Debt Ceiling Deal Leaves Education Programs Vulnerable, Protects Medicaid and CHIP

August 1, 2011

Child Advocates call on Congress to Address Economic Issues around Jobs, Child Poverty, Hunger, and Homelessness

Washington D.C. – Today, as Congressional leaders and White House officials race to pass legislation to avoid a default on the national debt, the First Focus Campaign for Children reacts to the bipartisan compromise reached last night, specifying what the deal means for America’s children.

While the details of the spending cuts outlined in the proposal remain unclear, whether through Congressional spending caps, the newly created Super Committee, or via sequestration mechanisms, the agreement would impose $1.2 trillion in cuts on discretionary spending over the next decade. That could translate to wide-ranging cuts affecting essential children’s programs, primarily education and housing programs. In fact, children’s programs represent about 20 percent of the non-defense discretionary spending in the federal budget.

The agreement also calls for another $1.5 trillion in budget cuts from a newly created Super Committee, with a backup trigger, or sequestration of funding, from federal programs to reach the reduction target in the case that the Super Committee or the Congress fails to make the cuts themselves. Essential programs, such as Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would be subjected to cuts in negotiations, but fortunately would be exempt from the sequestration. Yet, other critically important children’s programs will be left all the more vulnerable.

Bruce Lesley, President of the First Focus Campaign for Children, a bipartisan child advocacy organization, issued the following statement:

“While we commend our nation’s leaders for their commitment to protect Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program from being subjected to sequestration or automatic cuts in the debt ceiling agreement, we fear the proposed $1.2 billion in spending cuts to discretionary programs will disproportionately impact children, and the additional $1.5 billion in budget cuts to be considered by the Super Committee could impose harm to Medicaid and CHIP. While tough times may call for tough measures, reducing spending for essential programs for children is misguided and will drastically affect the ability of a generation of children to reach their full potential.

“Moreover, the American electorate strongly agrees with this concern. Results from a recent public opinion survey prove that protecting programs that improve the well-being of children is immensely important to voters. When provided a battery of potential cuts some have considered in the budget debate, voters clearly protect children. In fact, the least popular cuts were those to K-12 education programs.

“As the President and Congressional leaders continue their negotiations to stem the debt ceiling crisis, we urge them heed the priorities of the American public and refuse reductions on the backs of children.

“In addition, we are deeply concerned that the process agreed upon in last night creates an agenda for Congress that will once again require this conversation around the fiscal year 2012 appropriations bills, the newly created Super Committee process, potential congressional votes on recommendations by the Super Committee, and potential sequestration processes.

“Instead of this non-stop focus on budget cuts, our nation must make jobs and the economy our top priority. We know that a growing economy would reduce the federal deficit faster than the austerity measures being discussed. We also know that the most effective way to reduce federal spending on programs like Medicaid and SNAP is to reduce poverty in America. And yet, the crisis of child poverty, homelessness, education, and economic opportunity is completely ignored in our nation’s federal policy discussions, despite the fact that more than one in four American children are living in poverty, one in four is dependent on food stamps, and 1.3 million students drop out of school every year.

“No child in this country should go to bed suffering from the pangs of hunger or wondering where they’ll find a bed to sleep in tonight. We urge Congress to begin the critically important conversation about the economic crisis that includes jobs, child poverty, hunger, and homelessness.”

Contact:
Katie Peters
202.445.4312 (office)
KatieP@firstfocus.net