On November 3, 2021, First Focus on Children hosted the Children’s Budget Summit to highlight the release of their 15th annual Children’s Budget Analysis. Over the last 10 years, the Children’s Budget analysis has documented federal spending for children. Typically, this means watching federal spending for children be cut at a high rate. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic caused devastation across the world, Congress was compelled to make investments in early childhood, child care, education, family medical leave, child nutrition, and health care. While this was imperative and overdue, there are questions on whether Congress will keep up this momentum.
The Budget Summit included advocates from Congress and a panel of experts. Bruce Lesley, the President of First Focus on Children moderated the event. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra provided opening remarks. Secretary Becerra expanded on President Biden’s plans to support children, starting with the Build Back Better agenda. He gave special focus to the strong commitments to expanding the child tax credit (CTC), investing in behavioral health, child care, continuing the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and promoting vaccines. The Secretary also recognized that starting November 3, children under 12 can now receive a vaccine for COVID-19. Becerra ended by stating “we know what it means to make a difference in the lives of American families. And it starts at the beginning with our children.”
Next, Lesley shared the specifics regarding the release of the children’s budget analysis. The First Focus analysis highlights how federal spending for children is usually at a disadvantage due to most of the programs being discretionary, making them temporary and easily discarded. Lesley emphasized how these built-in mechanisms need to be changed for children and families to receive the resources necessary to thrive. Before the pandemic started, funding for children was being cut at an alarming rate. Between 2016-2020, children’s share in federal funding dropped by 25%. At the same time there were higher rates of child abuse, child hunger, child suicide, and uninsured children. While things were going negatively for children, the government was cutting the funds to support them. The pandemic has reversed, at least temporarily, that trend. From 2020-2021, the share of federal spending on children increased by 55%. While the American Families Plan did help a substantial amount, the program is temporary and if it is not expanded through Build Back Better, child poverty will once again increase.
The Capitol Hill presentations included Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). From the House side remarks were made by Congresswoman Barbra Lee (D-CA), and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). Senator Van Hollen highlighted his work on the Focus on Children Act and Children’s First Act, which require the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to produce annual reports on proposed and actual federal investments for children. Congresswoman Lee spoke about being the Co-chair on the Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity, where she worked on efforts to support advocates to address and study child poverty.
The summit also hosted a series of panels focused on early childhood, nutrition, education, and international spending. The panelist consisted of representatives from many advocacy groups including Child Fund International, 1,000 days, and Share Your Days.