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Deborah Weinstein Headshot

Not Just Numbers: The President's Budget and Real Life

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The President's budget came out on Monday. I've been awash in the fine print for a couple of days, and what's starting to emerge out of all the pages is the impact on real people if the President's proposals are approved. In item after item, the President has invested in children's health, development, and education. He offers help for families struggling in the recession, and creates jobs so fewer families will have to struggle. He helps parents and children alike with investments in child care and Head Start. Low-income students will get more help with college costs. The President renews his commitment to health insurance reform.

In the hundreds of budget pages, the Obama Administration builds a case for investments and choices. He adds $3 billion for kindergarten through high school education; more if Congress changes the law to make the use of the funding more effective for children's learning. He proposes $1 billion a year in child nutrition improvements to help children grow into healthy and productive adults. There are practical moves to make sure that good nutrition reaches all communities - including more money for fresh fruits and vegetables for poor children and more food stamp benefits so low-income families are more able to afford the food they need.

Other important investments in children include $2.5 billion in new emergency funds to help families with children avoid deep poverty and help parents get jobs; $500 million in a fund to promote fatherhood, marriage and help for families who face the biggest barriers to employment; permanent improvements in the child tax credit and Earned Income Tax Credit; and extending the restored funding for child support enforcement to help ensure that both parents contribute to raising their child.

The budget lays the groundwork for jobs through new and green technologies and infrastructure spending. Jobless youth will get more help to prepare for careers in these growth areas through YouthBuild and other training programs; jobless adults will get more help too.

How can we make these investments while starting to reduce the deficit? The President continues his commitment to let tax cuts expire for the wealthiest among us. He is willing to raise revenues from those who greatly increased their wealth during the speculative period that wound up hurting most of us. Fees on large banks and fair taxes for hedge fund managers seem like a good way to pay for investments that spur economic growth to move the whole nation forward. He cuts some programs. He chooses jobs, education, and child nutrition over a new moon landing.

As important as these investments are, the budget also emphasizes the importance of using these funds wisely. Throughout the budget, there is a focus on improving the delivery of services. For example, it includes provisions for cooperation across agencies to do a better job of serving youth and promotes collaboration between the Departments of Labor and Education to support job training efforts.

Some choices are not so hard. Investing in health care reform will save money, and the President is absolutely right to fight for it. But because health reform will phase in over a few years, the budget increases funding for community health centers so the uninsured can get the health care they need this year.

This is not a perfect budget. First, although the priorities are right, the budget doesn't include enough resources for job creation to give the economy the boost it needs. Moreover, it doesn't focus enough funds on helping people with the lowest incomes get jobs.

Second, I am pleased that the budget includes money to help states avoid budget cuts during these tough times by increasing the amount of Medicaid reimbursements they receive. Unfortunately the $25 billion proposed for state fiscal relief is not enough. States face the worst fiscal crisis in generations. Between the current fiscal year and next year, states are struggling to close total budget shortfalls of at least $350 billion, some of which they have already addressed through cuts. They have laid off staff, cut contracts, and reduced services in everything from Medicaid to child care to education. When states lay off employees, it drags down the local economy and delays economic recovery even further.

Certainly the President and his economic advisors grasp the importance of reducing our growing federal deficit. But they understand that the deficit will not go down without restoring economic growth and jobs or without reining in out-of-control health care costs. They understand too that the deficit grew in large part because of the recklessly irresponsible tax cuts of the Bush years. People who just want to cut spending without addressing these issues will paralyze the economy still further without getting us on a more stable track. Of course we should cut wasteful spending, but a more comprehensive approach is needed.

The President has presented a budget that has the potential to boost the economy and help get people back to work. Now it is up to Congress to provide the resources to make a difference in real lives.