Investing in our children is investing in our future

Every parent sees endless possibilities and great hope in the eyes of a child. As a nation, when we look at today’s children, we see tomorrow’s leaders — scientists, teachers, doctors and diplomats. But for our children to thrive and America to stay competitive in the 21st-century global economy, we must support their development, their families and the public policies that work for both. The budget put forward by the House majority would move us further in the wrong direction and help to create a lost generation of American youths.

Right now, 1 in 5 children are living in poverty. According to a study by First Focus, these children will earn an average of $19,000 a year less than their more fortunate peers and are 20 percent more likely to suffer from health problems. But research has shown that income support for parents — efforts like the Child Tax Credit — effectively boost employment, employment stability, increase earnings and income, reduces poverty and even improves school performance. 

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In 2009, in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, we lowered the eligibility threshold for the Child Tax Credit from $12,500 to $3,000. That brought up to $1,400 in tax relief to the families of 15.9 million children, including 5.5 million newly eligible children. Lowering the child tax credit threshold further to zero would not only support millions of more children, but also — economists agree — be one of the most stimulative, targeted and efficient ways of boosting the economy. And yet the budget from House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan  (R-Wis.) would not only fail to expand the credit, it would in fact allow the expansion put in place in 2009 to expire, meaning the families of 18 million children would see a tax increase and the families of 2 million children would be pushed back into poverty.

Poverty is not the only problem. Nearly 50 million Americans, including more than 16 million children, are struggling with hunger. Countless studies have shown that children with access to a nutritious breakfast learn more and perform better in school. Without adequate nutrition, children will see even more undue limits imposed on their full potential. 

Currently, 21 million of the 46 million Americans on food stamps are children. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, nutrition aid lifted more than 4.5 million Americans over the poverty line in 2009, including more than two million children. And yet the Ryan budget would slash more than $166 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over 10 years, meaning millions of children would lose access to food stamps and be forced to go hungry.

Studies show, and I know from watching my own grandchildren, that the earliest of experiences in supportive environments are essential to how children succeed in their lifetimes. That is why we need to continue strong investments in early childhood education and quality, affordable child care. But the Ryan budget could cut up to 200,000 children from Head Start, and slash $162 billion that would go to children’s health coverage under Medicaid, as well as almost $29 billion from the Children’s Health Insurance program. 

Time and again, the House majority’s budget makes choices that disastrously affect our children: 2.5 million pregnant and postpartum women, infants and children could be slashed from the Women with Infant Children feeding program. More than 12,000 schools, serving close to 5 million disadvantaged students, would be denied Title I funding. If you include cuts to Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 84,000 teachers could lose jobs over the next two years. 

All of these cuts are penny-wise and pound-foolish. In this economy, we have to do more, not less, to reach children in need. Currently, only 8 percent of federal spending is dedicated to children, and we have now seen two years in a row of declines in discretionary spending on children’s programs. It is time to reverse this trend. The targeted investments and interventions we make now will make a lifetime of difference for the children they reach. 

There is far more this Congress can do for our nation’s children — but first we have to make sure we are not sacrificing the future of an entire generation in order to pay for a tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. 

DeLauro is a member of the House Appropriations Committee.