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Press Release: Share of Federal Spending on Children Has Decreased 1.7 Percent Since FY 2014

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Washington, D.C., September 20, 2018—Children received 1.7 percent less of the federal budget in Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 than they did in FY 2014, a new report from First Focus shows. This report confirms the long-term negative trend that the Children’s Budget has seen since the beginning of this project in 2008.

On a positive short-term note, the share of total federal spending on children rose 1.1 percent, from 7.97 percent in FY 2017 to 8.06 percent this year. The Bipartisan Budget Act had a one-time favorable impact because it temporarily raised the discretionary budget spending limits and reauthorized both the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program. Unfortunately, the spending limits are set to fall by $55 billion in FY 2020.

“Congress showed it can come together on a bipartisan basis to protect children but, overall, policymakers continue to shortchange children in federal spending decisions and neglect their needs,” said Bruce Lesley, First Focus President. “No matter which party is in power, it’s important to keep pushing our congressional leaders to prioritize investment in our kids, because they are our country’s future.”

Children’s Budget 2018 tracks 180 mandatory and discretionary programs whose funding is either entirely or partially dedicated to children’s health, early and K-12 education, nutrition, income security, housing, safety, training, and welfare.

Health and income support programs for children got the most federal funding, but still represented only 2.5 percent and 1.8 percent of it, respectively, in 2018.

This happens in the context of $4.1 trillion in total federal spending, the recent $1.5 trillion tax cuts, and the recently proposed additional $657 billion tax cuts. In FY 2018, the federal government spent 7.7 percent of its budget on the interest on the national debt—nearly as much as the 8.06 percent it spent on children.

These numbers indicate that children are not a priority at all in the budget process, especially since many federally funded children’s programs do not serve all eligible children. In fact, 17.5 percent of children lived in poverty in 2017, despite a strong economy and low unemployment.

Children are almost one quarter of the population yet spending on their programs has been hovering around 8 percent of the budget since FY 2014, as growth in total federal spending significantly outpaces increases in spending on children’s programs.


First Focus is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. First Focus leads a comprehensive advocacy strategy, with its hands-on experience with federal policymaking and a commitment to seeking policy solutions.