First Focus Calls for Greater Investment in Children at Children’s Budget Summit – Say Ahhh! A Children’s Health Policy Blog

(Editor’s Note: This week, more than 300 children’s
advocates, White House staff, Members of Congress, and researchers gathered for the third national
Budget Summit
hosted by First Focus.  The summit drew attention to the overall declining share of the federal
budget dedicated to programs that benefit children, at a time when children
need support more than ever. Following is a blog by First Focus President Bruce Lesley highlighting key points made at the summit.  It was originally posted on Huffington Post.)

By Bruce Lesley, First Focus

Two new important but disturbing reports, Children’s
Budget 2011
by First Focus and Kids’ Share 2011 by the Brookings Institution
and the Urban Institute, were released today. Although the reports show a
temporary increase in federal support for children in federal funding in 2009
and 2010, the long-term trend is a troubling one, as the share of federal
funding for children dropped by nearly 10 percent in 2011 and will continue on
a sharp downward trajectory so that federal payments for interest on the debt
alone will exceed funding for all children’s programs by 2014.

As author Eugene Steuerle of the Urban Institute notes:


 society reveals its preferences in the way it budgets.
Right now, the federal government would spend over $1 trillion more in 2020
than in 2010, and kids in the aggregate would get none of it. In fact, they
would get less than they do today.”

There is no question that tough times call for tough
measures, but reducing spending on child health, education and early childhood,
child nutrition, and foster care supports is not the way to solve our budget
and deficit problems, particularly since the recent recession has had a
devastating impact on families with children. As reported by CBS anchor Scott
Pelley on 60 Minutes:

“…it is estimated that the poverty rate for kids in this
country will soon hit 25 percent…[T]hese children will be the largest
generation to be raised in hard times since the Great Depression.”

The American people recognize the crisis facing America’s
children. By a nearly 3-to-1 margin (58-20%), American voters believe that the
lives of children have become worse rather than better over the last ten years,
as key indicators of child well-being continue to decline. Americans are deeply
concerned that the generation growing up today will not have the same
opportunities they had to lead a happy, healthy, and prosperous life. And when
Americans no longer believe in the American Dream, it is time to reclaim our
heritage and national focus and to return to some fundamental basics.

Again, if only our political leaders would listen to the
American people, who want our nation’s deficit to be addressed but oppose
balancing the budget on the backs of children. While a number of politicians
have gone on the offensive to protect tax breaks for corporate jets, oil
companies, and ethanol subsidies, Americans believe children should be a
priority in the federal budget process. When provided a list of potential cuts
to the budget, voters firmly and overwhelmingly reject the idea of making major
federal budget cuts to K-12 education, child nutrition, the Children’s Health
Insurance Program (CHIP), Medicaid, Head Start, and student loans, as was
included in House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget proposal. Even
if our political leaders don’t seem to get it, the American people understand
that cutting programs for low income and other vulnerable children will not
only hurt the next generation, such cuts will increase our long term costs, as
well as damage our economic and global competitiveness.

By more than a 2-to-1 margin, voters support increased
revenue options, such as eliminating corporate tax loopholes, federal subsidies
to corporations, subsides for oil companies, and raising taxes on those earning
over $1 million a year. Unfortunately, despite the public’s overwhelming
support to protect the best interests of children, the resources for programs
that serve them are still being threatened by our nation’s often dysfunctional
budget process. Just this year, children’s programs received a series of cuts
in the budget process the share of the federal budget dedicated to children
dropped from 9.2% to 8.4%.

Fortunately, there is precedent in our country for when
children were a national priority. In 1991, Congress and the country responded
to the report issued by the National Commission on Children and took a series
of actions that improved the lives of children, including a significant
expansion of the Child Tax Credit in 1993, which in combination with the
economic recovery in the mid-1990s reduced child poverty, and the passage of
CHIP in 1997, which has cut the uninsured rate for children by more than half
for children living in households below 200% of the poverty level. It should be
noted that CHIP was established in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, which made
significant cuts to balance the federal budget and created subsequent budget
surpluses. In short, Congress made children a priority, even in tough times,
and the result was significant progress in outcomes for children.


re recently, when President Barack Obama took office,
the second bill he signed into law was the Children’s Health Insurance Program
Reauthorization Act. This was followed by significant new investments in
education, early childhood, and child nutrition. In fact, the President’s
fiscal year 2010 budget proposal was unprecedented in modern times for making
children a national priority, as he proposed a significant increase in support
for children’s programs. These increases would have completely restored the
loss in the federal share of spending that children had experienced since 2005,
but Congress failed to enact them.

Instead of making children a priority, some have argued
that everything needs to be on the table, including critical children’s
programs. But, haven’t children paid enough for the economic mistakes of
grown-ups? And, if they are going to be responsible for paying off the debt we
leave them, shouldn’t they be well prepared and able to lead prosperous,
productive, and healthy lives and be able to pay for the obligations and
commitments we have made to previous generations in terms of Social Security
and Medicare?

It’s in our nation’s best interest to raise the most
healthy, most educated, best-prepared children in the world for the challenges
that lie ahead. And to do that, we must get back to some basic fundamentals in
our country. First and foremost, that means protecting the health and safety of
our nation’s children, protecting them from harsh economic times, and helping
them develop their full God-given potential. America should be at the top of
the list of industrialized nations in the health and safety of its children,
not at the bottom. And no child in this country should ever go hungry. It’s
time we reduce child poverty, make the tax system fair for working and middle
class families, and help working people who’ve lost their jobs through no fault
of their own avoid having their homes foreclosed and their children left
homeless. Getting back to basics also means making sure that our nation is
leading the world again in the percentage of kids who go on to college, not the
percent who drop out of high school.

Our children are our future and we simply cannot afford
to fail them. It truly doesn’t get any more basic than that.

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