Who Can Protect Youth Spending This Year?

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As Congress prepares this month to take on a full slate of federal spending bills, research on federal expenditures from the Urban Institute and state budget information collected by Youth Today show that a significant drop in youth-related spending is likely for 2012, and will continue into the middle of the decade unless states increase expenditures on youths.

“With federal funding on children projected to decline and states still struggling to recover from the recession, the likelihood of cuts in services to children in 2011 and 2012 is quite high,” said the Kid’s Share 2011 report, released by the Urban Institute this summer.

Congress returned from summer recess with only one youth-related department bill complete: the House Commerce/Justice/State spending bill. All three of the 12 federal spending bills that each year include the lion’s share of federal funds for youth – Commerce/Justice/State, Health/Education/Labor, and Transportation/Housing and Urban Development – are still awaiting action by the House or the Senate appropriation’s committees.

The House Committee on Appropriations has finished the Commerce/Justice/State bill and Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said his committee will finish its work on the other two “as soon as possible.” It appeared the committee might finish markups to set funding levels for programs at the Departments of Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development, but all were postponed as attention swung to the debt ceiling compromise.

On the other hand, the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved only one spending bill, for Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and has not marked up any of the youth-related bills.

Although the House has set a budget ceiling, it hasn’t figured out how to carve up the money, and the Senate is unlikely to agree with most of the carving.

But if the House Justice bill is any indication, federal youth-related spending levels look dismal for 2012. The House bill cuts $3 billion from the Justice Department’s 2011 level, and eliminates most federal funding for juvenile justice activities.

Juvenile justice demonstration grants, the Juvenile Accountability Block Grants (JABG) and Title V Local Delinquency Prevention Grants were eliminated from the bill. In 2010, the last year Congress actually passed an appropriations package – the current year’s spending is technically under a continuing resolution – those three funding streams totaled $231 million.

State formula grants - given to states on the condition that they adhere to basic standards when they detain juveniles, and address racial disparities in the system – were reduced in the bill from $75 million in 2010 to $40 million.

In the previous two years of his administration, President Barack Obama has managed to protect many social programs, first through outlays from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and then in the budget compromise for 2011 reached in April.

But the budget ceiling set during the deal to raise the debt ceiling – and the harsh cuts it will require – will make it much harder for him or the Democrat-led Senate to afford those protections this year.

The delays in work on the various federal appropriations bills – and the almost certain steep reductions – have also jeopardized many state spending plans.

Dozens of states passed 2012 budgets during the summer, some of them following contentious debates that dragged to the precipice of a shutdown. Minnesota, one of the best states on measures of well-being for children, actually ceased operations because lawmakers couldn’t agree on the budget.  A county judge ultimately had to determine what youth services were “essential” enough to fund without a budget in place.

Youth Today has been collecting information from states about their 2012 spending plans on disadvantaged youth. Many states haven’t worked out their final numbers, but already several patterns are emerging.

* Cuts to community colleges. Arizona, Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri and Pennsylvania all have all cut spending on community college programs. Arizona nearly halved its contribution to the schools, cutting back from $135 million in 2011 to $71 million this year. California community colleges are also bracing for a significant cut in the middle of the school year, contingent on how much revenue the state brings in.

* Declines in spending on juvenile justice and child welfare. Youth Today research so far has identified 10 states where local juvenile justice funding will decline in 2012, and nine states where child welfare spending will drop. The Massachusetts Department of Youth Services, widely considered to be one of the better juvenile justice systems, is being funded at $15.7 million less in 2012 than it was in 2009. The Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections spending is down 47 percent from its 2008 appropriation, and Rhode Island’s Department of Children, Youth and Families (which oversees child welfare and juvenile justice) saw its budget reduced by $26 million (11 percent) from 2011 to 2012.

Texas cut its juvenile probation budget from $182 million to $162 million, and lopped $65 million from its 2011 youth corrections budget of $233 million. At the same time, the state increased its child welfare spending by $100 million as it prepares to defend itself against a class-action lawsuit filed by nonprofit litigator Children’s Rights.

