As our various branches of government and its attendant punditocracy proceed to blame each other for the shutdown, who is taking the greatest hit?
Surprise – it’s kids. Again.
Writing in Parents magazine, Julia Haskins inventories the range of services curtailed by the shutdown which impact families, ranging from food safety to flu shots to social service block grants. Alan Pyke at ThinkProgress reports that funding for WIC — a generally unassailable public program which provides nutrition assistance to at-risk mothers, infants, and children – may cease completely if the shutdown continues long enough. And EdWeek notes that 19,000 children may lose access to Head Start, although the shutdown would not affect all children at once.
Because most services for families are administered at the state or local level, states have some flexibility in using leftover funds to continue providing services, according to Zero To Three. These funds will soon run out, however. For example, the USDA estimates that states have about a week’s worth of funds to continue their programs until the coffers are empty.
It seems likely that government will heroically reunite to avoid a default on the national debt, which would occur around October 17. But in the meantime, the very families who most need assistance will need to sweat it out. Even after the current crisis is resolved, the political atmosphere which created it will remain. And if that poisoned atmosphere has been nourished by gerrymandering and partisanship, its seed remains the federal budget. House Republicans have made budget cuts the ransom demanded for negotiation, and thus have, at least for the time being, focused their party’s platform almost exclusively on budget reductions.
Plausible arguments exist on each side of the budget argument, but no matter one’s political party, reducing funding for early childhood programs is bad policy and bad economics. As James Heckman and others have demonstrated, investing in high-quality early childhood programs is good for kids, good for families, and good for the economy.
Of course, not all early childhood programs are created equal. But the best ones, when implemented correctly, have demonstrated positive effects on the economy. So when it comes to funding programs for young kids, we should not be arguing whether – but how.