Yesterday’s announcement by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was a move in the right direction towards helping children. The Senate Leader predicted that fiscal year 2016 fiscal negotiations will likely raise the sequester-level non-defense discretionary budget caps. Discretionary spending for children fell 6.9 percent since 2011 as a result of caps, including a nearly 20 percent reduction in education spending. If nothing is done, the non-defense side of the discretionary budget, which includes the lion’s share of children’s initiatives, will decline to 3.1 percent of GDP — the lowest level in at least 50 years.

Leader McConnell’s remarks come on the heels of longstanding demands by Senate Democrats and the White House to raise the discretionary caps and end sequestration.  Senate Democrats have refused to support appropriations legislation that stick to these caps, which has been backed by President Obama who has said many times he will veto such measures. It has also been a point of advocacy by many organizations. As a Steering Committee Member of NDD United, First Focus participated in NDD United’s Raise the Caps event on Capitol Hill that highlighted a letter signed by 2,500 national, state, and local organizations urging Congress to end sequestration and raise non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending. In August, First Focus also engaged more than a dozen organizations on a sign on letter calling on Congress to lift non-defense discretionary caps to a level on par with defense spending.

With so much at stake for children, First Focus joined NDD United in response to the Budget Control Act of 2011 that placed caps on federal spending for all discretionary programs through 2021 and set the stage for sequestration starting in 2013. Responding to advocacy efforts, Senator Patty Murray and Congressman Paul Ryan reached an agreement to partially and temporarily patch sequestration for fiscal years (FY) 2014 and 2015 under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013. The First Focus Campaign for Children supports bipartisan efforts in Congress to raise the discretionary caps and ensure that for every dollar of sequestration relief granted to defense, non-defense discretionary must receive at least one dollar of relief.

While we wait for action to address the Budget Control Act and raise the caps, the more immediate focus is a Continuing Resolution (CR), in advance of October 1, to prevent a government shutdown. A short term CR would allow the government to function with funding levels for defense and NDD at fiscal year 2015 levels, buying time for Congress to address FY 2016 appropriations spending plans. If there is no resolution, a long-term CR is not a solution for children. As our August letter to congressional leadership details, a long-term CR it would lock in low sequestration funding levels that do not meet the needs of families and children, particularly in education, housing and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Woman, Infants, and Children, which fall squarely in the non-defense discretionary category. It also puts at risk funding increases included in individual FY 2016 appropriations bills passed to date. For example, bipartisan efforts in congressional appropriations committees resulted in increases to “Impact Aid” education funding, public housing (41 percent of which benefits children), and Head Start.

We urge Congress to consider fiscal action on the CR and discretionary spending that protects children from deeper budget cuts and invests in our nation’s future.

Fiscal Outlook: Moving in the Right Direction for Kids >> v/ @Campaign4Kids Voices for Kids Blog #InvestInKids
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Want to learn more? First Focus Campaign for Children is a bipartisan organization advocating to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. Read more about our work on children in the federal budget.

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