Pages tagged "Michelle Dallafior"
How to fight child poverty in the wake of COVID-19
Every facet of the lives of children and families are being disrupted during this historic public health and economic crisis. Unfortunately, both their short-term and long-term consequences and challenges are not being fully considered or discussed. This crisis is severe and will last for months or even years to come. Moreover, the resulting physical and mental health consequences, impact on education and child development, and economic implications of this calamity will last well beyond the coronavirus itself.
That is why First Focus Campaign for Children called on Congress to safeguard the physical, emotional, financial, and developmental health and well-being of our nation’s 74 million children with a specific package of legislative proposals across a range of issues — including child poverty and family economics.
There is real momentum toward addressing the high rate of child poverty in the United States and this disaster has only served to confirm that action to reduce child poverty and support family economic security is more necessary than ever. Congress has held three separate committee hearings on child poverty since the beginning of 2020, all of which highlighted that we know what is needed to address the problem, now there just has to be the political will to act.
In 2019, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty, a non-partisan, evidence-based study that models a set of policy and program changes that, if implemented, would cut our child poverty rate in half within a decade. The policies in this roadmap, such as establishing a national monthly child allowance program, increasing SNAP benefits, housing vouchers, and other proven solutions would ensure that families have the resources needed to support their children’s healthy development and long-term success.
As our economy is shuttered and children remain out of school, the vulnerabilities within our system have become clear. Children and families living in poverty already lack the financial stability to consistently access nutritious food, stable housing, healthcare, and all of the resources needed to support a child’s healthy development. A public health crisis only exacerbates these needs when resources are scarce for everyone and expectedly makes the disparities in our current system even worse. We urge the following actions:
- Establish a National Child Poverty Target: Codify a national commitment to cut the U.S. child poverty rate in half within a decade, as proposed in the Child Poverty Reduction Act (S. 1630/H.R. 3381 in the 115th Congress).
- Provide Emergency TANF Assistance: Establish an emergency assistance fund of at least $5 billion to families with children, including children being cared for by kin, through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. This emergency assistance should be paired with a nationwide suspension of the requirement for state programs to comply with the Work Participation Rate and suspend the federal benefit time limit.
- Create Equity for Children in Recovery Rebate Payments: Establish equity in the current “recovery rebate” program to ensure all children and young adults, regardless of age and immigration status, receive the same rebate as adults. As the law is currently written, families receive only $500 per child under the age of 17, thus valuing children at just 41.7 percent the value of adults. A single parent with two children should not receive a smaller rebate ($2,200) than a married couple without children ($2,400). Newborns, young adults, foster youth, and college students who meet the income requirements should qualify for the full recovery rebate and there should be appropriate guidance and administrative mechanisms in place quickly to ensure the rebates reach all recipients swiftly to help meet their basic needs such as paying rent and putting food on the table while boosting the economy.
- Authorize Additional, Bigger, and Sustainable Direct Payments: In addition to fixing the current “rebate program,” authorize additional, substantial, and regularly distributed “recovery rebates” (at least $2,000 per month) that will reach those who need it most to make ends meet throughout this crisis. These payments should be bigger, distributed monthly, easily accessible, and should not turn off arbitrarily. Instead, the economic impact payments should be tied to the labor markets with flexibility for the states so that they provide some economic security during uncertain times and help to stimulate the economy in the short-term and during the anticipated months and years of recovery.
- Establish Fairness in Recovery Rebate Program: Address the exclusion of ITIN filers from eligibility for the “recovery rebates” so that some of our most vulnerable children in mixed-status families, including U.S. citizens, have access to this cash benefit during this historic public health and economic emergency to help pay for everyday needs such as food, housing, utilities, and more.
- Adopt Automatic Payment of “Recovery Rebates” to SSI Recipients with Dependents: The Department of Treasury and the U.S. Social Security Administration should adopt procedures so that Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients with dependents can easily obtain their recovery rebates automatically without filing additional information just as SSI recipients without dependents will.
- Expand Existing Refundable Tax Credits: Expand the successful Child Tax Credit (CTC) and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to provide some permanent financial stability, delivered on a monthly basis, to households with children that have low- to moderate-income or no income. Such a permanent program would help to ensure a minimum set of resources regularly available to meet the rising costs of raising children and supporting healthy child development, serve as a buffer against the effects of a future crisis, and offer a mechanism to provide additional economic impact payments automatically should we experience another economic downturn. The CTC expansion would establish a regular monthly child allowance that the 2019 NAS report acknowledges as the most effective policy change to lift children out of poverty. A CTC expansion such as the proposed American Family Act (H.R. 1560/S.690) would lift 4 million children out of poverty and 1.6 million children out of deep poverty and benefit U.S. territories. The expansion of the EITC proposed in the Working Families Tax Relief Act (H.R. 3157/S. 1138) would reach families with children, low-income workers, qualified foster and homeless youth under age 25, and includes a federal matching mechanism for Puerto Rico’s new EITC.
