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May 14, 2015

EDITORIAL: Roadmaps To Opportunity And Budget Roadblocks

Lecia Imbery

“These budgets massively disinvest in the country, and then they shred the social safety net… That is actually a recipe for putting a lot more people into poverty and eliminating opportunity.” – House Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)

I listened to Rep. Van Hollen make this comment when he was speaking at Roadmaps to Opportunity, an event held last week designed to explore policy ideas aimed at expanding opportunity for low-income children and their families.

Several of the speakers highlighted some of the current problems America faces. Patrick McCarthy, President and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, focused on our nation’s struggling children.

“If you think about the most important leading indicator – economically, socially, morally – as a country, you’ve got to think about how are the children doing. They are our leading indicator for where we’re going to be in 25 years…We’ve got half of the children in this country being born into families that are at risk of falling into poverty, they’re at the 200 percent of the federal poverty level. 1 in 5 kids are in families that are below the poverty line. 1 in 10 kids are in families that are in deep poverty, half the federal poverty level…We also seem to have more stickiness at the bottom of the income ladder, so a kid growing up in a poor familiy, the bottom fifth, is 5 times less likely to move to the top than a child born at the top is to move to the bottom.”

Michael Gerson, Visiting Fellow at the Center for Public Justice and a columnist at the Washington Post, noted that without social mobility, income inequality becomes a caste system.

Isabel Sawhill, Co-Director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution, echoed Rep. Van Hollen’s assessment of Congress’ budget:

“The safety net is just being shredded in these Republican budgets.”

She went on to say the fact that 69 percent of the non-defense cuts in the House and Senate budgets comes from low- and middle- income programs was “shameful. Just shameful.” I couldn’t agree more.

The President’s Council on Economic Advisers estimates that more than 40 million more Americans would live in poverty without policies like Social Security, Medicare, and food and nutrition policies that are the cornerstones of the War on Poverty. But everyone at the event agreed that to lift more Americans out of poverty, more needs to be done.

The speakers specifically called out many of the policies and strategies CHN fights for, including making permanent the improvements to the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit; expanding access to quality early childhood education; expanding job training programs; protecting and expanding access to safety net programs like SNAP/food stamps; making work pay by raising the minimum wage and creating more good jobs; making work work by expanding work/life balance policies like paid leave and paid sick days; and investing a two-generation approach where both parents and children are supported.

My guess would be that everyone present agreed that our country’s priority should be growing an economy with shared prosperity and that implementing these policies and expanding these programs would move us toward that goal. However, with the already-suffocating spending caps of sequestration and the additional devastating cuts envisioned in Congress’ budget, these programs will be slashed instead of expanded, and more and more Americans will fall further and further behind.

Thankfully, there are many more steps before the funding cuts outlined in Congress’ budget plans could be enacted into law. Appropriations season is starting, and we need to be a loud and constant voice for a change of direction. We must continue to fight the harmful cuts sequestration would inflict in order to move our country past the budget’s roadblocks and back on the road to opportunity.

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