Speaking Out! Congress wraps up for recess, with much left to be decided
Members of Congress are returning to their home districts for recess, but leaving a lot undecided. Tax and appropriations questions have been answered by tentative deals, but we still don’t know how children’s programs will fare in the big congressional battles ahead.
The House has passed a plan to continue the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts without any conditions. In the Senate that plan has already failed, and that chamber has passed a measure that would continue the tax cut only on incomes of less than $200,000 (for individuals). Child advocates agree that we must not give the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans another tax break that is sure to be paid for out of programs needy children depend on.
Meanwhile, party leaders in Congress have announced a deal to continue funding the government into early 2013. This “continuing resolution” simply keeps program funding under the same low levels agreed upon in the fall (with the Budget Control Act, the compromise that arose out of the debt ceiling crisis). While the Budget Control Act protects many programs families depend upon in tough times, like Medicaid, other investments in the next generation, like Head Start, stand to lose.
These questions are all the more pressing given the plight children in America face today. In recent years, America’s children are largely better educated and healthier, but less economically secure, according to the recently released 2012 KIDS COUNT Data Book from our partner the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The improvement in education indicators is heartening. Despite the huge criticism the education system has endured over the past few years, reading and math scores are up, as are high school graduation rates. But state standards are low troubling racial disparities in outcomes remain.
As for health, the Data Book reports that the number of children with health insurance has increased. So while employer-provided coverage has dropped, public coverage for children has more than filled the gap. It should be noted that the health reform law has helped by ending “pre-existing conditions,” ending lifetime caps on benefits, and allowing youth to stay on their family’s insurance plans up to age 26.
Distressingly, children appear less economically secure by the Data Book’s figures. Families are still struggling in the wake of recession, and recovery has been slow. Policymakers should heed the advice of child advocates and not go through with proposed cuts to safety net programs, especially with joblessness still so high.
The Data Book tracks child well-being across a number of indicators to give a whole picture of how American kids are faring. It’s an indispensable guide for policymakers, journalists, and anyone concerned about the welfare of the next generation. Read the whole report here, or just see how your state is doing.