Policy Resource

How the Sequester is Affecting Young Children

Apr 18, 2013

When the across-the-board cuts of sequestration went into effect on March 1, the lack of immediate effects led many to shrug it off as much ado about nothing or at least resolve to grit their teeth and bear it.

But the cuts aren’t so much a one-time catastrophe as a creeping disease. Their impact is beginning to be palpable and will only grow as time goes by. Many people will be affected, whether it’s traveling further to catch a plane or losing a job paid for with federal dollars. Some impacts will be inconveniences, while others will be much more dire.

From time to time, the Baby Policy Blog focuses on what it means when babies share the burden of reducing our budget deficit. Today, we highlight the sequester’s effect so far on programs that provide services for vulnerable young children and their families. Here are some examples:

Head Start/Early Head Start (EHS):

Programs have discretion in deciding how to absorb their cuts. Many will try to postpone the effects until the next program year. However, with the cuts magnified because they must be packed into the second half of the federal fiscal year, some programs must take steps immediately and all must be looking ahead. Some specific examples on how the cuts have started to take effect:

  • A program in Washington County, Arkansas, decided to end its Head Start program 3 weeks early this spring, and close its Early Head Start program 2 weeks early. By next fall, the program likely will have to cut the number of children served by 8%.
  • For some children, the impact was abrupt. At least three Indiana Head Start programs had to reduce their enrollments right away, using random drawings to determine which children would not be returning the following week. The Bartholomew County program also will lose twelve Early Head Start slots, but some of this reduction may be mitigated by attrition.
  • Head Start programs in four Iowa counties will be shutting down for 12 days this year to absorb the cuts. The director of the agency that oversees the programs described these actions as “furloughing babies and preschoolers from the classroom.” The impact on the young children will be obvious, but what of their parents? ### What’s at stake: Infants and toddlers who participate in Early Head Start show positive impacts in cognitive and language development and engagement with their parents in a way which supports lifelong learning. Research shows that children who attended EHS followed by formal Pre-K programs such as Head Start had the most positive outcomes.

Child Care:

The cuts’ impact on child care subsidized through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) is harder to pinpoint, because the states have discretion over how they adjust to federal funding changes. But a few red flags have been raised:

  • The $3 million in sequestration cuts for CCDBG in Arizona has created a budget shortfall that may make securing a large increase the Governor proposed for Child Protective Services and jeopardize child care for about 1,000 children.
  • The YWCA in the El Paso, Texas region, which has about 1,520 children on its waiting list, has frozen enrollment for the CCDBG program. ### What’s at stake: 63% of mothers with infants are in the workforce. Child care costs eat into low-income families’ budgets. Losing a subsidy may make work impossible or leave children in less than optimal care. Quality child care not only enables parents to work, but has positive effects on cognitive, language, and social emotional development in young children, helping them become ready for school.

Housing Rental Assistance Program:

Stable housing is a critical part of the environmental supports babies need for healthy development. State and local housing agencies are already moving to reduce the number of families receiving assistance, but are not always able to do so through attrition.

  • The Housing Authority of New Orleans, which has over 13,000 people on its waiting list, rescinded 700 recently-issued housing vouchers.
  • In California, the LA County Housing Authority has halted issuance of 300 potential vouchers and is seeking authority to require low-income tenants to pay more towards their rent to avoid cutting 500 more vouchers. ### What’s at stake: Young children whose families receive housing subsidies are less likely to go hungry or be underweight for their age and more likely to be in good health than children whose families are not receiving subsidies, according to a Children’s HealthWatch study. The impacts of homelessness on young children can be devastating.

Currently people in Washington are focusing on the President’s budget, due out this Wednesday (April 10), the start of the fiscal year 2014 appropriations cycle, and the next debt ceiling debate. If we are ever to have a chance of restoring some of the cuts or at least preventing additional cuts to discretionary funds built into future budgets, we must be sentinels for young children and their families and keep track of how they are faring with the cuts.

You can help. Most information on the impact of sequestration so far has come from the media. As the cuts slowly—but with increasing impact—take effect, the press could lose interest. It is important to keep documenting the human costs of this deficit reduction measure. If you know of a program or service for young children and their families that is being adversely affected by the federal across-the-board cuts, please send this information to policycenter@zerotothree.org.

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