There are winners and losers in every budget, and President Obama's proposed federal 2011 budget, released this month, is no exception. What's most remarkable, however, about the president's proposal is that low-income kids and families stand out as a clear priority. Wherever you look in his budget document, you see that he has worked hard to put the poor and disadvantaged near the top of his agenda. We've been following federal budgets for some 40 years, and this is one of the strongest attempts we've seen from any president, of either party, to propose spending priorities that would do much to reduce poverty and promote opportunity.
Even more remarkable, he proposes to do this within a very austere spending plan. President Obama has proposed a freeze on domestic non-security discretionary programs. However, within that freeze, he has protected and improved many critical low-income programs. The priorities in the President's budget work to address both his short-term goal of strengthening the economy and creating jobs, while helping those hardest hit by the downturn, as well as his longer-term goal of bringing the deficit down and restoring fiscal responsibility.
We expect a vigorous, engaging debate about what this budget accomplishes for low-income families, and what still needs to be done, but here are major highlights of the proposals that would do the most to cut poverty and promote opportunity:
- For Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization, the budget proposes $10 billion over ten years in additional funding. According to the budget, the additional investments will be "aimed at ending childhood hunger, reducing childhood obesity, and improving the diets of children, and raising program performance to better serve our children."
- The President also projects spending at nearly $57.2 billion for SNAP/Food Stamps, an increase of nearly $7.6 billion over FY 2010. The requested level would continue American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provisions, which began boosting SNAP/Food Stamp benefits in 2009, as well as anticipated increases in program participation.
- For continued state fiscal relief, the President proposes a six-month extension of Medicaid relief - some $25 billon - to states in order to save and create new jobs, to protect health care coverage, and to minimize devastating budget cuts that states will otherwise be forced to impose.
- The budget proposal would make the improvements enacted in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, and the American Opportunity Tax Credit permanent. In addition, the President proposes to make the savers' credit for low-income families refundable. Together, these credits will account for $1.7 billion in new spending for 2011 and $13 billion in new spending for 2012.
- Child care for low-income working families would also get a boost with an increase of $1.6 billion per year for the Child Care Development Block Grant.
- The budget would extend the current Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Fund authorized under ARRA for one year - through September 2011 - and would increase the federal share for states to create subsidized jobs from 80 percent to 100 percent. Under this proposal, states would get another $2.5 billion targeted to very low-income families and kids.
- The President's proposal would increase Head Start by nearly $1 billion, continuing the Head Start funding appropriated in ARRA.
- It provides an additional $3.3 billion resources and a new funding trigger for Energy Assistance to Low-Income Families (LIHEAP), so that any time there is a spike in energy costs or a significant increase in economic hardship, the LIHEAP budget will automatically increase to meet rising demands. The Administration notes that they expect the trigger to provide roughly $2 billion in additional assistance in 2011 and $6.5 billion over 10 years.
- He has requested a total of $321 million through the Departments of Education and Labor to establish a new "Partnership for Workforce Innovation." The initiative would permit the agencies to coordinate competitive grants to states and localities to improve services, particularly for disadvantaged workers, and to support innovative workforce activities such as sector partnerships.
- The budget also proposes $85 million for the Green Jobs Innovation Fund, which supports training to prepare workers for careers in the energy efficiency and clean energy sectors, as described in the Green Jobs Act of 2007. This represents a $45 million increase over FY 2010 funding levels. Department of Labor anticipates that these funds would build on the "green jobs" grants included in the recovery act. Also in the DOL budget, there's $46.6 million for Pilots, Demonstrations, and Research, with $40 million reserved for transitional jobs.
- Highlights of the HUD budget include $250 million for the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative; $150 million for Sustainable Communities;$150 million for a new Catalytic Investment Competition program; a major new initiative to preserve public and assisted housing; a new demonstration that will combine 10,000 new vouchers with supportive services for individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of homelessness; an increase of $1.3 billion for housing vouchers (to ensure full renewal of assistance for the 2.1 million low-income families now using vouchers); and $1 billion for the Housing Trust Fund.
- The President proposes to move his highly anticipated Promise Neighborhoods initiative into operation, increasing funding from $10 million in planning grants during 2010 to a whopping $210 million for next year.
- The Social Innovation Fund, appropriated at $50 million in 2010, would be increased to $60 million for 2011, allowing the Corporation for National and Community Service to conduct another round of awards for poverty-reduction initiatives.
- There's $50 million in the budget to help states adopt paid sick leave and $500 million to support for fatherhood and healthy marriage through a Fatherhood, Marriage, and Families Innovation Fund.
- For low-income post-secondary education the budget requests a total of $34.8 billion to provide Pell Grants to nearly 9 million students in the 2011‐12 award year, with a projected maximum award of $5,710. This represents an increase of more than $14 billion over current FY 2010 appropriations.
- Last, but hardly least, the President requests money for overhauling the federal poverty measure! In the Department of Commerce budget, there's a $5 million initiative to allow the Census Bureau to work with the Bureau of Labor Statistics to supplement the official poverty measure with annual alternative poverty measures. At long last, it looks like there is real movement toward revamping the measure!
Overall, kids do particularly well in this budget. According to First Focus, total discretionary spending on programs that are focused on children will see a $6.12 billion boost over last year's levels, an increase of 7.2 percent. President Obama's budget proposes a cap of $447 billion for non-security discretionary spending, equal to last year's funding level. Despite this freeze, the percentage of federal discretionary money spent on children's programs would increase under the President's request, rising from 18.97 percent in fiscal year 2010 to 20.34 percent in fiscal year 2011. Total discretionary spending on children in fiscal year 2010 totaled $84.8 billion. The President's budget request increases that spending to approximately $90.9 billion.
No matter how you cut it, the President's proposed budget would be good for jobs, good for kids and families, and good for poverty reduction and shared prosperity. Now, of course, it goes to Congress... and the hard work starts!