Federal Budget Proposals Will Harm Children, Youth, the Nation

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Our country is divided on many issues, yet there is one issue that is very hard to argue against: the need to support and invest in children and youth — particularly those living in families with low incomes.

As a strategic action network representing thousands of health and human services professionals who come into contact daily with children and families, and systems they rely on, the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities believes there are essential elements that all children need to thrive: access to preventive and fully integrated health and mental health care; safe, stable and nurturing relationships and environments; and education opportunities that begin with supportive families and continue from early childhood to postsecondary advancement.

Access to these essential building blocks enable any child, no matter their socio-economic status, to achieve and grow into a contributing member of their family, their community and society as a whole.

For many children and families, these foundational supports are made accessible through partnerships among federal, state and local governments and nonprofit human service organizations. For this reason, proposed changes from the Trump administration and Congress to Medicaid, and cuts in the federal government’s investments in early education and other programs for youth and families living in poverty, are short-sighted.

Of particular concern are the proposed changes in the Trump administration’s budget blueprint and in the American Health Care Act (AHCA), a bill the U.S. House of Representatives  passed in May. The current version of the AHCA would change Medicaid’s federal financing structure in ways that would have a disproportionate impact on children, who make up half the Medicaid population. According to a recent analysis by Avalere Health, a research firm commissioned by the Children’s Hospital Association, the House-passed bill could cut $43 billion from Medicaid funds used for children over the course of the next decade.

The AHCA also gives states the option to select block grant funding for a 10-year period beginning in 2020 for children and adults. If all states were to choose that block grant option, the cumulative reduction in federal funding for children would top $78 billion over 10 years.

In addition, the Trump administration’s new budget cuts $610 billion from Medicaid over 10 years and calls for a 20 percent reduction in funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). CHIP, which currently enrolls nearly 9 million children, is set to expire by Sept. 30. The cumulative loss of CHIP and drop in Medicaid funding would be devastating for the health and wellbeing of children.

Compounding the reduced ability to build a foundation of good physical and mental health for today’s children and youth, the president’s budget plan calls for $1 trillion in cuts to a broad range of social programs.

The ripple effects of all these proposed changes would have a deeply felt impact on children, their families and neighborhoods, the organizations and schools that contribute to their healthy growth and development, hospitals, rural America and state economies. State governments will likely be forced to make decisions between providing health care and covering the cost of other state-funded essentials, such as public education, with limited state tax dollars.

Alliance network members work at the nexus of families, communities and systems and believe that our country thrives when everyone can reach their full potential. What is at stake here is the future of our children and our country.

Our message is this: Any changes made at the federal level must result in a net positive impact for program beneficiaries and the communities where they live. We see that there is an opportunity to make big leaps forward in the way we build solid foundations for the wellbeing of children and youth through enduring improvements to our nation’s health and human services systems. But, policymakers will not successfully make important advances by turning to uninspired and poorly engineered government tools. It’s time for a new blueprint for smart investment decisions that are likely to save the country more money in the long run while building the kind of population health and wellbeing that contributes to thriving communities, a vibrant economy and a powerful country.

If there were ever a time for the health and human services sector to stand up and speak out, it is now. Join the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities’ strategic action network in contacting members of Congress to insist that federal policy changes result in gains, not losses, for children and youth, their families, communities and country.

Marlo Nash is senior vice president for public policy and mobilization for the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities.