The sweeping changes in Congress are being characterized as a mandate for change, including cutting the nation's massive deficit. This seems like a very reasonable goal, as long as the cuts are prudent and take a long view of their impact. Of course, the process of making substantial budget cuts will be labor intensive and difficult. My concern is that programs getting sliced will be those whose beneficiaries have no voice. That's because the easiest ways to make cuts are in places where no powerful constituents are pushing back -- making poor children in particular vulnerable.
That's why I was pleased that President Obama's State of the Union speech made a strong plea not to harm the less fortunate when making budget decisions. In bringing spending in line with revenue, the President called for Congress to "make sure that we're not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens." He repeated this challenge when he spoke about Social Security, and specifically called on Congress to protect vulnerable Americans when considering changes in that program.
We too hope that careful consideration is given as Congress makes cuts -- especially as these relate to Social Security since Title IV-E of the Act was designed to help foster children. Even though we don't want to see this cut, we do think it's time to update the Act to make it more effective. Since 1996, IV-E eligibility has been tied to income requirements of a program that no longer exists, Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Changes to the IV-E language are needed to correct the discrepancies created by being tied to this obsolete program and to open up IV-E to child abuse prevention strategies -- which can save money over the long term. Protection from abuse and neglect should not be predicated on a families' income. Also this federal support should be available for services that help keep families together instead of solely for removing a child from the home.
As the country continues to face many challenges with a growing poverty rate that disproportionately affects children, high unemployment, and millions of uninsured families, the Affordable Care Act provides a beacon of hope that children can be a priority for the nation. Policymakers should think long and hard before drastically changing this Act, which makes many improvements for children including:
• preserving the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) through 2019 -- which remains essential for children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to purchase private insurance;
• expanding Medicaid under the ACA to provide continued support for former foster youth after they age out of the system as well as other low-income populations; and
• providing federal funding for home visiting programs to keep children who may be at-risk of entering the child welfare system, in safe and stable homes
Congress should also continue implementing the landmark 2008 Fostering Connections Act. In a decade's time, the nation's foster care system significantly shrunk, declining by 115,000 children. The drop is the result of a multitude of factors, including a sustained and coordinated effort to change how children are supported. The Fostering Connections Act -- which enjoyed broad bi-partisan support -- will improve outcomes for foster children even more. Investments in foster children today mean fewer homeless and incarcerated adults tomorrow, representing a significant cost savings for the nation.
At the end of the day, we must remain vigilant about protecting those less fortunate. Children are neither a political nor a partisan issue. They should be regarded as a resource and national priority. Wise decisions now will have lasting impact on our nation's long-term fiscal health. So, as more thought is given about how and when to open the nation's wallet, remember that children are a sound investment that pay dividends for years to come.
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