- Provide Additional Resources for VITA and Outreach for the Recovery Rebates: Increase funding for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program ($12 million this tax season and an additional $5 million for next season) to ensure VITA sites have resources to expand service delivery to those lowest and middle-income people and those who ordinarily do not file tax returns, but now would need to complete a streamlined tax return to receive the “recovery rebate.” Congress also should provide additional funding to the Administration to ensure it can conduct outreach on the rebate program to identify all eligible individuals who qualify for the economic impact payment and can receive the benefit even if they do not have direct deposit or are homeless.
- Extend Paid Leave: Extend paid sick days and paid family and medical leave to all workers with full wage replacement, regardless of employer size.
Further Improve Unemployment Insurance Benefits: This includes:
- Providing a $10 billion investment for state Unemployment Insurance (UI) administration.
- Setting up a tiered system of UI benefits (similar to what was done during the Great Recession). Triggers should be related to the state of the economy, not ending at particular dates.
- Implementing structural UI reform, including mandatory 26 weeks of benefits for each state; mandatory wage replacement rates; mandatory work sharing; and fixing the Emergency Benefits program.
- Ensuring that UI benefits do not count against eligibility for the SNAP program.
- Provide Child Support Enforcement Flexibility: Provide states with flexibility in Child Support Enforcement program administration as well as discretion in non-payment enforcement measures against unemployed non-custodial parents.
For a full list of our specific policy recommendations across the array of children’s issues, check out our letter to Congress.
Highlights From the Fiscal Year 2020 Spending Packages
On December 17, 2019, the President signed into law two spending packages that cover all twelve annual appropriations bills, funding hundreds of federal agencies, bureaus and initiatives totaling $1.4 trillion for Fiscal Year 2020. Together, the packages include important investment decisions for our kids and several policy provisions benefitting children and avoids a disastrous shutdown like the one in early 2019. The two-bill package (H.R.1158 and H.R.1865) includes a $22 billion increase in defense discretionary spending as well as approximately $25 billion in additional funding for non-defense discretionary programs. The top-line spending numbers for the package adhere to the levels set forth in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 (H.R.3877), which codified the federal budget for the next two years.
The deal boosts funding for key agencies that serve children and families, including the Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, Justice, and Housing and Urban Development departments. The funding package also includes several policy changes that are beneficial to children. However, some key priorities were neglected in the deal, especially regarding tax and immigration policies.
Below are some highlights from both bills regarding funding for programs serving children and families as well as some successes and shortcomings for certain policy changes crucial for the well-being of our children:
H.R. 1158 “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020”
Division B: Departments of Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies
Department of Commerce: $73.2 billion in total funding – $9 billion increase from FY19 levels
- $7.6 billion in funding for the Census Bureau, with $7.3 billion of which dedicated to carrying out the 2020 Decennial Census. This level is $1.4 billion above the President’s budget request.
Department of Justice: $32.6 billion in total funding – $1.67 billion increase from FY19 levels
- Juvenile justice programs: Both Title II and Title V received a funding increase. Title V has a significant increase at $42M from $27.5M. This is the first time Title V funding is not entirely earmarked for programs and available for all programs under the Juvenile Justice Reform Act passed at the end of 2018.
- $87.5 million for Missing and Exploited Children, an increase of $5.5 million over FY19 levels.
- $27 million for Victims of Child Abuse, an increase of $4.5 million over FY19 levels
- $97 million for Youth Mentoring, an increase of $2 million over FY19 levels.
H.R. 1865 “Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020”
Division A: Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies
Department of Labor: $12.4 billion in total funding – $291 million increase from FY19 levels
Employment and Training Administration —
- $1.74 billion for Job Corps, an increase of $25 million over FY19 levels and $728 million over the President’s budget request. Approximately 39% of Job Corps money is spent on children.
- $913 million for Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Youth Training programs, an increase of $9.7 million over FY19 levels
- $94.5 million for YouthBuild Activities, an increase of $5 million over FY19 levels
Department of Health and Human Services: $94.9 billion in total funding – $4.4 billion increase from FY19 levels
Administration for Children and Families (ACF) – $24.4 billion, an increase of $1.2 billion over FY19 levels.
