Thank you for Thinking Babies in 2023
ZERO TO THREE’s State of Babies Yearbook: 2023, released earlier this year, provides a comprehensive look into the health and well-being of the 11 million babies in the United States. While Yearbook data underscores the continued need for bold action to help every baby realize their potential, the report’s findings also reveal the impact that parents, providers and advocates can have on Capitol Hill and in state capitals when they raise their voices to urge policymakers to prioritize babies.
As we look back on 2023, we’re thrilled to highlight the Top Ten Policy Wins for babies:
- Presidential Leadership for early care and education. President Biden and his administration have been vocal champions of expanding access to child care, working with Congress to invest $3 billion in early care and education programs including $2 billion in the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) in the current year’s budget. The President proposed $16 billion in supplemental funding for child care after the expiration of pandemic-era relief funds. The Administration’s proposed 2024 budget calls for $400 billion over ten years for a comprehensive program that would increase early childhood educators’ compensation, as well as enable states to increase child care options for more than 16 million young children and lower costs for parents.
President Biden’s support does not end with funding. In April, he signed an executive order directing nearly every Cabinet-level agency to use existing funds and programs to expand access to child care and provide support for care workers and family caregivers. For the first time ever, the Child Care Access Means Parents in Schools Program (CCAMPIS) will invite applicants to consider the quality of child care services they provide, including considerations around the compensation received by early educators. New proposed rules for the Child Care Development Fund would bring about a variety of changes to lower the costs of child care for families, improve child care provider payments and practices, streamline the eligibility and enrollment process for families. And, in November, the Administration proposed a new rule to ensure Head Start remains the gold standard for early care and education across America.
- Bipartisan introduction of the Strengthening America’s Families Act (SAFA). SAFA will support work in states and localities to transform child welfare policy and practice through community-based Infant-Toddler Court Teams (ITCTs), which prioritize prevention and offer services that recognize the cyclical nature of family trauma and the unique developmental needs of infants and toddlers.
- State expansion of paid leave. States and localities have taken the lead in expanding paid leave to allow families to care for an infant or for a family member’s serious health condition. Maine and Minnesota both adopted new legislation providing leave to bond with a child, address a serious health condition or care for a family member. In Illinois, the governor signed the Paid Leave for All Workers Act, guaranteeing five days of paid time off per year to all employees in the state, while Chicago adopted a measure expanding paid leave to individuals working or living in the city. In Texas, a paid leave policy for state employees took effect in September. Today, 15 states, including the District of Columbia, have adopted paid family and/or medical leave. Efforts to continue expanding paid leave continue to grow throughout the country.
- State adoption of Medicaid postpartum coverage extension. Medicaid, which covers about 40% of births nationally, is critical to ensuring that postpartum individuals with moderate to low income can access the care they need. Forty-one states have implemented 12-month Medicaid postpartum coverage, with five additional states in the planning stage to do so, as the result of federal policy changes to allow the expansion. These efforts help families potentially facing a variety of health challenges, including mental health disorders, pain and complications that began or worsened during pregnancy or childbirth.
- State adoption of Child Tax Credits. The 2021 expansion of the federal Child Tax Credit enhancements adopted during the pandemic lifted 2.9 million children out of poverty. Although this important measure expired, states have stepped up. In 2023, three states, Minnesota, Oregon and Vermont, passed bills to expand tax credits to help families with their bills and other expenses. Minnesota’s new law establishes a statewide Child Tax Credit of $1,725 per child.
- Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health (IECMH) in the states. Several states have advanced prevention and treatment services to support the mental and relational health and well-being of babies, young children and their caregivers. Colorado passed SB23-174 to provide young children with more timely access to needed mental health services, without requiring a diagnosis prior to service. Utah’s Medicaid department shortened the clinical authorization process that supports IECMH service approval from months to days. Georgia developed plans to expand access to and capacity to deliver IECMH services. These and other states participated in ZERO TO THREE’s IECMH Financing Policy Project. A ZTT paper highlighted states efforts using pandemic funds to advance IECMH and strengthen systems for babies and families.
- The Congressional Dads Caucus. U.S. Representatives Jimmy Gomez, Rashida Tlaib, Joaquin Castro, Andy Kim, Jamaal Bowman, Rob Menendez, Dan Goldman and Joe Neguse launched the Congressional Dads Caucus to support working families. The new caucus joined the Congressional Mamas’ Caucus and the Congressional Baby Caucus to support a briefing on Babies in the Budget, a new report from ZERO TO THREE and First Focus for Children that documents federal underspending on infants and toddlers.
- Raising awareness of the impact of climate change on babies. Seventy-nine percent of parents with babies are worried about climate change’s impact on their kids, but few know what to do about it. This year, the Early Years Climate Action Task Force, which includes ZERO TO THREE Chief Policy Officer Miriam Calderón, produced a landmark report, Flourishing Children, Healthy Communities and a Stronger Nation: The U.S. Early Years Climate Action Plan.
- Continuous Medicaid coverage for young children gains ground. On January 1, 2024, all states will have to ensure a year of Medicaid and CHIP coverage for children. But states are starting to take bolder steps for babies and young children. As of September 2023, Oregon and Washington had received and New Mexico had applied for waivers to extend continuous coverage until age 6. Requiring continuous coverage for all children until the age of 6 would enable the monitoring and treatment of children throughout early childhood.
- Babies and advocates return to Washington, DC. On June 21, babies from all 50 states and DC delivered a message to Congress: make babies a national priority by investing in what they need to thrive. Strolling Thunder™ families held 145 meetings with Congressional offices, including 19 meetings with elected officials. The sounds of “Wheels on the Bus” reverberated through the halls of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building as families met with senior White House officials.
Thank you for all the ways you act as a major voice for babies and toddlers in your communities and in advancing policy. We look forward to working alongside you in the new year!