,” released today by ZERO TO THREE and First Focus on Children, finds that babies and toddlers make up 3.4% of the U.S. population but receive just 1.5% of all federal spending. The report examines federal investment in the nation’s youngest children across more than 120 programs that cover supports such as shelter, nutrition, family economics, early care and education, access to clean air and water, and safe communities, and organizes them into three key areas of what young children need to thrive: Good Health, Strong Families, and Positive Early Learning Experiences.

The analysis finds that investment in our youngest children increased from $68 billion in Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 to $98 billion in FY 2023, a real increase of just 16% as children continue struggling to overcome the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation. In addition, key investments in child care will sunset at the end of the current fiscal year on September 30 if Congress does not act, placing critical supports for babies and toddlers in jeopardy. Find the full report at this link. 

“Infants and toddlers are sponges for learning, growth and experiences — positive and negative — and those set the foundation of all their future development,” said Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus on Children. “The human brain reaches 80% of its adult volume by age three. Underinvesting in our babies threatens their current health and future prospects, and the health of our nation’s economy. We urge policymakers to consider the information revealed in our Babies in the Budget report and invest in our nation’s children and future.”

“The pandemic may be over but for millions of babies and families the state of emergency continues – job losses, evictions, illnesses, hunger,” said Miriam Calderón, Chief Policy Officer at ZERO TO THREE. “Federal programs play a critical role in mitigating these hardships and ensuring that opportunities for healthy development and learning are available to all of our babies regardless of income, race, or where they live. Families tell us that they want Congress and the Administration to prioritize policies that help families such as fixing child care and reinstating the Child Tax Credit. It’s time for our nation’s policymakers to listen to parents who overwhelmingly support greater investments in our nation’s babies.”

The State of Babies Yearbook 2022, published by ZERO TO THREE, shows that 40% of babies and toddlers live in families with low income or in poverty. That figure climbs to two-thirds of all Black and Indigenous infants and more than half of all Hispanic infants and toddlers. Appropriate federal investment in children’s Good Health, Strong Families, and Positive Early Learning Experiences has the potential to address those inequities and improve future outcomes in school and as adults. Research shows that investing in high-quality birth-to-five programs for young children can deliver a 13% return on investment each year. Prioritizing babies and toddlers has bipartisan support: 87% of parents with infants and toddlers say that addressing the needs of children and families should be either a top or important priority this budget cycle.

ZERO TO THREE works to ensure all babies and toddlers benefit from the family and community connections critical to their well-being and development.  

First Focus on Children is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families a priority in federal policy and budget decisions.