This August, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) released a paper exploring how the federal budget process disadvantages children’s programs. The CRFB found some major ways in which current budgeting short-changes childrens’ futures.
Children’s Programs Are Less Secure in the Federal Budget
Mandatory spending is spending that is set on autopilot, whereas discretionary spending must be approved by Congress every year. In 2017, only 2.9 percent of spending on senior citizens was discretionary, whereas 43.4 percent of spending on children-specific programs was discretionary. Similarly, spending on adults is more frequently permanent than children’s programs. CRFB estimates that 36 percent of children’s spending is temporary whereas only 10 percent of adult spending is temporary. These distinctions mean that children’s programs are much less secure in the budget process.
Spending on Children Faces Budget Caps That Most Adult Programs Don’t
Spending on children is more often limited by budget caps, whereas adult programs mostly have the ability to, as the CRFB put it, “spend as much as needed to meet their objectives.” This difference in process means that programs for adults have much less constrained budgets. The CRFB found that 60 percent of spending on child-specific programs faced budget caps, whereas only 10.2 percent of spending on adults was capped.
Programs for Adults Have More Built-In Growth Than Children’s Programs
Under the current budget process, many mandatory spending programs grow automatically year over year at a rate much faster than inflation. On the other hand, children’s spending does not grow as quickly. According to the CRFB, only half of children’s spending will grow faster than inflation, while 93 percent of spending for adults will grow faster than inflation.
Children’s Programs Do Not Have Dedicated Revenue Streams
Programs for adults such as Medicare Part A, Social Security, and Unemployment Insurance are funded by dedicated payroll taxes and highway spending is financed by gas tax revenue (at least it is supposed to be). These direct revenue streams tend to protect these programs from spending reductions in the budget process. As the CRFB noted, 48 percent of spending on adults has dedicated revenue, while only 5 percent of spending on children does.
What This Means
The amounts allocated for children’s programs versus adult programs clearly shows that children are already put at a disadvantage in today’s federal budget. Should a fiscal crisis or budget tightening occur, the temporary and tenuous nature of children’s programs signal that they would be on the chopping block before more entrenched permanent programs for adults and the elderly.
This disparity in investing of adults versus children is emblematic of a broader federal budgeting problem.The fiscal irresponsible decision making of our leaders is creating bigger budget deficits and therefore ever-growing debts that put younger Americans futures in danger. Assuming that the United States does not change its fiscal trajectory, the annual deficit will continue to grow to over a trillion dollars and the interest costs will consume revenues that will no longer be available for investments in children and adults alike.
This isn’t some hypothetical scenario way off in the future. By 2021, more federal spending will go towards paying interest on the debt than on children’s’ programs. In other words, our budget will be allocating more resources towards paying for the past than investing in the future.
In order to prevent such a situation, policymakers must right our budget, and especially reform mandatory spending programs – sooner rather than later. This is the only way to ensure our nation’s future generations have the tools to succeed.