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

9/12/17

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.