* Consolidation and closure in juvenile justice. In the four states that account for the majority of America’s youth population – California, Florida, New York, and Texas – the need for budget tightening has precipitated the closure of aging juvenile facilities, many of which had long been in the crosshairs of juvenile justice watchdogs. California is expected to shut down another of its four training schools this year – there were 11 schools in 2005 – and shift all incarceration responsibilities to the state’s 58 counties in the near future.

The most notable closure was the North Florida Youth Development Center in Marianna, near the state’s border with Alabama. Five men, now known as the “White House Boys,” came forward in 2008 to say they had been beaten bloody at the school during the 1950s and 1960s. The admission led to hundreds more former wards alleging brutality and rape during their time in Marianna. 

Despite repeated calls since then by advocates for closure of the center, it was recent budget cuts that ultimately brought its demise.

The dismal 2012 outlook follows a fiscal year which exceeded expectations, considering the universal fear among youth advocates that the tapering off of stimulus money and a drawn-out federal budget battle would cut youth programs deeply.

Washington narrowly averted a 2011 shutdown in the spring by passing a continuing resolution to fund the government through October. An early version of the 2011 spending deal passed by the House of Representatives included massive cuts to youth services, including a virtual elimination of the Corporation for National and Community Service and its flagship AmeriCorps program.

In the end, a deal reached by both houses with the help of the Obama administration protected most of the major youth-related funding streams.

CNCS was nearly level-funded, and youth funds within the Workforce Investment Act were cut from $924 million to $827 million instead of being completely eliminated. Head Start, slated for a $1 billion cut in the original House plan, actually received a $300 million boost in 2011.

The only deep cut to federal youth spending came in the juvenile justice arena, where $91 in demonstration programs was cut and another $57 million cut was spread across formula and block grant funds for states.

At the state level, spending on early childhood increased in 22 states from fiscal 2010 to fiscal 2011, according to a study by the National Council of State Legislatures, and the overall state expenditures on early childhood increased by $277 million. NCSL includes in its tally child care spending, pre-kindergarten, and home visitation programs to at-risk expectant mothers, along with any other identifiable programs run exclusively for young children and infants.

Nine of those 22 states increased spending on early childhood by over 10 percent; four upped spending by more than 20 percent. In the 27 states where early childhood spending was cut in 2011, only seven saw a cut of 10 percent or more.

NCSL said the influence of ARRA funds on early childhood increases was strongest in 2010, when they were spent “in most states” to “avoid cuts.” But as reliance on ARRA waned in 2011, spending on child care and pre-kindergarten continued to rise in a number of states.

There are already some indications that investments in early childhood will wane in 2012. Kansas increased it early childhood expenditures in 2011, according to NCSL, but gutted its Early Head Start program in 2012 and zeroed out assistance to local governments for after-school programs. The state will contribute $66,584 to Early Head Start in 2012; in 2011, it spent $3.5 million. Arizona, which increased early childhood spending by 70 percent in 2011, zeroed out a $13.7 million child care subsidy for low-income parents.

Uncertain future

The federal pie will shrink even more in coming fiscal years, according to the Kids’ Share 2011 report released by the Urban Institute in July. The report, which counts any program “directly benefiting children or benefiting households because of the presence of children,” forecasts a 9 percent decline in federal outlays on children between 2010 and 2015. And those projections do not incorporate the spring 2011 spending cuts or the cuts mandated by the debt ceiling deal, which means the decline could be higher than 9 percent.

It means that if youth-related spending has any hope of returning to pre-recession levels without another ARRA-type infusion from the federal government, states will have to take on more of the financial burden. Kim Rueben, a state finance analyst for the Urban Institute, estimated that it will be at least a few more years before state budgets will return to the general level they were at in 2008.

Urban Institute Fellow Olivia Golden said that would be an insufficient resurgence in Florida, North Carolina, Georgia and Texas, where a recent Brookings Institution analysis of 2010 Census data showed large increases in the number of children spurred mostly by swelling immigrant populations.

“They will have to go way past 2008 spending,” Golden said. “Texas added one million children between the 2000 and 2010 census.”

None of those states, she said, “have a history suggesting an ability to increase investment.”