2018 Children’s Budget Summit Highlights: It’s Time to Stop Shortchanging Our Children

Michelle Dallafior, Senior Vice President of Budget and Tax Policy, First Focus

Last week, First Focus hosted the 2018 Children’s Budget Summit to introduce the 11th annual release of its signature publication, Children’s Budget 2018, which captures recent spending trends across nearly 200 federal programs benefitting children. With this data, Children’s Budget 2018 analyzes the share of federal spending on children, investments across nine areas of child wellbeing, and the president’s fiscal year (FY) 2019 budget proposal, which, if enacted, would eliminate 41 children’s programs. This comprehensive analysis shows where the federal government is investing wisely in our children--and where it is shortchanging them.

44462124384_7c299dcf31_m (1).jpg

First Focus was pleased to present the event’s sponsor, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), on behalf our sister organization, First Focus Campaign for Children, with a 2017 Champion for Children award recognizing her as one of the top U.S. Senators who consistently and effectively advocates for children and families. Her record is outstanding, including her votes in support of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and improvements in the Child Tax Credit and her bipartisan work as co-chair of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth with Senator Grassley (R-IA).  In her inspiring remarks, Senator Stabenow highlighted her refusal to harm children and families as she leads Congressional negotiations over the 2018 Farm Bill.  As a Michigander, I am thrilled that First Focus honored her awesome, thoughtful, and tireless advocacy for our nation’s children.

First Focus President Bruce Lesley opened the Summit with a detailed presentation about how the federal budget process shortchanges children, calling Children’s Budget 2018 a “good news/bad news story.” The good news is that the share of total federal spending on children rose by a real 1.10 percent from FY 2017, thanks to increased investments stemming from the passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (BBA, P.L. 115-123). The bad news is that this one-year improvement failed to overcome the long-term decline in the share of spending on children (a real 1.7 percent decrease) since FY 2014, and will keep shrinking, according to the  Urban Institute. Meanwhile, interest payment on the national debt is projected to exceed federal spending on Children by 2020!  These funding challenges will only intensify as our deficit balloons and revenues decrease significantly due to 2017’s $2 trillion tax bill, which largely benefited wealthy individuals and corporations over children in poverty. 

Bruce also highlighted the fact that the current budget process “rigs” the system against children and called for “inter-generational equity” in federal spending. As the Center for Responsible Federal Budget points out, spending on children is disproportionately discretionary, temporary, and capped and lacks built-in growth like Social Security and Medicare, which are mandatory and have successfully lifted many seniors out of poverty. This disadvantage, not surprisingly, leads to regular debates about funding cuts and reauthorization for important children’s programs like the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

 These trends must change so that all of our children—17.5 percent of whom currently live in poverty—have equal opportunity to thrive and succeed. Bruce recommended structural solutions such as the creation of a children’s budget, a child poverty reduction target, and an independent commissioner for children.  In addition, we could identify a dedicated revenue source for some children’s programs, convert CHIP to a permanent, mandatory program, reform TANF, raise the budget caps, and adopt the concept of inter-generational equity – so that both our seniors and kids win.

After this budget process discussion, I was honored to moderate a panel with incredible experts starting with Lynn Caroly, Ph.D., from the RAND Corporation, who also served as a key member of the 2018 National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine study “Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education.” She gave an overview of the insufficiency of existing federal investments in our early care and education system and infrastructure, the need to incentivize high quality care, and different recommendations in the report.   

Up next, Natasha Slesnick, Ph.D., a professor of Human Development and Family Science in the Department of Human Sciences at The Ohio State University and a licensed clinical psychologist, shared her research focusing on interventions for substance using homeless youth, and substance using mothers and their children. She underscored the need for prevention services and to continue to identify hidden populations of youth, such as those experiencing homelessness, who may have the highest opioid use rates.

Our third esteemed panelist was the Rev. Fr. Douglas Greenway, who has served as President and CEO for the National WIC Association since 1990. Rev. Greenway spotlighted the need for funding to expand the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infant and Children’s capacity for community health integration, breast-feeding peer counseling, and other important services—as well as protect complimentary programs like SNAP and Medicaid from harmful policy changes.


Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha gave an inspiring keynote address, reminding the audience that “it is our responsibility no matter where we are, to fight for our children.” Though Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s own story centers around the lead crisis in her city of Flint, Michigan, she took care to remind us that everywhere in America, poverty and trauma are injustices that are harming the lives of our children and require multifaceted interventions.

She especially stressed the need to put kids first in spending and policy decisions: “Flint is what happens when the people charged with keeping us safe care more about money and power than our children.” But her message was also one of hope.

