As a new Congress and president take power, we’re entering a period of infinite unknowns. The process for developing and enacting a federal budget is fluid and complex. Congressional budget resolutions, appropriations bills and administrative proposals all play a part. It remains to be seen how the new leadership will use these levers of power. However, despite this uncertainty, we’re not entirely in the dark.
In December 2016, President Obama signed a bicameral spending bill, the continuing resolution for fiscal year (FY) 2017, to fund the federal government through April 28, 2017. The continuing resolution (CR) funded discretionary programs based on FY 2016 funding and included a 0.19 percent across-the-board cut. That means a significantly decreased investment in programs that support low-income children, youth and families.
Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress are moving quickly to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — a key pillar of President Donald Trump’s campaign. In the early hours of Jan. 12, the Senate passed its budget resolution by a vote of 51-48, allowing committees to proceed with drafting repeal legislation. A budget resolution sets forth congressional spending totals and targets and can act as a trigger for committees to propose legislation, such as the replacement for the ACA, but it does not enact spending and have the force of law.
The budget resolution instructed committees to draft their legislation by Jan. 27, after which the full Senate will likely vote on the repeal language. Although, reaching consensus on a replacement bill has not been easy. The House of Representatives approved the budget resolution on Jan. 13 on mostly a party-line vote (227-198). To repeal the ACA, Republicans will use a budget process known as reconciliation, which allows the Senate to pass legislation with only 51 votes — a simple majority — rather than a filibuster-proof 60 votes.
Congress must take action this spring to ensure the federal government remains open and programs critical to children, youth and families are funded between April 29 and Sept. 30, 2017. It’s also on the hook for a FY 2018 spending bill that funds the government starting Oct. 1. Appropriations bills, including the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies bill, will be driven by the Republican Congress and the president.
It is believed that the president’s proposed FY 2018 budget will follow a blueprint developed by the Heritage Foundation and would gut or eliminate funding of programs critical to children and youth well-being, including Head Start, Job Corps, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and competitive and formula programs authorized under Title I of the Every Student Succeeds Act. What’s more, this 2016 House proposal suggests their priorities would only deepen cuts to programs that put food on the table as well as provide access to health care, after-school and child care services, job training and career pathways for poor and low-income families. These threats come in the wake of President Trump's sweeping executive orders that put immigrant and refugee families at risk, including a provision to deny funding to sanctuary cities.
The national poverty rate has decreased, the economy is growing and more people are working. But too many children, youth and young adults remain poor. They’re still struggling to get the resources and supports they need to succeed. In the U.S., 1 in 5 children (under age 18) and young adults (ages 18 to 24) lives below the poverty line. Children, youth, and families of color fare far worse than their non-Hispanic white counterparts — the result of systemic failures in public policy and the economy that hinder their success. Living in poverty has lifelong consequences. Poor children have a higher risk of poor health, low educational attainment and low wages than their economically secure peers.
At the same time, many youth and young adults are stuck; and teen and young adult unemployment remains high. Last year, the unemployment rate for youth and young adults ages 16 to 24 was more than twice as high as the overall unemployment rate. And an estimated 5.25 million young people ages 16 to 24 are unattached to school or work.
These young people, known as opportunity youth, make up nearly one-third of unemployed people. At a critical time in their development, opportunity youth are not graduating from high school, gaining work experience, earning a paycheck or engaging in postsecondary training or entering college. And they’re not getting the social, emotional and health supports needed to thrive.
The actions set in motion by the Republican-controlled Congress do not represent strong investments in youth. Repealing the ACA and rushing through a replacement plan in just weeks will threaten the health insurance of millions of Americans, including 4.4 million children and 6.1 million young adults (ages 19 to 25). Repealing the ACA will also hurt youth in foster care by ending health coverage for young adults aging out of foster care (up to age 26) and undermining health coverage through a block grant structure — among many other issues.
Despite increasing need, programs that help low-income youth, especially opportunity youth, are flat or shrinking. For example, current funding for key employment and training is more than 3 percent lower than levels authorized in WIOA, 2014’s bipartisan reauthorization of the federal workforce development law, a primary federal source of job-training funding for opportunity youth. This would continue a decline in funding for these programs of more than 30 percent in real terms over the past 15 years. Funding for after-school programs like the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) allows just 1.6 million of 22 million eligible children and youth to participate.
In the coming weeks and months, we are sure to face numerous budget battles. If policymakers cut safety net programs — or make bad structural changes — states, communities and youth will lose the resources needed to mitigate poverty and help young people secure postsecondary education, training, stable employment and long-term self-sufficiency. Put simply, Congress would block youth from reaching their potential as well as undermine our nation’s future. The federal budget should reflect American values. As Dr. Martin Luther King said, “a budget is a moral document.” These battles and our responses will test our commitment to this generation.
Kisha Bird is director of youth policy at the Center for Law and Social Policy and project director for the Campaign for Youth, a national coalition chaired by CLASP. Focusing on local and federal policy solutions, she works to expand access to education, employment and support services for low-income and opportunity youth, with a focus on young men and women of color.