Policy Resource

Once Again, What It Means When Babies Must Share the Burden

May 18, 2012

The House of Representatives voted today to slash several entitlement programs important to low-income families and individuals.

The Sequester Replacement and Reconciliation Act of 2012 (H.R. 5652) also shredded last year’s agreement on discretionary spending levels for domestic and defense programs, cutting spending for FY 2013 by an additional $19 billion. The ostensible purpose of this bill is to replace the automatic sequester, or across-the-board cut, included in the deficit reduction/debt ceiling agreement last summer as an inducement to the “Super Committee” to find additional budget savings. In reality, it shifts deficit reduction more squarely onto the shoulders of those Americans—including young children—for whom shared sacrifice means going without food or medical care. It also sets the stage to cut domestic discretionary programs more deeply and increase defense spending when the FY 2013 appropriations process reaches its end game.

To review the cuts: The bill would cut $309 billion over 10 years from mandatory funding, with $128 billion (42%) of those savings coming from programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP), Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Child Tax Credit, and the elimination of the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG). The bill also would reduce the discretionary spending level agreed upon in the bitter battle last summer over raising the debt ceiling. It breaks down the firewall between domestic and defense spending, designed to ensure that cuts would affect both sides of the federal budget, and paves the way for shifting more cuts to domestic spending while increasing defense programs. A Democratic alternative would have replaced the sequester with cuts to agricultural subsidies, closing oil and gas tax breaks, and raising taxes on millionaires, but was not allowed to come up for a vote.

Once again, we are left to ponder what it means when the most vulnerable babies (as well as their parents, low-income seniors, and other disadvantaged individuals) are asked to do their “fair share” to reduce the deficit. What do they have to give up because the consequences of sacrifices from other segments of society apparently are too distressing to contemplate?

Sadly, we’ve been here before, so we drew from a blog we posted last year to show what happens 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. 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.

Many SNAP recipients are families with children, meaning SNAP helps children get the food they need for healthy physical and mental development.

  • Research by Children’s HealthWatch found that the increase in SNAP benefits in the stimulus bill, which the bill approved today would roll back, had a positive impact on the health of young children, with children receiving benefits more likely to be classified as “well” than those who did not receive benefits, but were eligible for them.
  • 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 stable, caring families.

One-quarter of SSBG funds go to services for children who have been subjected to abuse or neglect and support many who have been placed in foster care. Sometimes these funds help provide the supportive services families need so that children don’t have to be removed from their homes.

  • Infants and toddlers who have been maltreated are at risk for psychological difficulties, including cognitive delays, poor self-regulation, and difficulty in paying attention. Intervening early can help support healthy, positive development in maltreated babies.
  • Very young children need nurturing relationships to develop, relying on their closest caregivers for security and comfort. Preserving and supporting that relationship with parents is critical. At a Congressional Baby Caucus briefing last year, psychologist Brenda Jones Harden described the experience of maltreated babies being removed from their parents’ care and being placed in foster care as “major surgery without an anesthetic.” Child welfare agencies need the ability to work with families in their own homes, if at all possible, to preserve that bond.

Fewer will be ready for school.

Early Head Start, child care, and Part C Early Intervention Services are all funded through the discretionary side of the budget, which would see more cuts under this bill. These programs help give low-income infants and toddlers more positive early learning experiences and reduce 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.
  • 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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