“Flint is also the story of people coming together and resisting for our kids,” Dr. Hanna-Attisha said, citing the city’s strides in investing in evidence-based prevention programs such as trauma-informed care, universal early childhood education, home visiting, and more. She hopes Flint can serve as a model for other communities around the nation seeking to create better futures for their children.

Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s message gets to the heart of why First Focus founded the Children’s Budget Coalition nearly 10 years ago. The coalition is comprised of more than 70 children’s advocacy organizations with priorities across a wide range of issues, such as health, education, nutrition, the welfare system, juvenile justice, and more.


In a unified voice, this broad coalition of advocates urges Congress to prioritize children in federal policy and budget decisions, and serves as a resource for our partners, lawmakers and their staff, and the public.

 Thanks to dedication, determination, and collaboration, the Coalition successfully urged Congress to raise the budget caps for FY 2018 and FY 2019. But our work continues. The budget cap will drop dramatically by $55 billion in FY 2020, and we must push for another bipartisan agreement that builds on the priorities reflected in the BBA to avoid drastic cuts in programs and services that support our children and families. We invite you to join us in this fight. As Dr. Hanna-Attisha put it, “children everywhere are counting on you.”

 Click here to view and download slides from the 2018 Children’s Budget Summit

Press Release: Share of Federal Spending on Children Has Decreased 1.7 Percent Since FY 2014

Washington, D.C., September 20, 2018

Children received 1.7 percent less of the federal budget in Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 than they did in FY 2014, a new report from First Focus shows. This report confirms the long-term negative trend that the Children’s Budget has seen since the beginning of this project in 2008.

On a positive short-term note, the share of total federal spending on children rose 1.1 percent, from 7.97 percent in FY 2017 to 8.06 percent this year. The Bipartisan Budget Act had a one-time favorable impact because it temporarily raised the discretionary budget spending limits and reauthorized both the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program. Unfortunately, the spending limits are set to fall by $55 billion in FY 2020.

“Congress showed it can come together on a bipartisan basis to protect children but, overall, policymakers continue to shortchange children in federal spending decisions and neglect their needs,” said Bruce Lesley, First Focus President. “No matter which party is in power, it’s important to keep pushing our congressional leaders to prioritize investment in our kids, because they are our country’s future.”

Children’s Budget 2018 tracks 180 mandatory and discretionary programs whose funding is either entirely or partially dedicated to children’s health, early and K-12 education, nutrition, income security, housing, safety, training, and welfare.

Health and income support programs for children got the most federal funding, but still represented only 2.5 percent and 1.8 percent of it, respectively, in 2018.

This happens in the context of $4.1 trillion in total federal spending, the recent $1.5 trillion tax cuts, and the recently proposed additional $657 billion tax cuts. In FY 2018, the federal government spent 7.7 percent of its budget on the interest on the national debt—nearly as much as the 8.06 percent it spent on children.

These numbers indicate that children are not a priority at all in the budget process, especially since many federally funded children’s programs do not serve all eligible children. In fact, 17.5 percent of children lived in poverty in 2017, despite a strong economy and low unemployment.

Children are almost one quarter of the population yet spending on their programs has been hovering around 8 percent of the budget since FY 2014, as growth in total federal spending significantly outpaces increases in spending on children’s programs.


First Focus is a bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. First Focus leads a comprehensive advocacy strategy, with its hands-on experience with federal policymaking and a commitment to seeking policy solutions.

Congress’ FY 18 Budget Resolution Neglects Children

WASHINGTON—The Children’s Budget Coalition is dismayed that Congress passed a Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 budget resolution today that does little to protect or increase investments in the vital programs that serve American children and families. As outlined in the 2016 Children’s Budget Book, children continue to receive a decreasing share of the federal budget.

Bruce Lesley, President of the First Focus Campaign for Children, which convenes the Children’s Budget Coalition, said:

“This divestment in kids has a real and devastating impact on crucial resources for housing, education, nutrition, general welfare, and health, to name just a few. 

Congress cannot continue to make children and families its last priority in federal budget decisions.

If they’re serious about the health and well-being of our kids—and America’s future—they will ensure that non-defense discretionary (NDD) funding has parity with defense discretionary spending. And they will support mandatory programs that help lift kids and families out of poverty. Today’s FY 18 budget resolution does neither.”

Despite the great need for relief from the 2011 Budget Control Act’s caps on NDD spending, the FY 18 Budget Resolution adheres to those caps—and projects massive cuts in those funds over the next ten years. At the same time, it allows for legislation that would increase defense discretionary spending above its FY 18 cap, abandoning the core sequestration principle of parity between NDD and defense discretionary spending.  

