The Latest on the Budget

Despite worsening poverty rates and still high unemployment, State and federal budget cuts in a wide array of health, education, nutrition, and social programs are either underway or threatened. Billions are at stake and millions of children and families are directly affected. Children need the help of adults to stop senseless cuts in proven programs. Our view is that children should be held harmless as the nation struggles to fix its finances and that there are numerous revenue and cut options, done moderately, which would preserve our commitment to the country’s children and youth.

On the federal side, few cuts have actually occurred—yet. That’s because the Administration’s first budget and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA/stimulus bill) actually increased spending in many children’s programs. However, ARRA has now expired, and the federal budget is now being debated in a political atmosphere very different from that of 2 years ago. Nevertheless, while the new majority in the House passed a bill, H.R. 1, which proposed to cut billions in kids’ programs, it was significantly watered down once the public understood the implications for children and others. Now the House has passed its 2012 budget bill, the “Ryan bill,” which contains deep cuts in numerous children’s programs. The adoption of a final budget is months away and will depend on what the Senate does—and on what influence the President can exert. In a worst case scenario—and all of this is complicated by the need to raise the country’s debt ceiling—major cuts in children’s programs could happen and the hard-won gains in their behalf could be severely set back.

On the state side, many cuts have actually occurred, in many states, and many more cuts are in the pipeline, many of which will go into effect between July 1 and October 1. Unlike the previous two years of the recession, ARRA funds are not available to hold off the cuts. No one knows yet what the final numbers will look like, but there’s every reason to believe these will be the sharpest reductions, cumulatively, in children’s programs than any time in recent memory.