On Tuesday, September 10, First Focus on Children released the 13th annual Children’s Budget 2019 publication, a comprehensive analysis of how kids and families have been faring in the federal budget over the past five years. As child poverty remains high, the children’s share of total federal spending declined between fiscal year 2015 and fiscal year 2019.

First Focus President Bruce Lesley opened the 2019 Children’s Budget Summit by posing the question previously discussed in a Washington Post article by Catherine Rampell, “Are we in the midst of a war on children?” Mr. Lesley went on to say that in 2019, children are being failed on every front. Children are experiencing poverty 54.4 % higher than adults, child mortality rates are on the rise, and every day we hear a new story of child abuse in the news from Jeffery Epstein to USA Gymnastics. When it comes to government spending, children’s funding is disproportionate, temporary, and lacks built-in growth. The federal spending on children hit an all-time low of 7.2 percent for fiscal year 2019 contributing to a nearly10 percent decline since 2015. Children are often an afterthought when it comes to the federal budget process, in fact the Trump Administration budget proposed to cut funding by 8 percent in the fiscal year 2020 budget.”

Congresswoman Debra Haaland (D-NM) shared how she had firsthand experience struggling to pay for child care as a single mother. “Child care and early learning should not be a luxury”, she expressed after remarking that at one point she had been doing odd jobs at her child’s daycare to be able to pay for the expense. The Congresswoman was in the same position as many American parents, doing everything they can to provide for their families. She has introduced legislation that focuses on universal child care and early learning programs. Congresswoman Haaland ended by reiterating that she will do everything she can for our kids and that we can count on her.

Dr. Manuel Pastor, Professor from the University of Southern California, provided graphics that demonstrate how the U.S. has changed demographically since 1980 and how it is projected to change by 2050. He attributes many children’s issues to the overwhelming racial anxiety in America. In 2019, 50% of Black children and 50% of Latino children are attending high poverty schools. Dr. Manuel Pastor stresses that there is a tradeoff between equity and efficiency, and the U.S. is getting on the wrong side.

The good news is that the public supports a child policy agenda including cutting child poverty in half and adopting a children’s budget. Bruce Lesley suggested that in policy debates, children’s issues are pushed to the backburner and are almost an afterthought in discussions. Several of the Presidential candidates have legislations in Congress for children that are not highlighted during the debates.

To conclude the event, Marcus Littles, the Founder and Senior Partner of Frontline Solutions, provided remarks for next steps for child advocates. He encouraged participants to be bold, not to take no for an answer, and to be extreme in the way we advocate because if we don’t fight for children, who will? In addition, he remarked that we must move beyond acknowledging racism to combat racism. First Focus urged people to #votekids in preparation for the 2020 election. Mr. Lesley concluded his portion of the Children’s Budget Summit 2019 with a quote from William H. Considine, CEO of Akron Children’s Hospital, “Our children deserve better.”

About the Author:

John Sciamanna is CWLA's Vice President of Public Policy.

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