New Era of Austerity Has a Few Bright Spots for Babies
As Congress worked in a tough budget environment to finalize spending for 2011, children’s champions in the Administration and Congress helped give a lift to early care and education programs.
This bright spot in an overall gloomy landscape is due in no small part to the tireless efforts and many voices of advocates for babies, toddlers, and young children. While the gains fall short of our goals, they are notable in a bill that signals a new era of austerity, with spending levels that are $37.6 billion below 2010 levels and $78.5 billion below the President’s 2011 budget request.
Details of the agreement, which will be voted on by the House and Senate and is expected to pass in the next few days, include:
- A $340 million increase for Head Start and Early Head Start over 2010. This funding will be enough to allow the additional children who received services through the expansion funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to continue in the program. This is an important step for babies. Thanks to the ARRA funds, Early Head Start enrollment almost doubled, so losing the new programs would have been a grave setback.
- A $100 million increase for the Child Care and Development Block Grant over 2010, which will sustain a small portion of the gains under ARRA. The infant-toddler quality set-aside will receive a $5 million increase to $104 million from the pre-ARRA level of $99.5 million.
- A new initiative within the Department of Education’s Race To the Top program for competitive grants to states to improve their early care and education systems. This initiative contains the essence of the Administration’s proposed Early Learning Challenge Fund, including collaborative administration with the Department of Health and Human Services and a goal of increasing the percentage of low-income children in high-quality early learning programs. This percentage would be calculated for each age group—infants, toddlers, and preschoolers—so that access to high quality services for very young children would be highlighted and tracked.
- $30 million for Promise Neighborhoods, tripling its current funding, to design and implement comprehensive community-wide approaches to improving the development and education of children.
- Decrease of $504 million in funding for the Supplemental Nutrition for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
- Elimination of Even Start and Striving Readers, which was altered last year to include children from birth through grade 12.
- A 0.2 percent across-the-board cut will be applied to all non-security discretionary programs.
Moving on to the 2012 Budget: Holding on to these gains took a lot of hard work and perseverance. Infant-toddler advocates now need to show their staying power and focus on the FY 2012 budget. This week, the House will also be considering the 2012 Budget Resolution (not to be confused with the Continuing Resolution that will finalize funding for 2011) approved by the Budget Committee last week. This blueprint for federal spending over the next 10 years would radically redesign and cut programs for low-income individuals, placing vulnerable infants and toddlers at even greater risk. Join a national call-in effort and urge your Representative to vote NO on the House Budget Resolution.
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Senator Murray receives the award for making babies and young children a national priority.