Sec. Xavier Becerra today reiterated the Biden Administration’s commitment to children, pointing to investments in child care, income supports, and the physical and behavioral health of the nation’s children.

“At the end of the day we know what it means to make a difference in the lives of American families,” the Health and Human Services Secretary said in live remarks to the 2021 Children’s Budget Summit. “And we start at the beginning: With the lives of our kids.”

Becerra also highlighted yesterday’s approval by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in children ages 5 to 11, noting that “15 million vaccines are going out now even as we speak.”

First Focus on Children’s 2021 Children’s Budget Summit gathered policymakers, experts, and advocates to analyze findings of the 2021 Children’s Budget and its implications for U.S. policy.

This year’s Children’s Budget, the 15th edition, finds that COVID funding fueled the largest year-to-year increase in the share of federal spending on kids since tracking began in 2006.

The share of federal spending on children rose to 11.2% in 2021, a 3.5 percentage point increase over 2020. The historic increase comes after four straight years in which the share of spending on children declined by 25% to just 7.6%. Internationally, the United States invests just .08% — less than one penny per federal dollar spent — in children abroad.

“The pandemic and its economic fallout revealed decades of delayed maintenance on the systems that protect the health and well-being of our children,” said First Focus on Children President Bruce Lesley. “Massive investments in early childhood funding, income supports, education, and food programs merely stabilized our kids. And yet, some in Congress are working to reverse even these gains.”

Summit guests echoed the need for continued investment in our nation’s children. 

Calling children “our greatest natural resource,” Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, urged reform of the “unfair tax code” that shortchanges children and pledged continued efforts to eradicate child poverty. “It is nothing short of a moral crisis, and a moral urgency, that we have a nation that’s the wealthiest on the planet, but that we fall behind our peer nations in investing in our kids,” he said.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-WA, called attention to the systemic inequities revealed by the pandemic and stressed that the country cannot “just go back to normal.” She emphasized the need for Congress to deliver “affordable, quality child care, national comprehensive paid leave, and a permanent expanded Child Tax Credit.”

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-MD, called on Congress to pass universal pre-k, more affordable child care, and continued monthly payments to families under the improved Child Tax Credit. “Investing in children is about investing in the future success of our country,” he said. Van Hollen has sponsored two bills designed to increase transparency around investments in children by requiring annual reports on the actual federal investment in children’s programs.

Well before she became chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-CT, had waged a battle to make permanent improvements to the Child Tax Credit. Since July, families have received monthly payments of up to $300 per child, significantly blunting the impact of the pandemic’s economic fallout. “[Families] have used these monthly checks for child care, food, diapers, school expenses, braces, and maybe even swimming lessons,” she said. “Families are relying on the Child Tax Credit, and it is imperative that we do everything we can to lock it in for years and years to come.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-CA, also emphasized the poverty-reducing power of the Child Tax Credit and called for the establishment of a Children’s Interagency Coordinating Council at the Department of Health and Human Services in this year’s federal budget. “This council is essential to support the effective implementation of the Child Tax Credit and other child poverty-reducing investments,” she said. “Our goals will not be reached until we eradicate child poverty once and for all.”

Internationally, advocates and Administration officials called for whole-of-government leadership on U.S. funding for children globally and for close tracking of this assistance. “By tracking foreign assistance spending, the U.S. government, its partners, stakeholders, and the public can better understand which countries and sectors are recipients of foreign assistance, reduce overlap, collaborate more effectively and work more cohesively to tackle today’s most pressing global challenges, such as the hardships experienced by children and their loved ones,” said Michele Sumilas, assistant to the Administrator in the Bureau for Policy, Planning, and Learning (PPL) at USAID, which leads implementation of the new Global Child Thrive Act, which requires U.S. government policy to support early childhood development in relevant foreign assistance programs.

The 2021 Children’s Budget tracks domestic and international spending on children, including both mandatory and discretionary funding across twelve federal departments and numerous agencies and bureaus. This is the second year the book tracks international resources supporting kids, and this year newly captures pandemic aid and adds three refundable tax credits for the first time: the Child Tax Credit, the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, and the Earned Income Tax Credit.

The report is made possible by the generous support of the Wellspring Philanthropic Fund, Oak Foundation, GHR Foundation, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. First Focus on Children also receives critical support on behalf of children from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

Watch the full livestream