- $5.8 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant, an increase of $550 million over FY19 levels
- $10.6 billion for Head Start, an increase of $550 million over FY19 levels
- $275 million for Preschool Development Grants, an increase of $25 million over FY19 levels
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – $8 billion, an increase of $636 million over FY19 levels
- $25 million, split evenly between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), for conducting research on firearm injury and mortality prevention services. This marks the first time in history that these agencies will be able to conduct research on gun violence.
- $37 million for Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, an increase of $2 million over FY19 levels
Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) – $7.3 billion, an increase of $177 million over FY19 levels
- $944 million for programs to improve maternal and child health, including an additional $5 million to reduce maternal mortality. This is a $17 million increase over FY19 levels.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) – $5.9 billion, an increase of $140 million over FY19 levels
- $102 million for Project AWARE, an increase of $33 million over FY19 level.
Department of Education: $72.8 billion in total funding – $1.3 billion increase from FY19 levels
Programs Serving Students K-12 – $40.1 billion, a $5.9 billion increase above the President’s budget request.
- $16.3 billion for Title I Grants to Local Educational Agencies, an increase of $417 million over FY19 levels.
- $13.9 billion for Special Education funding, an increase of $417 million over FY19 levels.
- $12.8 billion of this Special Education funding will go to IDEA Part B Grants to States, an increase of $400 million over FY19 levels.
- $20.1 million will fund Special Olympics, an increase of $2.5 million over FY19 levels.
- $1.48 billion for Impact Aid, an increase of $40 million over FY19 levels.
- Three programs slated for elimination under the President’s budget received funding increases:
- $2.1 billion for Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants, an increase of $400 million over FY19 levels.
- $1.2 billion for Student Support and Academic Enrichment State Grants, an increase of $40 million over FY19 levels.
- $1.2 billion for Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centers (Renamed from 21st Century Community Learning Centers), an increase of $28 million over FY19 levels.
Other Education Highlights
- $101.5 million for the McKinney-Vento Act’s Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY) program, an 8.5% increase over the previous year, and a 32% increase over the past four years.
- An overall increase for Higher Education programs, including the Federal TRIO, GEAR UP, Teacher Quality Partnerships, and Child Care Access Means Parents in School programs.
Division B: Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies
Department of Agriculture: $23.5 billion in total funding – $183 million increase from FY19 levels
- $6 billion in funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). This provides full funding for the program based on its projected caseload for the year.
- $90 million for WIC’s Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Program, which is the program’s full authorized amount. This marks the first time that the program has been funded at its authorized level and will enable staffing of peer counselors in every agency across the country.
- $526 million for the Summer Food Service Program, $35 million for the Sumer EBT Program, $30 million for School Kitchen Equipment Grants, and $5 million for school breakfast expansion grants. All of these programs ensure low-income students continue to receive nutritious meals both when in school and during breaks.
Division H: Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies
Department of Housing and Urban Development: $49.1 billion – $4.9 increase from FY19 levels
- $290 million for the Lead Hazard Reduction Program, an increase of $11 million over FY19 levels.
- $175 million for Choice Neighborhoods, an increase of $25 million over FY19 levels.
- $2.78 billion for Homeless Assistance Grants, an increase of $140 million over FY19 levels.
Policy Provisions Benefitting Kids and Some Unfinished Business
Along with funding the government, the spending package also contained a number of extensions for expiring tax and health provisions as well as other policies. While we are pleased that some of these provisions were able to pass as part of the package, some stopped short of their full potential to help children and some key provisions were left off entirely.
- Extends the Community Mental Health Services demonstration program
- Extends Medicaid funding for U.S. Territories for 2 years
- Delays Medicaid payment cuts to Disproportionate Care Hospital (DSH) for 5 months
- Extends Community Health Centers, the National Health Services Corps, and Teaching Health Centers
First Focus on Children supports the language in the bills that eliminates the pending Medicaid funding cliff to the territories caused by Medicaid block grants. However, the legislation limits Medicaid relief for Puerto Rico and the other territories to a mere two years and fails to adopt a more generous bipartisan proposal. This failure to protect American citizens in the territories highlights the vast inequalities, rationing of care, and financing problems caused by Medicaid block grants.
- Repeals the “Cadillac Tax,” an Affordable Care Act (ACA) tax on the most generous health insurance plans intended to limit the growth of private-sector health care costs, but was crafted in a way that would have incentivized employers to increase out-of-pocket expenses for family and dependent health coverage, particularly for families with children.
