The blog of the Urban Institute
January 15, 2019

What would $5.7 billion fund for America’s children?

January 15, 2019

The government shutdown enters its fourth week as the president’s request for $5.7 billion to fund a border wall continues to divide Congress. Regardless of arguments for or against the wall, this debate revolves around the fundamental question of how our country’s resources could best support greater security and prosperity for all Americans.

And that question led us to another: what if American children were the center of today’s funding debate? How would $5.7 billion support children’s development into healthy, successful adults?

Based on the Urban Institute’s latest annual Kids’ Share report, which analyzes public spending on children, $5.7 billion is the same amount the federal government spent in 2017 on the Child Care and Development Fund. Similar spending in prior years helped more than 1 million children access high-quality child care but left six in seven eligible children without subsidies. Though Congress increased the program budget by $2.4 billion in March 2018, an additional $5.7 billion investment in child care subsidies would go a long way toward helping parents afford high-quality child care, so they can go to work or pursue education and training.

With $5.7 billion, the federal government could double the $5 billion spent on healthy food and related services for mothers and their young children through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, which serves over 7 million people every month. It could more than double the $4.4 billion spent on the Vaccines for Children program, and it could quintuple the $1 billion the federal government has spent on job training programs for youth.

Federal spending on education is projected to decrease by $5 billion over the next decade—a decline that could be eliminated with a $5.7 billion investment. Alternatively, $5.7 billion could more than offset projected cuts in federal spending for early education and care ($1 billion), housing ($1 billion), nutrition ($0.6 billion), and social services and training ($0.4 billion) combined.

Spending on children is an investment in the nation’s future.

Children are fed, housed, kept in good health, and supported in reaching their full potential with proper spending. However, spending on children is decreasing as a share of the budget, as a share of the economy, and in real dollar terms in nearly every category of spending.

Spending on children currently composes about 9 percent of the federal budget, but that share is expected to decline to less than 7 percent by 2028. And soon, the federal government will spend more on interest payments on the national debt than on children, as federal spending has exceeded revenues every year since 2001 and is projected to continue growing for at least the next 10 years.

How our government spends money and who benefits from that spending reflects our national priorities. Under current-law projections, we risk shortchanging our investment in children and burdening future generations with a legacy of debt.

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As an organization, the Urban Institute does not take positions on issues. Experts are independent and empowered to share their evidence-based views and recommendations shaped by research.