Children’s Budget Marks the End of ARRA

Danielle Evennou
July 30, 2013

Was the Kennedy Caucus Room half empty or half full? The unoccupied seats at First Focus’ annual Children’s Budget Summit reflect the reality of Congress. It’s markup time (when Members debate their annual spending bills), which makes it difficult to get the attention of folks on Capitol Hill. However, the lean crowd of dedicated staffers highlights the importance of First Focus’ Children’s Budget 2013 in shaping federal spending.

Bruce Lesley, President of First Focus, reports that one in every five children in America lives poverty and 6.3 million children are living with an unemployed parent. The 2013 report reflects the wind down of the infusion of resources from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and the start of sequestration. Today we spend 7.8 of our nation’s budget on children and youth. That’s down 16 percent from its peak in 2010.

Sequestration is particularly problematic for young people, who are more often served by discretionary dollars.

We can change course. Lesley points to the recent success of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in reducing the number of uninsured kids in America from 15.9 percent to 6.6 percent. He also discussed the UK’s concerted effort substantially cut its child poverty during the recession.

Investing in kids is not a donkey or an elephant issue. Lesley shares research that shows voters on both sides of the aisle believe children’s programs should be a priority, even despite the need to balance our budget. “Eighty-two percent of voters strongly believe in the message that ‘supporting our children is just the right thing to do,’” Lesley reports.

First Focus honored former Congressman and Governor of Delaware Mike Castle (R-DE) with a lifetime achievement award. “I bet everyone in this room grew up with someone who cared about them,” says Governor Castle. In his remarks, Gov. Castle emphasizes importance of investing in early childhood programs. He also described the “multiplier effect” of preparing young people to successfully enter the workforce. Investing in young people today saves government money in the future.

The challenge is getting Congress to take the long view of up-front investment for the future of children.

From the administration, First Focus honored Roberto Rodriguez, Special Assistant to the President for Education and member of the Domestic Policy Council. Rodriguez recaps that since taking office, 6,100 new children have been enrolled in Head Start and children and all 50 states have access to home visiting services.

That's a step in the right direction, but is it enough for advocates to be satisfied?

Rodriguez spoke to the President’s Preschool for All initiative, which seeks to provide all four-year-olds from low and moderate income households with high-quality preschool. This is an opportunity to “do something very big for our youngest children,” says Rodriguez. The proposal, unveiled during the State of the Union, would be paid for with a new 94 cent per pack cigarette tax. For Rodriguez, it’s a reminder that “we can and must do better” for our young people.

Danielle Evennou is policy manager with the Forum for Youth Investment, and a poet. You can reach her at Danielle[@]

The Forum is SparkAction's managing partner.