Friday, January 4th, 2013
Is there a phrase you’d like to banish more than “fiscal cliff”? But before we put it out of our minds–temporarily, anyway–let’s hear a smart analysis of what the agreement hammered out on New Year’s Eve really means for families. This follow-up post comes from Ann O’Leary,the director of the Children and Families Program at The Center for the Next Generation. The Center has recently launched a campaign called Too Small to Fail, a national movement to raise awareness about the state of America’s children and how the country can come together to create a stronger future for the next generation; we at Parents are one of its partners.
In an 11th hour set of furious negotiations, Congress and President Obama reached an agreement on the so-called “fiscal cliff,” a self-imposed set of deadlines that would have resulted in automatic tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts in the absence of a deal.
In many respects, the deal is good news for America’s children and families.
- It raises taxes on the wealthiest Americans (those families making over $450,000 per year, or individuals making over $400,000 per year) and uses the increased revenue to provide many supports for middle- and low-income working families.
- It preserves the middle-class income tax cuts put into place in 2001 under President George W. Bush.
- It also ensures a lower tax bill for more working parents by extending the expansion of two critical tax breaks for taxpayers with children—the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit—particularly to reach larger and lower-income families.
- In addition, it lowers the tax bill for low- and moderate-income families who are helping pay for their children’s college tuition by extending the American Opportunity Tax Credit.
- Finally, the deal extends unemployment insurance benefits to the long-term unemployed, many of whom are parents desperately searching for a job in a still-weak economy.
But as I explained just before the holidays, the fiscal cliff is only the latest hurdle faced by our government in trying to resolve much longer-term debates about how much debt the United States should carry, which revenue and spending policies will best help the economy grow, and whether the United States can sustain the commitments it has made to America’s seniors through Social Security and Medicare.
None of these bigger and more difficult questions have been resolved as part of this deal. In fact, Congress and the President agreed to delay the automatic budget cuts to major federal spending programs for only two months and to delay the question of whether Congress will again raise the country’s debt limit. This means that the President and the Congress, divided by deep ideological differences about how best to spend taxpayer dollars, have again agreed to automatic spending cuts that will take effect in early March, including cuts to some of our most impactful programs for children—Title I funds that aid schools with the most low-income students, federal funding that goes to states to help schools pay for the costs of aiding children with special needs and disabilities, and funding for Head Start to provide critical early education opportunities to our neediest children.
It also means that, at some point soon, Congress and the President will reopen the debate about reforming Social Security and Medicare, our largest entitlement programs. Along with debating those entitlement programs, they are likely to put back on the table possible cuts to Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—programs that provide essential health and food security for millions of America’s children.
So, we may have temporarily rescued our kids from the edge of the cliff. But the political winds continue to push them toward the precipice.
Photo: Fiscal cliff phrase in the sand being washed away via Shutterstock.
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Wednesday, December 12th, 2012
This post was written by Ann O’Leary, the director of the Children and Families Program at The Center for the Next Generation. The Center has recently launched a campaign called Too Small to Fail, a national movement to raise awareness about the state of America’s children and how the country can come together to create a stronger future for the next generation; we at Parents are one of its partners.
By now, most people who pay attention to the news have heard about the “fiscal cliff.” The problem: Most people don’t know what the fiscal cliff actually is, or how it will impact their families.
The term “fiscal cliff” is shorthand for a series of events that will occur at the end of 2012 that will impact how the federal government operates. These include automatic, across-the-board cuts to funds for schools with low-income and special needs students; increases in income taxes and the payroll tax, which fall primarily on middle-income families; decreases in tax credits to support working families and children; and the expiration of unemployment insurance benefits that help those experiencing long-term unemployment, including aid to many of the parents of the 6.2 million children who are living with unemployed parents.
How did we get here? It’s easy to forget that the way our government collects and spends its revenue is largely a statement about our values and priorities as a country. For example, the federal government invests $25,455 for every senior compared to $3,822 for every child. This doesn’t suggest that seniors shouldn’t be a priority–in fact, programs such as Social Security and Medicare have dramatically reduced poverty among seniors.
But it does beg the question: For a nation that claims to care about our kids, we’re not exactly putting our money where our values are. And the investments we are making–ensuring that all children have access to health insurance, that they won’t go hungry when their parents are out of work, and that our neediest children receive the federal aid they need to get a good education–are all at risk in the debate about the fiscal cliff.
The bottom line for parents should be that we won’t stand for cuts that pull the rug out from under our kids.
How We Got Here
The fiscal cliff is the result of an ongoing debate in Washington about how much debt the United States should carry, which revenue and spending policies will best help the economy grow, and whether the United States can sustain the level of commitments it has made to America’s seniors through Social Security and Medicare.
Leaders from both parties agree that the United States should reduce its debt and figure out how to reduce the growth in spending on Social Security and Medicare; to achieve these objectives, Congress passed a law in 2011 that requires execution of an agreement to control deficit spending–or face automatic cuts to the federal budget. That agreement never materialized, so as of January 1, 2013, the country will face $1.2 trillion dollars in automatic cuts to the federal budget. At the same time, a number of reductions to income and payroll taxes will expire. Mix them all together, and you have the fiscal cliff.
The Impact on Children and Families
When Congress agreed to automatically cut spending, they also agreed that there were some programs that were too important to cut. Among them are the programs that provide the most federal aid to children:
- Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provide health insurance to about 40 percent of the children who have coverage
- The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps); half of all SNAP recipients are kids
- Social Security, which provides critical income assistance to children in families where a major breadwinner has died or is unable to work due to disability
The bad news: All of these programs are now being discussed as potentially back on the chopping block.
In addition, there are many federal investments that positively impact children’s lives that are not protected, and will automatically be cut–among them the $1.1 billion in funding for Title I schools, which are the schools with the most low-income children, and $903 million in federal funding that goes to states to help schools pay for the costs of aiding children with special needs and disabilities.
In the grand scheme of things, these programs don’t cost a lot of money–but they pay huge dividends. If our children are truly our greatest national asset, it is unwise to stop investing in them, particularly when it’s clear we already under-invest in the programs that can help them lead secure, productive and fulfilling lives.
If there’s any good news, it’s this: Parents are not powerless to influence the outcome of this debate. For one, Congress is generally responsive (yes, even in this cynical era) to calls, letters, e-mails and visits from their constituents. If enough parents from a single district contact their representative, you can really change the course of history. And there are also other avenues, such as the Too Small to Fail campaign, which is creating a national platform to make sure that parents–and kids–have a voice in the decisions that impact their lives.
Our kids are truly too small to fail; let’s not push them off the fiscal cliff.
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