Seemingly every week or month, there is new research about how poorly children are faring in the United States. In a New York Times op-ed last week “The Kids Are (Not) All Right,” Charles Blow highlighted a report from Unicef – “Child Well-Being in Rich Countries.” The United States ranks the worst among wealthy nations for child well-being and ranks particularly poorly on child poverty, being overweight, and “life satisfaction.”
Meanwhile, President Obama released his proposed 2014 federal budget earlier this month. First Focus, a bipartisan national children’s advocacy organization, determined the President’s proposal prioritizes investments in children. Specifically, the President’s budget invests an additional $9.1 billion in children overall compared to the 2013 federal fiscal year. According to First Focus’s analysis, discretionary spending (spending not required by legal obligations like Social Security payments or interest payments on the national debt) in the President’s budget allocates 7.2 percent to children’s initiatives.
The President’s budget maintains critical investments in children’s nutrition, health, and anti-poverty tax credits, according to First Focus. The Senate and House also have their own budgets as well. It is now up to the House Budget Committee Chairman (Rep. Paul Ryan) and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman (Sen. Patty Murray) to work toward a joint resolution between the different budgets that takes into account the President’s proposal. This will be difficult because the budget proposals are so different. Here are some of the comparisons First Focus makes between the President’s, Senate, and House budgets:
- Children’s health: the President’s budget protects the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Medicaid, which provide health care for millions of children. The House budget turns Medicaid into a block grant. Instead of paying a fixed share of Kentucky’s Medicaid cost, the House budget plan proposes give states a set dollar amount that would not increase based on need, but on the general inflation rate. The resulting cuts would compromise care for children, and eliminates the Affordable Care Act’s protections for CHIP.
- Child nutrition: The President’s budget and the Senate budget protect the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), both critical child nutrition lifelines. The House budget leaves across-the-board budget cuts from sequestration in place for WIC and turns SNAP into a block grant. Like a Medicaid block grant, a block grant for SNAP would give each state a fixed amount of money without accounting for current need. This would prevent the program from effectively assisting families during periods of economic hardship, like the recent recession when Congress increased funding for SNAP to meet the increase in need.
- Education and other non-defense discretionary investments: Like the Senate budget, the President’s budget largely protects the “non-defense discretionary” component of the federal budget, which includes education, housing, child abuse and neglect prevention and response, child care, and other critical initiatives for children. The House budget extends sequestration cuts to such investments and expands their impact on children by more than $100 billion over 10 years.
- Anti-Poverty Tax Credits: The President’s and the Senate budget make permanent improvements to the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit. Those improved tax credits will lift more than five million children out of poverty every year. The House budget also incorporates those improvements but allows them to expire in 2017.
Mr. Blow ends his op-ed with the following:
“We hear so much about what we’re leaving behind for future generations, but not nearly enough about how we are failing them today. It is a failure of parenting, a failure of society, a failure of politicians. We need smart and courageous parenting, as well as policies that invest time and money, love and understanding in our children.”
The President’s budget is a good move toward Mr. Blow’s vision of policies that invest time and money in our children. But he’s right to point out it isn’t just policies that impact children – we as advocates, parents, grandparents, caregivers, educators, health providers – all have a responsibility to provide children with a foundation that will prepare them for a healthy, successful future. Realizing not every child receives this kind of love and support – policies and investments in programs are invaluable for ensuring children start on a level playing ground.