- Repeals the “Kiddie Tax,” a provision of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) that created a tax on children’s unearned income. The provision had the unintended consequence of raising taxes on income such as survivor benefits received by the children of fallen military members and first responders.
One major shortcoming of the spending package is that it leaves out an expansion of refundable tax provisions, such as the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). These provisions aim at helping low-income children and families make ends meet and have a successful track record for lifting children and struggling families out of poverty. This package neglects to act on recent bipartisan proposals to expand these credits, which is a crucial missed opportunity for lifting millions of children out of poverty.
Other Policy Riders That Impact Kids:
- Increases the legal purchasing age of Tobacco from 18 to 21
- Temporarily reauthorizes Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) for 5 months until May 5, 2020. This short-term extension provides an opportunity to realize the substantive reforms and additional funding that is needed to make TANF more effective at reducing child poverty. This includes clarifying that an explicit purpose of TANF is to reduce child poverty.
- Adopts the Family First Transition Act to help states successfully implement the Family First Prevention Services Act that aims to prevent children from entering foster care by allowing federal reimbursement for mental health services, substance use treatment and in-home parenting skill training, along with other initiatives to improve the well-being of children already in foster care.
Unfortunately, the legislation does not include an agreement to extend the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV) with a doubling of the funding for four years. The legislative package also does little to address grave and widespread concerns for the treatment of children at the border, and, in fact, continues funding for DHS’s outrageous “Migrant Protection Protocol” program that continues to cause harm to tens of thousands of vulnerable children and families every day. Furthermore, the funding package fails to restrict the administration’s practice of transferring funds to pay for the southern border wall or more immigrant detention, therefore putting at risk essential resources that may benefit our nation’s children.
Undercounting Kids in the 2020 Census Has Harmful and Long-lasting Consequences: A Primer on the Dangers of an Inaccurate Census
First Focus on Children’s 13th annual Children’s Budget publication offers a comprehensive analysis of how kids and families have been faring in the federal budget over the past five years. The data tells an alarming story. As the children’s share of the federal budget continues to shrink, our analysis found that the share of spending on children has declined to an all-time low of 7.21 percent. The share of spending on children would have dropped even further to just 6.45 percent under the Trump Administration’s proposed FY 2020 budget. In addition, spending on children is not keeping up with rising costs and growing needs. Between FY 2018 and FY 2019, total spending on children experienced an inflation-adjusted cut of nearly 1 percent, which shows that spending on children is not even keeping pace with inflation. On top of this grim picture, as of FY 2018, we now are spending a larger share of the federal budget on interest on the national debt than on children’s programs.
We now spend more servicing the national debt than we do on the children who will inherit it.
The Official Poverty Measure, released by the U.S. Census Bureau earlier this year, reports that 16.2 percent of children (11.9 million) were living in poverty in 2018. Child poverty remains stubbornly high, and we know that children are 50 percent more likely to live in poverty than adults. We should be dedicating more, not fewer, of our federal resources to the well-being of our nation’s children and lifting them out of poverty. Without significant funding increases, critical children’s programs and services will continue to lose ground, and children and families will continue to struggle. Congress must take concerted, proactive steps to prioritize kids in federal budget decisions to help ensure our nation’s children have the resources they need to thrive.
Congress is likely to keep using the Continuing Resolution (CR) mechanism to stave off an impending government shutdown but risks a showdown at the end of the year. In the meantime, lawmakers must negotiate the funding allocations for all 12 annual spending bills. This is no easy task under normal circumstances, and current disagreements and political turmoil only will complicate the process further. We know that CRs translate into inflation-adjusted cuts and inhibit the ability of agencies to plan ahead. The 2019 Children’s Budget book tracks nearly 200 child-focused discretionary programs that could suffer if negotiations collapse and a third CR is necessary — or worse — if the government shuts down again.
In addition to those 200 children’s programs at risk of funding cuts, Congress must address the urgent need for a full and direct appropriation for the 2020 census which also has significant implications for our children in every district, territory, and state. The goal of the census is to count every person, regardless of citizenship status, in all our communities once and only once, and to collect basic information about them in a secure, convenient and confidential manner. A fair, accurate and comprehensive census is imperative because the data determines Congressional reapportionment, guides state and local government representation, and impacts the equitable distribution of hundreds of billions of federal dollars. First conducted in 1790, the census collects data that informs decision‐makers at all levels of government and affects a wide range of policies, including education, health care, and infrastructure. The information also influences private sector investments contributing to communities’ economic development and employment opportunities for the next decade. Inadequate and/or delayed funding for the 2020 census carries substantial consequences for the next decade and beyond, and kids will disproportionately experience the harmful and long-lasting effects of another inaccurate count.
