Spotlight Exclusives

Investing in our Future: The Impact of Federal Budget Decisions on Children

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At a time when our economy is recovering, but far too slowly, and when too many American families are struggling with unemployment and under-employment, the automatic budget cuts of sequestration are hitting children and their families hard in communities across the country.

Our children are being asked to bear a large share of these spending cuts, despite the fact that they clearly did not create our debt and deficit challenges. I think this is simply wrong. It۪s a national embarrassment, and we need to fix it. That۪s why last month I held a Senate Budget Committee hearing on the impact of federal budget decisions on our children. Children۪s voices are not often heard when it comes to the federal budget process, but I think they deserve a seat at the table.

At the hearing, 10-year-old Head Start graduate Sakhia Whitehead testifiedabout how Head Start has helped her be the honor roll student she is today, but thousands of children across the country will lose access to Head Start programs if sequestration continues. Many Head Start programs across the country have already eliminated classrooms, cut slots for children, and laid off staff due to sequestration.

Sequestration also makes cuts to other key safety net programs, like those that provide healthcare, child care, energy, and housing assistance to low-income children. That۪s not fair to our children, and it۪s not right. Research has shown that children who have access to programs like these during their formative years are less likely to have health issues, go hungry, or be at risk for developmental delays. Children in high-quality early education programs are also less likely to be held back in school, require special education, engage in criminal activity, or use social safety net programs later in life, and they are more likely to graduate from high school and have higher earnings as adults.

I know firsthand what a huge impact a strong safety net can have on children whose families have fallen on hard times. When I was growing up, my dad developed multiple sclerosis and had to stop working. My mom, who had stayed home to raise the kids, had to take care of him, but also needed to work to support our family. Though she found some work, it didn۪t pay enough to support seven kids and a husband with growing medical bills. Without warning, our family had fallen on hard times.

I know that the support my family received from our government — including food stamps, veteran۪s health benefits for my dad, job training for my mom, and student loans for me and my siblings — was the difference between seven kids who might not have graduated from high school or college and the seven adults we’ve grown up to be today, all college graduates, all working hard and paying taxes, and all doing our best to contribute back to our communities. And I know that my family isn۪t uniquesimilar stories are told from coast to coast, in small towns and big cities across the country.

For these reasons, and so many more, the Senate Budget fully replaces sequestration with an equal mix of responsible spending cuts and new revenue from those who can afford it most, and it prioritizes education, including expanding early learning programs, so that we aren۪t unfairly hurting the children we should be investing in.

The Senate Budget also protects programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which prevent hunger and malnutrition, and help vulnerable children and families stay warm in the winter. These are exactly the kinds of programs that are critical for our children, especially those who have been hit hardest by the economic recession.

We cannot and should not solve our debt and deficit problems on the backs of our children. It۪s wrong for our kids, and it۪s not good economic policy. Our children are the next generation of scientists, teachers, inventors, and leaders. If we cut our investments in them, we diminish our ability to lay down a foundation for long-term growth and prosperity, and risk our position as a global leader in the 21st century economy.
America has always been a country that strives to build a stronger country for the next generation, through investments in infrastructure, innovation, education and research. We know our future will be defined by the scientists who come out of our schools, by the businesses we create, and the technologies we invent.

That starts with investing in our children. At the very least, right now, it starts with replacing sequestration and reversing the devastating cuts that are already hurting children across the country.

For more information on the Senate Budget Committee Hearing on Investing in our Future: The Impact of Federal Budget Decisions on Children, click here.

To print a PDF version of this document, click here.

U.S. Senator Patty Murray is the senior senator from Washington state and is the Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author or authors alone, and not those of Spotlight. Spotlight is a non-partisan initiative, and Spotlight۪s commentary section includes diverse perspectives on poverty. If you have a question about a commentary, please don۪t hesitate to contact us at

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