Washington, D.C— Today, Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA) and the Senate Budget Committee held a hearing on the impact federal budget decisions have on our children and long-term economic growth. Majority witnesses included Bruce Lesley, President of First Focus, Margaret Nimmo Crowe, the Acting Executive Director at Voices for Virginia’s Children, and Shavon Collier and Sakhia Whitehead, a Head Start parent and local student.
At the hearing, Chairman Murray highlighted the effect our budget decisions have on our nation’s children, and the need to ensure that their voices are heard in the process. Several children attended the hearing, and Sakhia Whitehead, a ten-year-old Head Start graduate, testified and about the positive impact the program had on her education. Her mother, Shavon Collier, spoke about the positive impact federal programs have had on her five children. Bruce Lesley and Margaret Nimmo Crowe shared additional stories about how sequestration is impacting families and children across the country.
“…there’s one group in particular whose voices are not often heard when it comes to the federal budget process, and that’s our nation’s children.” Murray said at the hearing today. “They may not be walking the halls of Congress—or calling up their Senators—or strategizing with lobbyists about how to protect funding for their programs. But they deserve a seat at the table, even if they need a booster seat to get there.”
Sakhia Whitehead, a ten-year-old Head Start graduate, spoke about how pre-school made her more prepared for kindergarten, “Head Start helped me get prepared for kindergarten. When I got to kindergarten, I already knew how to read and write. But my new classmates did not. So kindergarten was pretty easy for me.”
Her mother, Shavon Collier, testified about the positive impact programs like Head Start had on her family. “The program is in high demand because it is more than just a safe place for children while parents are at work—Head Start provides comprehensive child health and development to get them ready for kindergarten and lifelong learning. I could see the impact quickly. After only a few months in Head Start I saw a tremendous gain in my children’s learning skills and ability to focus. They were learning new words and the two who are Head Start graduates were both able to spell by age 4. It also helped my children build social skills. My son, for example, was a bit withdrawn at the time, but after only a few months he was playing and interacting with his classmates”
Bruce Lesley told stories about the effect sequestration is having on children across the country, and highlighted the consequences of allowing these cuts to continue. “If sequestration remains in place, the pain is only going to get worse. Already, families have lost housing supports and more children will face homelessness in the coming years. In anticipation of further cuts, schools in Idaho have already made plans to cut the school week from five days a week to four. We’ve heard from the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, that some schools, particularly in rural areas, are likely to be forced to close entirely if cuts continue….As a result of sequestration, schools districts have been forced to lay-off teachers and drastically reduce support services to needy students and students with disabilities. Some schools have eliminated athletics and all extra-curricular activities as well as some bus routes, making it more and more difficult for kids to get to school. Head Start programs have had to close weeks early or kick children out. One program in Columbus, Indiana, literally held a lottery drawing to decide which family would lose their seat. That’s a contest no parent wants to win.”
Margaret Nimmo Crowe described some of the ways sequestration is hurting children in Virginia: “In York County, where Dennis Jarrett is chief financial officer, the school district has reduced 124 positions over the last four years. Jarrett explains: “One of them was a guidance counselor—a tough position to keep unfilled when 42 percent of the students are connected to the military or some other branch of federal government. Parents’ deployment and frequent moves put unusual emotional strain on children. What we’re concerned about…is the quality of life for our students.” and “In Prince George [County], 41 administrative, instructional and support personnel have been lost because of the budget squeeze since 2009, and this has occurred while they have gained 150 new students.”
Key excerpts from Murray’s opening statement:
“[Children] are being asked to bear a large share of spending cuts, despite the fact that children clearly did not cause our debt and deficit challenges. I think this is simply wrong. In fact—it’s a national embarrassment and we need to fix it. We cannot and should not solve our debt and deficit problems on the backs of our children. It’s wrong for our kids and it’s not good economic policy.”
“If you’re looking for an investment that’s going to pay off, quality early childhood education is one of the best places to put your money. We should be investing more in our children, but sequestration is taking us in the wrong direction.”
