Congressional Actions Threaten Children’s Safety Net Programs

Since the beginning of the 112th Congress in January of 2011, members have introduced several proposals pertaining to the health, education, and safety of children. Some have become law. Others have not. They could be enacted later this year or early next year depending on other action Congress and the Administration take.

The first section of this report summarizes the automatic cuts, known as “sequestration,” that will become law unless Congress reverses them before the end of the year. We describe in the second section cuts the House passed earlier this year which would replace the automatic cuts in January with yet deeper cuts in children’s programs. Finally, in section three, we examine the budget the House passed in April that the Senate rejected, which would also have made deep cuts in many children’s programs.

These proposed reductions are very much a possibility in the budget debates that will resume in November. They would take the country in the wrong direction. Extensive documentation shows that key investments in proven health, education, and social programs are lagging. In the face of exploding child poverty rates, Congress should be proposing investments that benefit children, not cuts, like those described below, which would harm them.

I. What will become law in 2013 unless Congress reverses its actions

In August of 2011, Congress passed and President Obama signed into law a measure that called for $1 trillion in budget cuts over the next 10 years. The law created a committee of Congress to come up with $2 trillion more in additional cuts or tax increases to be voted on by the end of 2011. Because the committee did not reach agreement, an automatic across-the-board cut of 8.4% will go into effect on January 1, 2013. Programs such as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program were exempted, but the following are a sample of cuts that will take place unless Congress reverses itself:

  • 75,000 children will not be able to receive Head Start services
  • 25,000 children will be denied safe and educational child care
  • Community Health Centers serving children will lose $55 million, cutting off health care and ending jobs in hundreds of communities
  • Nearly 20,000 youth will not receive job training
  • 1.5 million low-income students in elementary and secondary schools will be harmed by program cuts, and more than 16,000 teachers and other staff will lose their jobs
  • 460,000 special education students will receive fewer or no services, and 12,500 special education staff will lose their jobs
  • 1.3 million college students will lose or face reductions in their supplemental education grants
  • 734,000 households, many with children and young adults, will no longer receive help paying for their home heating or air conditioning

II. Alternative Cuts Approved by the House that Could Become Law Pending Senate Action

Despite voting for the law adopted in August 2011 to force the automatic cuts, many politicians like Arizona Senator John McCain and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan have now come out against the cuts they supported earlier. However, their major complaint centers on the cuts that will be made to the Department of Defense, not to children’s programs. The law they voted for last year stipulates that if the special Congressional committee failed to meet its targets, and it did fail, half of the automatic cuts would come from Defense and half would come from other spending programs such as those described above. In May of this year, the House voted to restore the cuts to Defense and make deeper cuts in child health, education, and safety programs. On August 22nd, Chairman Ryan reiterated that this would be his preferred approach to dealing with the automatic cuts and indicated that the Senate could fast track cuts in the following areas at the beginning of the 113th Congress in order to spare cuts to the Pentagon:

  • Child Nutrition – a $36 billion cut from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The cuts would reduce or eliminate benefits for all SNAP households with children, including the poorest. Two million people, many in low-income working families, would lose SNAP benefits entirely. The other 44 million SNAP recipients would see their benefits cut.  Every family of four faces an immediate benefit cut of $57 a month and 200,000 low-income children would lose free school meals.
  • Child Abuse Prevention – a complete termination of the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG), a cut of $17 billion over ten years. SSBG provides $1.7 billion a year to states to prevent and address child abuse and other social problems. In fiscal year 2009, about one-quarter of SSBG funds assisted children involved in the child welfare or juvenile justice systems. 44 states used SSBG funds for this purpose.
  • Counseling and supportive services for vulnerable children. Without SSBG, fewer families will receive services that can help protect children.  In fiscal year 2009, 13 percent of SSBG funds went to provide counseling, supportive services, and case management for vulnerable children and adults; 36 states used SSBG funds for this purpose. Children and adolescents from disadvantaged families were less likely to act out, display symptoms of depression, or be held back in school if their mothers reported having emotional support for childrearing. The SSBG’s flexibility enables states to provide this type of support to families, especially those whose needs are significant but not so severe as to qualify them for state mental health or child welfare systems.
  • Child Care. SSBG also helps people become more self-sufficient, especially by providing child care assistance to low-income working mothers. More than 11 million children receive services that SSBG supports. Funding is insufficient to provide child care assistance to all working families that qualify for it.  Only one in six eligible low-income working families receive any federally supported child care assistance.
  • Health Care. The legislation makes cuts to Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, allowing states to scale back Medicaid eligibility causing 14 million children to risk losing coverage between now and 2014. It also contains a provision ending performance bonuses to states that simplify and improve their CHIP and Medicaid programs so that they can reach and enroll more uninsured low-income children.
  • Child Tax Credit Repeal. Designed to help manage the cost of raising children by making it easier to meet basic family needs, the Child Tax Credit supports low- and middle-income families alike. Improved a number of times since its creation in 1997, the Child Tax Credit reaches 35 million families annually and kept 1.3 million children out of poverty in 2009.

