Policy Resource

Babies and the Budget: Promise and Challenges in President’s 2013 Budget

Feb 21, 2013

President Obama’s proposed 2013 budget, released yesterday, holds promise as well as some challenges for programs that benefit young children.

The promise comes in the form of resources for improving the quality of early care and learning programs. But the challenges posed by the budget reflect the era of austerity in which we now find ourselves. On the other side of the ledger are proposed deep cuts in energy assistance and community services. Many other programs for children and families would receive no increases, continuing the flat funding of recent years.

The budget reflects the agreement last summer on caps for discretionary spending. Total cuts for both discretionary and mandatory spending through 2022 would be $597 billion. The projected deficit for 2013 is $1.33 trillion.

The fact that early care and learning continues to be a priority even in a time of scarce resources is a hopeful sign for America’s infants, toddlers, and families. The budget would add new resources in this area, particularly to improve the quality of care and build early childhood systems. Funding for child care would be increased by $825 million overall. An increase of $500 million is proposed for the mandatory portion of the child care spending (which does not go through the annual appropriations process) to increase families’ access to child care. $325 million would be discretionary funds. Of that amount, $300 million would be targeted at improving quality. These new quality funds would be on top of both the quality set-aside already required within the Child Care and Development Block Grant and additional quality funds traditionally included in the annual appropriations bill. This new money would emphasize investing in programs to improve their quality and in teachers to help them improve their qualifications. Some of the new funds would be channeled to states by formula, and some would be awarded competitively to states committed to significant progress in measuring program quality and helping parents make informed choices about child care.

Head Start/Early Head Start would receive an $85 million increase to be used for preventing disruptions for children during the transitions between programs that will occur through the redesignation process. It also would allow for a small cost-of-living increase for programs. However, no funds would be directed toward expanding the number of children served. Currently, less than 4% of eligible infants and toddlers are able to participate in Early Head Start.

Early learning was also highlighted at the Department of Education. Race to the Top, funding source that launched the Early Learning Challenge program last year, would receive $850 million. According to budget documents, a significant (but unspecified) portion of those funds would be slated to continue the work of the Early Learning Challenge initiative. Part C/Early Intervention would receive a $20 million increase.

Other proposals, however, yield cause for concern. Early learning experiences are only one ingredient for healthy development in young children. Families need a comprehensive web of support to nurture their children, and some of those resources are slated for cuts. The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) would be cut by $452 million, a 13% drop in funding from 2012. In 2009, the percentage of households receiving heating assistance through LIHEAP that have young children under age 6 ranged from 15% to 41% across states. The Community Services Block grant, which helps to provide services for poor families at the local level, would see a drastic 48% cut, down to $350 million.

We are still digging through the budget and will continue to provide information on the broad range of programs that benefit babies and their families.

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