Congress must prioritize children and address unfinished business in budget deal
First Focus Campaign for Children (FFCC) is pleased that Congress has produced an appropriations package for Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) that includes important investment decisions for our kids and several policy provisions benefitting children.
“We applaud the bipartisan effort to finalize an appropriations package that prevents another disastrous government shutdown while making crucial investments in America’s children,” said FFCC President Bruce Lesley. “As we head into the new year, we urge Congress to prioritize children and address the unfinished business left from this deal.”
We support the spending package for meeting the overall target of funding for non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending. The legislation makes crucial investments in early childhood programs, including the generous increases in the Child Care and Development Block Grant and Head Start. Other areas gaining important increases in funding for children include USDA’s food and nutrition programs, education programs, Health and Human Service’s health and mental health services for kids, juvenile justice initiatives and job training programs.
FFCC also supports several other key provisions benefitting children within the package. For the first time, the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health will receive money to research the impact of gun violence. Congress has allocated $7.6 billion to adequately conduct the Decennial Census effort, which has historically severely undercounted young children. The legislation also adopts the Family First Transition Act and provides a five-month extension for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program. However, we still recognize that substantive reforms to TANF are paramount to making it more effective at reducing child poverty.
The spending package addresses a wide range of policy issues as well, including expiring healthcare and tax provisions. While FFCC welcomes some of these provisions, there were still glaring missed opportunities to improve the lives of America’s children. We are pleased that the package eliminates the pending Medicaid funding cliff caused by Medicaid block grants to the territories but disappointed that the agreement limits Medicaid relief for Puerto Rico and the other territories to only two years. This failure to protect American citizens in the territories rejects a more generous bipartisan proposal and highlights the extensive inequities, rationing of care, and financing problems caused by Medicaid block grants. FFCC also is disappointed that the final package did not include an agreement to extend the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program with a doubling of the funding for four years. The legislative package also does little to address our concerns for the treatment of children at the border, and it does nothing to restrict the administration’s practice of transferring funds to pay for the wall or more immigrant detention, therefore putting at risk essential resources that may benefit our nation’s children.
FFCC welcomes the legislation’s repeal of the “Cadillac Tax,” a provision in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that was intended to limit the growth in private-sector health care costs but was crafted in a way that would have incentivized employers to increase out-of-pocket expenses on family and dependent health coverage, particularly children. Americans are not suffering from having too much insurance coverage. Instead, many families are increasingly harmed and negatively impacted by underinsurance from high deductible health plans, overly exclusive in-plan networks, and high copayments.
While the tax amendment wisely corrects a 2017 tax law “Gold Star/Kiddie Tax” provision that resulted in higher taxes on military survivor benefits, it sadly and unacceptably failed to include an expansion of the Child Tax Credit (CTC) to reach low-income families and children, despite bipartisan efforts to do so. An expansion of the CTC would help to address the vast inequities and problems caused by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) that failed our children. We know the TCJA widened income and racial disparities, which makes this massive legislative package’s inability to reverse this trend a regrettable missed opportunity for a bipartisan effort to build a tax code that is fairer and more equitable toward struggling families and children.