III. Cuts Passed in House 2012 Budget – Rejected by the Senate

In addition to the automatic cuts required by law, and those that the House passed to replace cuts to the Department of Defense, the House of Representatives passed a budget resolution in 2012 that calls for other cuts to children’s programs. The House budget will not become law this year. These cuts in funding described below for a wide range of children’s programs would be three times deeper than the automatic cuts slated to go into effect. The Senate rejected this approach. Instead, the House and Senate agreed to a budget for next year that looks a lot like the budget this year. The d
ifficult decisions were put off. However, the House has voted for these cuts two years in a row and will propose them again depending on the results of the 2012 election. They include:

  • Programs for the Poor. The 2013 House budget would get at least 62 percent of its $5.3 trillion in nondefense budget cuts, three trillion total, over ten years from programs that serve people of limited means.
  • Children’s Health. Ends the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) by eliminating $28.9 billion in funding. It repeals the Affordable Care Act, eliminating the $1.5 trillion that the ACA uses to help 30 million Americans get health insurance. The repeal would end Medicaid expansion, affecting health care access for approximately 17 million people. In addition, federal funding for the Medicaid program would be cut by 34 percent by 2022 relative to current law, and by steadily larger amounts in years after that.  These cuts would be in addition to reductions in federal Medicaid funding for states that would result from repeal of the health reform law. It also eliminates the tax credit assistance for middle-class families, taking away tax cuts worth a total of $110.1 billion in 2014 for about 28.6 million Americans. By repealing the ACA, the plan cuts two years of expanded funding for CHIP. Currently, CHIP is schedule for $19.2 billion in funding for 2014 and $21.1 billion in funding for 2015, a total amount of $40.3 billion. The House plan funds CHIP at just $5.7 billion each year. The total cut in funding to CHIP, by repealing the ACA, is $28.9 billion. This will result in millions of children losing coverage in states.
  • High-poverty schools (Title I).  Title I provides financial assistance to schools with high numbers of children from low-income families.  Some 56,000 schools received funding in 2009, helping to educate 21 million children.
  • Special education (IDEA).  Funding through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act provides federal support to schools to help them educate children with learning disorders, speech impairments, and other disabilities.  Some 6.5 million children nationally received specialized learning assistance through this funding in 2010.
  • Pre-school programs provided through Head Start. Head Start promotes school readiness among at-risk children up to age 5 by enhancing social and cognitive development and by engaging families in children’s learning. Early Head Start serves children from birth to age 3 and some pregnant women.  These programs served 904,000 children in 2009.
  • Improving teacher quality. The U.S. Department of Education provides grants improve the quality of teaching.  School districts with the highest poverty levels receive a disproportionately large share of the funds.  Most of the grant money is spent on training programs to help teachers be more effective and to reduce class sizes (by employing more teachers).  School districts used this funding to pay the salaries of over 14,000 teachers to reduce class sizes in the 2011-12 school year.
  • Impact Aid.  These funds provide support to school districts near military bases, Indian lands, or other types of property that cannot be taxed by the school district.  In 2008, over 900,000 students attended schools that received this aid.  Nearly 40 percent of them were children from military families.
  • Rental assistance for low-income people.  The Housing Choice Voucher program, the principal component of “Section 8” provides vouchers that nearly 2.2 million low-income families use to defray housing costs.  Roughly half of the low-income households benefiting are families with children.
  • Community Development Block Grants.  States, cities, and counties use this funding to revitalize deteriorating neighborhoods, improve water and sewer systems, and build community centers, youth centers and libraries, and a range of other public infrastructure projects.
  • Nutrition support for new and expecting mothers, and for their young children (WIC). The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children provides nutritious food and nutritional education (including breastfeeding education and support) to new and expecting low-income mothers, including those with children under age 5.  In an average month in 2010, the program — delivered by thousands of agencies and health clinics across the country — served over 2 million low-income women and 7 million infants and children.
  • Mental health and substance abuse services.  These grants help states prevent and treat alcohol and drug abuse and provide community mental health services to adults and children with serious mental illness.  In 2008, over two million individuals attended substance abuse facilities that received federal funding; over six million received federally supported mental health services.
  • Community Health Centers.  These non-profit facilities provide primary-care medical services to people with limited access to health care.  In 2010, more than 8,000 centers provided medical care to over 19 million patients, many of them poor children.
  • Child care subsidies for low-income working parents. These funds subsidize child care for low-income parents so they can find and keep a job.  In 2010, the subsidies helped 1 million parents find child care.
  • Child Nutrition. This budget plan includes cuts in SNAP (formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) of $133.5 billion — more than 17 percent — over the next ten years (2013-2022) which would necessitate ending assistance or reducing benefits for millions of low-income families. It could require elimination from the program of 8 to 10 million recipients or cuts of $22-$27 dollars per person and it would set the maximum benefit below the US Department of Agriculture’s estimate of the minimum amount that a family needs to afford a bare-bones, nutritionally adequate diet. Almost three-quarters of SNAP participants are in families with children and SNAP kept 1.3 million children from falling below half of the poverty line in 2010.