God has sent some huge rainbows in the clouds for vulnerable children amidst a profoundly negative political climate.
Good news these days has been few and far between but the Bipartisan Budget Package/Continuing Resolution (CR) signed by the president last week offers significant and long overdue hope to children, families and communities. We now must give our immediate attention to extending that good news to the nearly 800,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Dreamers and the other Dreamers not yet in DACA, who face a March 5 deadline that would end their hopes and dreams.
The good news in the Bipartisan Budget Package includes:
* The Family First Prevention Services Act that includes long-overdue historic reforms to help keep children safely with their families when they come to the attention of the child welfare system and assures them quality care in the most family-like setting appropriate for their special needs when placement in foster care is needed. Family First also offers new supports for preventing and treating families struggling with substance use disorders, including increased support for grandparents and other relatives who have reached out to care for children, regional partnerships to bring systems together to benefit children and funding to help children be placed in treatment programs with their parents.
* An additional four years of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which assures a long-term commitment of 10 years and stabilizes comprehensive, affordable health coverage for nearly 9 million children and pregnant women. This is the longest extension of funding for CHIP since it was originally enacted in 1997 and will give the millions of parents of children enrolled in CHIP peace of mind. CHIP has helped cut the number of uninsured children in half, improved child health outcomes and access to care, helped reduce school absenteeism and improved children’s readiness to learn. CHIP, together with Medicaid, forms the foundation of our health care system for children. This long-term extension will help us build on that great progress as we work to ensure every child in America the health coverage they need and deserve to survive and thrive.
* Five years of funding for the Maternal and Infant Early Childhood Visitation Program (MIECHV), which has been without funding since Sept. 30. Pregnant women and children under five in every state and territory benefit from these voluntary home visiting programs that help to improve maternal and newborn health, child development, school readiness, and family economic self-sufficiency and reduce child abuse and neglect, crime and domestic violence.
* Two years of funding for Community Health Centers (CHCs), which offer children and their parents access to a continuum of quality health services. One in 10 children in America use CHCs for health care services.
* An historic increase of $5.8 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) over two years to help states meet the new quality requirements of the bipartisan 2014 CCDBG reauthorization and extend access to affordable child care to more hardworking families. A CLASP analysis shows this investment will help an additional 230,000 children in working families access child care. Currently CCDBG serves only 1 in 6 eligible children.
* $4 billion for student-centered programs that aid college completion and affordability, including those that help teachers, police officers and firefighters.
* $6 billion added to increase prevention and treatment and law enforcement to address the country’s opioid crisis. It is critically important that these dollars reach infants and children of all ages as well as other family members.
The bipartisan package also:
* Offers long overdue assistance in the aftermath of the hurricanes in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Florida and Texas and the fires in California. This funding will bring relief to children and their parents and finally includes new Medicaid dollars to Puerto Rico.
* Adjusts sequestration’s budget caps so there will again be parity between defense and non-defense expenditures.
While we are encouraged by these critical steps forward for children, a gaping hole remains. The Senate will begin consideration next week on legislation to offer hope, protection and a path to citizenship for the nearly 800,000 current DACA Dreamers and the more than one million additional Dreamers who could qualify for DACA but have not, but its road forward is not clear. Yet the threatening March 5 deadline looms. If DACA protections are not preserved in law by that date, it is estimated that on average nearly 1,000 Dreamers a day will lose their protection from deportation and their ability to work. Their dreams and futures must be protected and preserved.
As we move forward with implementation of this new budget package, we must stay vigilant to ensure DACA protections and a path to citizenship are enacted and threats to key programs to keep children healthy, well fed and housed are fought back. The president’s 2019 budget is likely to result in deep cuts to Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, housing assistance and other core programs that reach many of the families of the nearly 13.2 million children living in poverty. We must work together to fight them back and keep fighting to protect and expand every piece of good news.
Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund.