Washington’s 1.7 million kids had no part in negotiating the deal passed by Congress Tuesday to raise the debt ceiling. But their futures will be affected by it, profoundly and perhaps disastrously.
In a very short time, Congress now stands to make decisions with far-reaching effects on programs used by the one million Washington households accessing food stamps; or the nearly 700,000 kids on Medicaid; or the 11,000 children enrolled in Head Start.
If lawmakers cut these programs, children of color – who are more likely to be poor and face systems that fail them, and whose experiences are setting the course for our nation’s future – are the kids most likely to get hurt.
Here’s a basic description of how the deal works:
First, it kicks off a 10-year period of cuts that begin modestly this fall and then deepen in subsequent years. Some of these cuts will affect children, like the one to Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which helps meet the nutritional needs of 316,000 Washington kids under 5, mothers and moms-to-be.
Next, the deal creates a bipartisan Congressional committee to propose further reductions in the federal budget. Changes could come in the form of spending reductions, or in new laws that shrink or remake existing programs. The committee could also advocate the balanced approach that voters want by reforming the tax code. Any program, and any tax, could be on the table.
The committee must come up with this plan by Thanksgiving; Congress must pass it by Dec. 23. If not, the final component of this deal takes effect: automatic, across-the-board spending reductions. Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program, food stamps, child nutrition programs and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families are exempt from these, but other programs, like Head Start, are not.
Policy makers have noted that today’s deal takes our country back to spending levels not seen since the 1950s. What was true back then is true now: children should reap the benefits of wise investments, not bear the burden of poor decisions.