Policy Resource

President’s Budget Checks Off Boxes in Baby Policy Growth Chart

Feb 18, 2015

To see how the President’s proposals measure up for babies, we checked them against some of the major elements of ZERO TO THREE’s baby policy agenda—essentially a growth chart of policies that help support families as they support their children’s earliest development.

President Obama’s ambitious FY 2016 budget plan checks off many of the boxes in an essential baby policy growth chart. By adding several family-oriented pieces to the Preschool-for-All agenda laid out previously, the President now has an extensive array of children and family proposals. New this year is a bold plan for substantial investments in child care—one of the missing links in earlier proposals.

One of the most important aspects of the budget isn’t directed specifically at babies, but would make a huge difference for programs that support their healthy development. To make room for these investments, the President would throw off the yoke of austerity that has exacerbated the erosion of funding for families and children over the past few years. The budget would repeal the sequester and raise domestic spending beyond the current severe cap. These changes would be funded largely through tax reforms.

To see how the President’s proposals measure up for babies, we checked them against some of the major elements of ZERO TO THREE’s baby policy agenda—essentially a growth chart of policies that help support families as they support their children’s earliest development.

Help parents support their children’s early development (Paid Family Leave and Home Visiting):

The budget checks off these key supports that recognize the powerful role parents play from the start in promoting strong early development. It would:

  • Provide $2 billion to encourage states to develop Paid Family Leave (PFL) programs. We believe a national approach, such as that in the FAMILY Act, would be more efficient and equitable, but appreciate that the President is supporting PFL in a major way.
  • Extend and expand the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program, as in previous budgets, proposing to invest $15 billion over 10 years.

The President also has endorsed legislation providing paid sick days for workers and urged Congress to provide PFL for federal workers.

Expand comprehensive early development and learning opportunities (Early Head Start and child care):

The budget’s biggest—and most welcome—surprise was a dramatic proposed increase for child care for low-income working families. This new piece is the missing link in the President’s early childhood education agenda and is critical for infants and toddlers. 6 million children under age three spend a good portion of their day in the care of someone other than their parents. Good quality child care is expensive and scarce, out of reach of many families whose children could benefit. The budget would:

  • Invest steadily in child care for low-income families by pumping $82 billion over 10 years in mandatory funding through the Child Care Development Fund CCDF). By 2025, all families with young children and an income at or below 200% of poverty would have access to child care subsidies. Additional discretionary funds would help pay for implementation of the recent Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) reauthorization and provide grants to improve child care for parents who work non-traditional hours.
  • Triple the value of the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit to $3,000 per child for families with children under age five and expand it so that most middle-income families could use it to the fullest. However, the tax credit remains non-refundable, meaning families without tax liability could not take advantage of it (making the CCDF investment that much more important).
  • Increase funds for expanding Early Head Start (EHS), including through the EHS-Child Care Partnerships, to $650 million from $500 million annually, to improve access to quality programs for families living below the poverty line.
  • Reiterate the Preschool-for-All proposal, investing $75 billion over 10 years to provide access to quality PreK for all 4 year-olds living at or below 200% of poverty; and provide funding to expand Head Start programs to full-day, full school-year.

Better identify and address developmental needs from the start (Part C/Early Intervention):

Reaching the goal of school readiness for all children means ensuring that developmental delays and disabilities are identified and addressed as early as possible. Previous budgets have included only small increases or none at all for programs that fund early intervention for infants and toddlers and preschool programs for children with disabilities. That changed somewhat this year, as the budget proposed to:

  • Increase funds for infants and toddlers under Part C of IDEA by $65 million. $15 million of these funds could be used for “Pay for Success” grants (i.e., social impact bonds) for projects that expand screening and services for at-risk infants and toddlers who do not otherwise meet the eligibility criteria for Part C services as set by the states. Under this model, private investors provide the capital necessary to expand or create promising programs in exchange for performance-based payments tied to the achievement of targeted outcomes.
  • Increase funds for preschool grants for children with disabilities by $50 million.
  • One part of our baby agenda is more widespread developmental screening to ensure the earliest detection of delays or disabilities. While not a focus of the budget, the Department of Health and Human Services promotes such screening through its Birth to Five, Watch Me Thrive initiative. In addition, the new CCDBG reauthorization requires states to provide information to parents on developmental screening and how to access it.

While not huge increases, it is good to see these underfunded programs receive more attention. We believe there are many children who do not meet state Part C eligibility criteria who could benefit from early intervention services, and have seen encouraging results from projects with this objective. However, in the absence of a comprehensive plan for meeting the needs of all children with developmental delays or disabilities, the Pay for Success proposal raises concerns about using Part C funds for this purpose.

Instill a developmental approach to child welfare:

Infants and toddlers are the most vulnerable to abuse and neglect and comprise the largest group of children entering foster care. Maltreatment and the multiple risk factors that often accompany it increase the likelihood of developmental harm. ZERO TO THREE advocates using a developmental approach to supporting infants, toddlers, and their caregivers within child welfare. The budget contains proposals that could assist in creating this developmental lens by:

  • Spending $586 million in mandatory funds over 10 years to prevent a child from entering or re-entering foster care.
  • Reauthorizing and rewriting the Abandoned Infants Assistance Program, created several decades ago to respond to the boarder baby crisis, to become the Protecting Abandoned and At Risk Infants and Toddlers program to better respond to families’ needs and recognize the importance of this population.

Taken as a whole, the budget’s proposals provide a comprehensive vision of improving the likelihood that young children can reach their potential. Checking off boxes on our baby policy growth chart is one thing; making these ambitious proposals a reality is another. Certainly, the President’s budget is not being embraced whole-heartedly on Capitol Hill. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t areas where there might be some agreement, starting with the child care tax credit for middle-income families. The key is to take individual pieces and find champions who will help turn a policy growth chart into a real boost for meeting early development milestones.

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