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Report: Federal Money for Children Disappearing Faster Than Money in Overall Budget

Primarily due to the end of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money, federal funding for children's programs has dropped 9.4 percent over the last five years, compared to a 4 percent overall spending drop, as defined in an analysis by First Focus, a bipartisan advocacy organization for children's issues.

The analysis, which came out in June (sorry for the delay in noting it here!), looks at spending from 2011 to 2015 and concludes that after one-time money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ran out and as across the board sequestration cuts took effect, spending on children dropped off. Children in the report are defined simply as anyone younger than 18. 

Here are the criteria the authors used to determine what counted as children's funding according to the report's methodology section: 

  1. For programs that directly benefit only children and families with children, the full funding level is considered children's spending. [Think: Head Start]

  2. For programs that do not limit their benefits to children, the share of program funding that is considered children's spending mirrors the estimated percentage of program benefits that go to children. For example, annual reports indicate that nearly half of all Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits go to children. Therefore, this book considers 47 percent of SNAP spending to be children's spending. 

In cases where broad programs report the amount of their spending that goes to children, report authors take them at their word. The above guidelines are based on the Urban Institute's Kids' Share 2014 report, which was commissioned by First Focus, but includes some programs, like Poison Control, that are not included in that report. Details on how much of various programs were counted are available in the data appendix of Kids' Share 2014

One could, obviously, debate the best way to count exactly which proportion of federal spending goes to children. What's useful about this report is that it's annual, going back to 2008. So the drop it records is based on its own counts over the last five years, all of which used the same methodology.

"Unless Congress acts this year to raise those caps for federal fiscal year (FY) 2016 and beyond, the report predicts deeper cuts to children's initiatives funded through the 'domestic discretionary' budget category," according to a statement issued by First Focus.

Here are some of the highlights: 

  • President Barack Obama's proposed 2016 budget would include a 7.3 percent increase for spending over fiscal year 2015 on children as measured by First Focus.
  • Mandatory federal spending on children in programs like the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, and the children's portion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, has risen (3.9 percent), over the last five years while discretionary spending has fallen (-6.9 percent) and ARRA funding has run out.
  • 7.9 percent of the current (FY 2015) budget goes to children's programs or the portions of federal programs that serve children as defined above. 
  • Education (primarily K-12) accounts for 12.9 percent of current federal spending on children, while early-childhood programs account for 5.2 percent.
  • Nutrition and health combined account for more than half (51.5 percent) of federal spending on children.

There's a lot of detail in the report about how the mandatory spending caps known as sequestration and the rise and fall of ARRA funding have affected federal spending in the past five years. It's a good read if you're into that kind of thing. Check it out for yourself here.

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