Policy Resource

Spending on Children on Downward Slide

Jul 18, 2012

Funding decisions for programs important to young children crept forward last week as a House Appropriations Subcommittee approved Fiscal Year 2013 spending for key programs for children and families.

The measure, which covers programs in the Department of Health and Human Services as well as Education, provides $8.8 billion less than the companion Senate measure reported earlier this month. The Senate bill adhered to the spending levels included in last summers’ Budget Control Act. The House total of $150 billion represents a $6.3 billion cut from 2012 levels.

These deeper cuts were not applied across the board. On the one hand the bill would give modest increases to two early care and learning programs, while on the other it seeks to roll back health care reform and education innovation. Child care would receive a $25 million increase, and Head Start/Early Head Start funding would rise by $45 million.

Funding levels for many programs that affect children won’t be known until the full House Appropriations Committee reports the bill out with detailed tables, possibly this week. We do know that funds would be cut for child welfare, substance abuse and mental health, and the Race to the Top education program.

In an attempt to block implementation of health care reform, the bill would call back, or rescind, Fiscal Year 2012 funding for several parts of the Affordable Care Act, including a fund to promote prevention measures. Funds for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program appear to have been left untouched. Final decisions are many months down the road. Congress almost certainly will not reach agreement on this most contentious bill before the federal fiscal year begins on October 1.

Regardless of how final Fiscal Year 2013 spending levels are resolved, a report issued by the Urban Institute last week clearly shows federal investments in children on a downward trajectory. Using three different measures, Kids’ Share 2012 found that spending on children fell from 2010 to 2011: actual spending dropped $2 billion, children’s share of the budget pie shrank from 10.7% to 10.4%, and the share of total economic output (Gross Domestic Product or GDP) contracted from 2.6% to 2.5%.

While these reductions may seem small, consider that the era of tight budgets and spending cuts—as exemplified in the House bill described above—makes meaningful increased investment in children unlikely. And that is exactly what the Kids’ Share report forecasts: total federal spending on children is projected to fall another 4% just between 2011 and 2012.

The picture beyond 2012 is even more disturbing. Using the Congressional Budget Office’s budgetary policy assumptions, the report projects that by 2022, the kids’ share of the budget will drop to 8%, while their share of GDP will drop to 1.9%. During this time, federal spending will actually increase by $1 trillion, but children’s spending will not grow, except for health care. Education and early education—the target for much investment through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)—will see the most dramatic drop as those stimulus funds become a distant memory and discretionary funding shrinks because of budget caps and funding cuts.

Never has the need to invest in our children been greater. Today in America, one in four infants and toddlers lives in a family with income below the federal poverty line. The Washington Post reported today that child poverty is expected to show an increase when the new numbers come out in September. We know that poverty in the earliest years has the most profound effect, with the power to limit human potential that our country desperately needs to remain strong.

Members of Congress will be home from August 3rd through Labor Day and, like the Presidential candidates, they will be out on the stump asking for your vote. This is a good opportunity for children’s advocates to let candidates know that investing in children’s development has to be a priority when making budget decisions. Fiscal responsibility cannot ignore the need to invest in future generations.

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