As the Census Bureau heads into peak operations for the successful implementation of the once-a-decade census, the agency urgently needs the certainty of full funding and control of those resources to manage unprecedented and emerging challenges. Given the importance and far-reaching impact of the decennial census, it is seriously troubling that we consistently fail to count children accurately. Children, especially children of color, have the highest net undercount of any age group. Alarmingly, this problem continues to grow. The net undercount for young children has been increasing since 1980, with the census missing more than two million young children in 2010. At the same time, we have witnessed continued improvements for the counting of adults.
With child poverty remaining a persistent problem and more than a million children experiencing homelessness each year, many children live in conditions that make it more likely the census will miss them. In particular, the census is especially likely to miss children under the age of five if they live in complex or multi-family homes, live temporarily with others, live with grandparents, are poor, move frequently, are children of color, or are linguistically isolated. This historic and escalating undercount of children needs to be corrected because children deserve fair government representation and access to vital resources. We must do better in 2020 to overcome this long-term disparity facing our nation’s youngest.
There also is mounting concern that the 2020 census will miss many immigrant families and their children. Distrust of some federal agencies continues to swell in many communities, stemming largely from the current Administration’s aggressive and cruel immigration enforcement tactics and policies. One policy proposal, in particular, that has jeopardized the accurate count of children in immigrant families is the administration’s push to include a citizenship question on the census questionnaire. Although the Supreme Court formally struck down this proposal in June, forcing the administration to remove it from the 2020 questionnaire, the damage is already done with respect to the chilling effect stemming from the proposal. Coupled with this chilling effect, other hostile policies and actions toward immigrants will likely dramatically depress participation of immigrant and mixed-status families who fear negative repercussions from revealing their citizenship status.
For the first time, the 2020 census will be conducted online. While phone and paper responses remain an option, online delivery presents new challenges for the Census Bureau, including unreliable broadband service and infrastructure in some communities, lack of internet access and technological literacy in some households, cybersecurity threats, and budget shortfalls that prevented the government from testing systems and operations thoroughly. On a brighter note, many parents of young children have smartphone access to the internet even when they do not have access at home. There is room to hope that the convenience of filling out the form on a smartphone will help improve the count of young children.
In consideration of recent trends in funding for children and the undercount of children in past surveys, inadequate federal funding and a delay in the availability of much-needed resources for the Census Bureau risk doing further damage. Since Congress did not reach a budget caps deal until late in the fiscal year, limited time existed for appropriators to draft and pass spending bills for FY 2020. At the time of this writing, the House Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies appropriations bill (CJS), which funds the Census Bureau, has passed out of the full chamber with $7.5 billion provided for the census for FY 2020, and the Senate bill includes $6.7 billion for the census. In anticipation of a second CR, the 2020 census must receive full and direct funding for the entirety of FY 2020. The Census Bureau conducts the census under statutory and constitutional deadlines for reporting results so the timing of this funding is critical. As in the past, Congress should provide for full and direct funding of the census under any new CR, and those funds should be in addition to the $1.02 billion in unspent funds for the 2020 Census carried over from FY 2019.
Beyond the immediate funding concerns, there remains a need for adequate funding in FY 2021. The Census Bureau relies on those future resources to manage the critical follow-up work that every census requires, including completion of data files for Congressional allocations and state redistricting. Insufficient funding now and in FY 2021 jeopardizes the success of the 2020 census, resulting in inaccurate and incomplete data that would impact public and private investment decisions and political representation for a decade to come.
On a positive note, the Census Bureau has established a Task Force on the Undercount of Young Children and is working to better target low‐response areas of the country and hard‐to‐reach populations, including young children. To help promote awareness of the census, encourage participation around the country, and improve the count of our kids, the Bureau is planning to launch a national media campaign in January 2020 and continues to pursue strategic outreach activities. The Bureau has developed materials to elevate the importance of counting all children, including infants, and aims to engage and motivate people to self-respond and include young children by associating participation in the census with benefits for one’s local community. The goal of these outreach strategies is to inform the public that high‐quality data better informs political representation and policy decisions, helps assess how our nation’s children and communities are changing and faring and ensures government resources reach those who need them most.
A successful 2020 decennial census requires full-year funding directly to the bureau to implement operational improvement plans that would help to ensure robust participation and maintain the value of the data as a foundation for our democracy, our economy and our political future. We must get it right.