Policy Resource

When Babies Must Share the Burden

Jun 27, 2011

Deficit reduction negotiations are moving to a higher level this week. President Obama is getting more directly involved in hopes of securing an agreement that will permit passage of legislation to raise the debt ceiling and avert a U.S. default on its debt.

There are efforts to put revenue increases into the mix of deficit reduction ingredients, and there may be some give on reducing defense spending.

Regardless, broad cuts to domestic programs, including entitlement programs such as Medicaid, are still part of the recipe, with a lot of talk about the need to “share the burden” of cuts. In high level talks, the true impact of such cuts is easily lost. A coalition of human services organizations is working to protect programs for low-income families and individuals, where absorbing cuts means doing without basic needs. What does it mean when babies, especially, are asked to share the burden of lowering the deficit?

When babies share the burden…

More will be born too soon and too small.

Two of every five births in the U.S. are to women on Medicaid. Programs such as the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant and Community Health Centers help many low income women and their children find health care providers. Less access to prenatal care most likely means more preterm and low birthweight births.

  • In 2005, the Institute of Medicine estimated that preterm births cost society at least $26.2 billion annually, or $51,000 for every preterm infant. Considering special education costs associated with the disabilities more common among preterm infants another $2,200 per infant—or $53,200 total.
  • Low birthweight children are 30 percent less likely to be in excellent or very good health in childhood. They also score significantly lower on reading, passage comprehension, and math achievement tests.

More will go hungry.

Programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and WIC help pregnant women and young children get the food they need for healthy development.

  • A lack of nutritious food during pregnancy increases the risk of low birth weight babies; infant mortality; cleft palate; spina bifida; brain, neural, and physical defects; and adverse effects on long-term health, growth, and developmental trajectories.
  • Infants and toddlers in food insecure households are at greater risk of damaging effects in the areas of brain and cognitive development in the perinatal period, school readiness, and physical, mental, and social development.

Fewer will have a place to call home.

Housing assistance helps vulnerable families find a stable living situation, also critical for the healthy development of young children. Homelessness places young children at particular risk.

  • Young children who experience housing instability are more likely to have health problems and developmental delays than their stably housed counterparts.
  • Homeless children experience more illness, toxic stress, developmental delays, anxiety and depression, and behavioral problems than low-income housed children.

Fewer will be ready for school.

Early Head Start, high quality child care, and Part C Early Intervention Services help low-income infants and toddlers have more positive early learning experiences and close the developmental gaps they face early in life.

  • Low-income infants and toddlers are at greater risk than middle- to high-income infants and toddlers for a variety of poorer outcomes and vulnerabilities, such as later school failure, learning disabilities, behavior problems, mental retardation, developmental delay, and health impairments.
  • Children without nurturing relationships with parents and other caregivers find interacting with people and objects in the environment more difficult and have greater challenges in their early learning experiences.
  • A child’s development can be seriously compromised by a disability or developmental delay or by environmental influences, such as exposure to toxins, extreme poverty, malnutrition, substance abuse, child abuse and neglect, community or family violence, or poor quality child care. Early Head Start has positive impacts on cognitive and language development and increases positive interactions between parents and children.
  • High quality child care can have positive effects that endure into the early adult years, particularly for children from the poorest home environments.
  • Author

    Patricia A. Cole

    Senior Director of Federal Policy


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