As we applaud the President's 2015 Budget for proposing critical investments in early childhood and safety-net programs that have lifted millions of poor children and families out of poverty, it is sad that we must once again contend with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's distorted assessment of the impact of safety-net programs.
The millions who have been helped by the safety net would beg to differ with the spurious and callous recitation of facts in Chairman Ryan's report. We hope the chairman gets his facts straight before issuing his forthcoming 2015 budget recommendations.
Chairman Ryan's report blatantly misrepresents the positive impact of key safety-net programs on poverty. The 9 million children who were lifted out of poverty thanks to safety-net programs in 2012—including the 2.2 million children who had enough to eat and were lifted out of poverty thanks to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the 5.3 million whose families were also lifted out of poverty thanks to the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit—would be surprised to hear that these programs don't work or discourage families from working to get ahead.
As detailed in the Children's Defense Fund's The State of America's Children® 2014, child poverty has been reduced 36 percent since 1969 and extreme child poverty by 39 percent. Without these programs, child poverty would have been 60 percent higher in 2012. Those findings are based on a comprehensive measure of poverty—the Columbia Population Research Center's anchored supplemental poverty gauge—that the Ryan report relegates to an appendix. The measure wisely takes into account the benefits of safety-net programs like nutrition assistance and refundable tax credits.
The children whose lives were put on a different trajectory thanks to investments in nutrition assistance and refundable tax credits would likely also take issue with the Ryan report's strategic omissions. The report fails to mention research documenting the long-term beneficial impacts of safety-net programs. It ignores a recent study that found disadvantaged children who had access to federal nutrition assistance in their early years and whose mothers had access during their pregnancy grew up to be in better health and were more likely to graduate from high school. Chairman Ryan's report also omitted research showing that children in families who received income boosts due to refundable tax credits like the EITC were more likely to attend college and have higher earnings as adults.
Chairman Ryan's report is silent on the fact that thanks to Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, the number of uninsured children today is at a historic low. The 44 million children who are covered by Medicaid and CHIP would want to know why Chairman Ryan doesn't think it is worth mentioning that more of them are now covered than ever before. Since CHIP's enactment in 1997, the percentage of uninsured children has fallen 40 percent, from 14.8 percent to 8.9 percent.
The Ryan report's assessment of Head Start also fails to tell the whole story. I would love to introduce Chairman Ryan to a child I know who went to Harvard because of the boosts that she received from Head Start, and to the many others who were the first in their families to graduate from college. Far from finding that "Head Start has little to no impact on the cognitive and social-emotional skills, parenting, or health status," the National Head Start Impact study clearly reported that Head Start improved children's preschool and kindergarten readiness outcomes across developmental domains. A 2009 study of Head Start's impact by Harvard professor David Deming found that even with an initial fade-out of cognitive test scores, Head Start produced lasting long-term benefits, with larger impacts for African-Americans and disadvantaged children. None of this is mentioned in the Ryan report.
We must not be fooled by Chairman Ryan's misinformation campaign aimed at ripping apart the safety net for vulnerable children. We know what works to end child poverty. We must move forward to gain support for successful antipoverty initiatives in the President's fiscal 2015 budget such as investments in quality early-childhood development and learning programs for America's youngest children and the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit to make work pay for many more young adults and noncustodial parents.
In an increasingly diverse America, the strength of the social safety net and our commitment to programs that help lift our most vulnerable children and families out of poverty are critical to America's future economic security.
Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children's Defense Fund, whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.
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