Already, the BCA has resulted in an alarming 13 percent decrease in inflation-adjusted NDD spending since 2010.  Should Congress fail to reach a budget agreement to lift the FY 18 NDD budget cap, spending will continue to drop, with devastating consequences to over 130 discretionary programs that directly support children and families.

Although it was encouraging to see that the final FY 18 Budget Resolution abandoned the House’s damaging request for $200 billion in cuts to mandatory spending, its announced savings of $5 trillion over 10 years means that mandatory programs could be on the chopping block in the future. Meanwhile, plans to use reconciliation to generate tax cuts that add up to $1.5 trillion to the deficit over ten years could risk future spending on mandatory programs that support low income children.

West Virginia Event Highlights Need to Put Kids First in Federal Budget

By Rachel Merker, Director of Policy & Research

A Huntington woman reads to a group of children as part of the KidsFest theme "Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies, and Healthy Futures."

A Huntington woman reads to a group of children as part of the KidsFest theme "Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies, and Healthy Futures."

What does it look like to make children and families a priority in federal policy and budget decisions? KidsFest 2017, an annual community event led by the United Way of the River Cities in Huntington, West Virginia, is a great example.

This year, KidsFest was held on September 17 at Ritter Park in Huntington, West Virginia. The festivities welcomed local children and their families to enjoy an afternoon of fun, centered around the theme of “Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies, and Healthy Futures.” A wide range of service providers were available to educate children and parents on issues like substance abuse, nutrition, early learning, safety, and more. Children’s Health Fund, a member of the Children’s Budget Coalition, made an especially exciting appearance at this event, bringing their West Virginia Children’s Health Project mobile medical clinic—directed by Dr. Isabel Pino—to raise the importance of consistent access to pediatric care.  The Herald Dispatch, the local newspaper, took notice of Dr. Pino’s efforts, featuring her in their front page article about the event.

Using the mobile health unit, Dr. Pino serves children who struggle to access medical care due to a lack of infrastructure and resources. I asked Dr. Pino what the federal and state governments can do to make it easier for rural communities to get to the doctor. She explained every community is different, so a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t always appropriate—but investments in infrastructure, public transportation and improved broadband networks to enable telemedicine are good places to start.

As I made my way through the event, I had a chance to interact with other admirable service providers who invest in West Virginia children on a daily basis. While many of their efforts are funded through the generosity of individual and corporate donors, it is also true that federal and state dollars can play a large role in bolstering programming that equips children to have healthy futures. As several Children’s Budget Coalition members can attest to, the government is an important link in the chain between children and service providers.

Several booths, including one from The Office of the West Virginia Attorney General, engaged children around avoiding substance abuse. These providers highlighted the devastating fallout the opioid epidemic has had on children (especially in rural areas) both with respect to health outcomes and separation from parents struggling with addiction. With foster care systems stretched, state and federal investment in child welfare services are critical during this crisis.

The booth hosted by Playmates Preschools & Child Development Centers was a shining example of how public investment in high quality child care can pay off: this organization, whose centers are all accredited by Children’s Budget Coalition member National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), collaborates with AmeriCorps, 21st Century Learning Centers, and local education boards to provide safe, developmentally appropriate and high quality child care and pre-school services. The United Way of the River Cities similarly emphasized the importance of Early Childhood and Education initiatives, giving out free books at its “Success by 6” booth.

KidsFest 2017 is truly a picture of what it looks like to invest in kids. This event should remind advocates and policymakers what—and who—will suffer if the federal government fails to invest in their futures.

A special thanks to the organizations who worked with First Focus to include the Children’s Budget Coalition in KidsFest 2017: Children’s Health Fund, Save the Children Action Network, Save the Children, United Way Worldwide, & United Way of the River Cities

Second annual United Way event features family fun, education


The Herald-Dispatch (Huntington, WV)

HUNTINGTON - Pack up the kids and prepare for some educational fun as United Way of the River Cities hosts the second annual Kids Fest, a celebration of healthy families and children, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 17, at Ritter Park.

This event will feature free family fun including inflatables, performances, games, and prizes, and aims provide free education on how to keep the mind and body healthy as children prepare for their future, according to a news release.

The event will also feature the mobile medical clinic of the West Virginia Children's Health Project, led by Dr. Isabel Pino. As part of Children's Health Fund, this program helped West Virginia children through provision of more than 4,500 clinical and community health education encounters last year, according to the release. Children's Health Fund, Save the Children, and United Way are all organizations that are part of the Children's Budget Coalition, led by the nonprofit advocacy organization First Focus, which is dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions.

"We are thrilled to be partnering with Children's Health Fund and Save the Children organizations this year. It's going to be a wonderful event for the families and children in the greater Huntington area," Lena Burdette, director of education initiative at United Way of the River Cities, said in the release.

Sponsors for the festival include Hoops Family Children's Hospital, The Herald-Dispatch, Cabell County Schools, and B97 FM.

Other organizations participating in this year's Kids Fest include Cabell County Library, Huntington Museum of Art, Cabell-Huntington Health Department, Peachtree Center, Goodwill Industries, Wayne County Schools, Cabell County Schools, Playmates Child Development Center, Pressley Ridge, H & H Enterprises, Health of Appalachia Educational Opportunity Center, Branches Domestic Violence Shelter, The Health Plan, MedExpress, CCSAPP, The WV Housing Authority, WV American Water mobile hydration station, Office of the West Virginia Attorney General, YMCA Kids in Motion and more.

If interested in participating or for more information, contact Burdette at 304-523-8929, ext. 102 or lena.burdette@unitedwayrivercities.org or visit unitedwayrivercities.org.

Loophole Disguises How the Budget Control Act Endangers Kids

By Rachel Merker

Crucial resources to help children have suffered from a steady tide of divestment in federal spending in recent years. The dozens of children’s groups that make up the Children’s Budget Coalition (CBC) believe the caps on non-defense discretionary spending mandated by the Budget Control Act (BCA) present a major obstacle to more spending on initiatives to improve the lives of kids.

Congress itself seems aware that current spending levels aren’t sufficient. That’s why they frequently rely on a budget gimmick allowing them to appropriate above BCA limits: Changes in Mandatory Program Savings (CHIMPS).

Appropriators utilize CHIMPS by setting “spending limits” in mandatory programs whose previous authorizations overestimated future spending (the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Crime Victim’s Fund are two frequent targets). Under scorekeeping rules, the “savings” generated by these caps are then allowed to offset discretionary spending above BCA caps.

The only problem? Those savings aren’t real, because the money wasn’t going to be spent in the first place. The CBO notes this by scoring CHIMPS as a net zero in actual outlay savings.

Without CHIMPS, sub-allocations to non-defense discretionary spending would likely be even lower than current levels. Yet Congress has begun cracking down on this budget loophole, capping the amount of discretionary spending that appropriators can offset from CHIMPS that don’t correspond with net outlay savings. For Fiscal Year 2017, that number was $19 billion—and in Fiscal Year 2018, it’s $17 billion. A reduction down to $15 billion is set for Fiscal Year 2019.

Those rules illuminate the underlying problem with using a budget a gimmick to get around BCA caps: it’s not sustainable. Meanwhile, because CHIMPS rely on overestimations for future mandatory program spending, the available “savings” can also fluctuate year to year. When CHIMPS decrease, discretionary spending available to appropriators like the subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education takes a serious hit.

On the one hand, CHIMPS are an important tool for continuing funding for vital non-defense discretionary spending that benefits children. But a much simpler, and more sustainable, solution is available.

If Congress is serious about investing in children’s futures, they need to stop maneuvering around the Budget Control Act using tricky math and start working to lift the caps on non-defense discretionary spending altogether.

More than 55 Children’s Groups Concerned about Trump Budget’s Impact on Kids

WASHINGTON—The Children’s Budget Coalition (CBC)—a group of more than 55 national organizations dedicated to the well-being of children—is deeply concerned about the President’s Fiscal Year 2018 (FY 18) budget released today. We believe the $54 billion in cuts to non-defense discretionary programs (NDD) could devastate programs that impact children’s development and well-being, particularly in the areas of health, education, nutrition, housing and general welfare.

John Monsif, VP of Government Relations at the First Focus Campaign for Children, said on behalf of the coalition:

“Congress must prevent this misguided proposal by lifting the budget caps on non-defense discretionary (NDD) appropriations and fully investing in kids. Otherwise, the slashing of funding for children’s programs will have real consequences for real people. Our children will be hungrier, sicker, and crammed into more overcrowded classrooms because of these budget cuts. Our youngest and most vulnerable members of society deserve better.”

The Children’s Budget Coalition urges Congress to take the following actions to protect children and invest in their future:

  1. Lift the budget caps for non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending;
  2. Maintain parity between non-defense and defense discretionary spending; and
  3. Increase allocations in the appropriations bills for programs that benefit children.

Investing in children is urgent given two worrying trends, according to the First Focus 2016 Children’s Budget Book: 1) Children’s programs accounted for a mere 2.1 percent of all new total federal spending over the previous five years, despite overall spending increasing by 7.7 percent; and 2) The share of total federal spending on children decreased 5.1 percent between 2014 and 2016.

We cannot continue down this divestment path – our children are America’s future. Now is the time for lawmakers who talk a good game about kids to step up to the plate and act to protect them and help them thrive.