“The across-the-board cuts of sequestration make deep cuts to programs like these—and the House Budget takes these cuts even further. If they had their way, low-income children would be left more hungry and in less stable home environments, the number of Americans without health insurance would rise, and the most vulnerable families would be put at greater risk. That isn’t fair. And it’s not right.”
“While I share many of my colleagues’ goals of reducing our debt and deficit and reducing our debt to GDP ratio over the next 10 years, I do not share many of their beliefs that indiscriminate cuts are the answer. We can’t ask our children, especially our most vulnerable children, to bear the burden of our spending cuts.”
Chairman Murray’s opening statement:
“This hearing will now come to order.
“I’d like to thank Ranking member Senator Sessions—and all my colleagues here for joining me today. As well as the members of the public here and watching online.
“I would also like to thank our witnesses: Bruce Lesley, President of First Focus, Margaret Nimmo Crowe, the Acting Executive Director at Voices for Virginia’s Children, Shavon Collier, a parent from the Edward C. Mazique Parent Child Center and her daughter Sakhia Whitehead, and Dr. David Muhlhausen, a Research Fellow in Empirical Policy Analysis at the Heritage Foundation. Thank you all for being here with us today for this important conversation.
“As I’ve often said, despite what you sometimes hear here in Washington, D.C., our budgets are about more than abstract numbers and political winners and losers. They are about our values and our priorities. And they are about our visions for how government should be serving its citizens today and for generations to come.
“As we move forward with our budget negotiations, it is critical that we keep in mind the individuals and families across the country who are impacted by the decisions we make. Their values and priorities need to be represented, and their stories need to be told. And there’s one group in particular whose voices are not often heard when it comes to the federal budget process—and that’s our nation’s children.
“They may not be walking the halls of Congress—or calling up their Senators—or strategizing with lobbyists about how to protect funding for their programs. But they deserve a seat at the table, even if they need a booster seat to get there.
“As First Focus noted in a recent report, our federal government funds over 180 different children’s programs—from health care, to education, to juvenile justice and nutrition. Their analysis found that spending on children makes up about 8% of the federal budget. So I am glad that we are having this important discussion today about a key group impacted by the budget decisions we make here in Washington D.C. Especially because, in recent years, children have been particularly affected by our economic conditions and fiscal policies.
“In the wake of the Great Recession, millions of families lost their jobs, their homes, and their livelihoods—and the most vulnerable among us, including our children, were among the most impacted. And now, 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 cuts of sequestration are hitting children and their families hard in communities across the country.
“They are being asked to bear a large share of spending cuts, despite the fact that children clearly did not cause our debt and deficit challenges. I think this is simply wrong. In fact—it’s a national embarrassment and we need to fix it.
“We cannot and should not solve our debt and deficit problems on the backs of our children. It’s wrong for our kids and it’s 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.
“When I worked with my colleagues on this Committee to write the Senate Budget that passed a little more than two months ago, one of our highest priorities was investing in programs that would pay off for our country over the long term and ensuring the United States continues to lead for years to come. And I can’t think of anything more critical to that goal that protecting our investments in the next generation.
“As a former pre-school teacher, I know investments in our children are some of the smartest the federal government can make with some of the highest return on investment, especially when it comes to early childhood education.
“Just ask Shavon, who is here with us today, about her two children who have been on the honor roll since graduating from their Head Start program. Or the single parent I met at a Head Start facility in Seattle earlier this year. He was able to enroll his young daughter in Head Start and the results were incredible. Within just a few weeks, she was more engaged and eager to learn.
“Children in high-quality early education programs are less likely to be held back in school, require special education, engage in criminal activity, or use social safety net programs later in life. They are more likely to graduate from high school and have higher earnings as adults.
“If you’re looking for an investment that’s going to pay off, quality early childhood education is one of the best places to put your money. We should be investing more in our children, but sequestration is taking us in the wrong direction.
“Hundreds of thousands of children across the country will lose access to these vital Head Start programs if these automatic cuts continue. 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 aren’t unfairly hurting the children we should be investing in.
“The House Republican Budget takes a very different approach. It doesn’t simply accept sequestration, it makes it worse. In order to keep defense spending at the pre-sequester level, it simply shifts the entire burden of the cuts onto children, families, and communities.
“Their recently released spending levels for education programs come in at 18.8% below sequestration levels. This just doesn’t make sense to me, in fact, I think it’s shameful.
“As Secretary Arne Duncan testified in front of this Committee last week, ‘America cannot win the race for the future without investing in education.’
“We should be investing in and supporting our future leaders so that we can compete and win in the 21st century economy, not slashing funding for programs that help them learn and grow.
“It’s not just education either. We need to make sure that our kids are getting other kinds of support they need to grow up to be healthy, successful adults.
“I know firsthand what a huge impact a strong safety net can have on children when their family falls 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 she also needed to get a job so she could support our family. She found some work, but it didn’t pay enough to support seven kids and a husband with growing medical bills. Without warning, our family had fallen on hard times.
“I know the support we got from our government 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.
“Because our government was there to help us through a hard time, those seven kids grew up to be: a firefighter, a lawyer, a computer programmer, a sportswriter, a homemaker, a junior high school teacher, and a United States Senator. In my book, that was a good investment.
“And I know my family isn’t unique, similar stories are told from coast to coast, in small towns and big cities across the country. So it’s critical that we maintain investments in other key safety net programs, like those that provide health care, nutrition, energy, and housing assistance to low-income families and children.
“That’s why the Senate Budget builds on the reforms of the Affordable Care Act, which mandates that children can no longer be denied health insurance based on pre-existing conditions, and requires health insurance coverage to include pediatric services.
“And, the Senate Budget protects programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children which prevent hunger and malnutrition, and provide healthy food and nutrition education to vulnerable children and families.
“Our budget also increases funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and protects housing assistance programs to make sure all children have access to safe and stable housing. 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.
“The across-the-board cuts of sequestration make deep cuts to programs like these—and the House Budget takes these cuts even further. If they had their way, low-income children would be left more hungry and in less stable home environments, the number of Americans without health insurance would rise, and the most vulnerable families would be put at greater risk.
“That isn’t fair. And it’s not right. These are exactly the kinds of programs that are critical for our children, especially those who are hit hardest by the economic recession. While I share many of my colleagues’ goals of reducing our debt and deficit and reducing our debt to GDP ratio over the next 10 years, I do not share many of their beliefs that indiscriminate cuts are the answer.
“We can’t ask our children, especially our most vulnerable children, to bear the burden of our spending cuts. The decisions we make today about our federal budget policy will have huge impacts on the next generation.
“And to make the right choices for our children, I feel very strongly that we need to stop lurching from crisis to crisis. The managing of our budget policy by crisis hasn’t worked and it needs to end. That is especially true when it comes to decisions that impact our kids.
“We shouldn’t have to wait until the last minute to sit down at a table, try to find common ground, and work something out. That is why now that the House has passed their budget, and the Senate has passed ours Democrats have gone to the floor of the Senate 14 times to ask consent to go to conference so we can try to work out our differences and come to a deal.
“Democrats are willing to make some tough decisions to find savings across the federal budget, as long as it’s done responsibly and fairly. If we end up headed toward another manufactured crisis, the situation will only be made worse for our children and grandchildren.
“As a mother, and now a proud grandmother, I know that I want to leave my kids and grandkids a better country than the one I received. We owe it to all of our children to come together around fair solutions that help the economy grow, and tackle our deficit and debt responsibly. Solutions that call for responsible, sustainable spending cuts and that call on those who can afford it most to pay their fair share.
“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.
“And at the very least, right now, it starts with replacing sequestration and reversing the devastating cuts that are hurting children across the country as we speak.
“So I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about this important subject in just a few minutes.
“But first, I will turn it over to Ranking member Senator Sessions for his opening statement.”