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Senator Rockefeller Joins Child Advocates in Commemorating the 20th Anniversary of a Critical Report on America’s Kids

Federal Budget

Washington D.C. – Today, policymakers and child advocates are recognizing the impact of a critical report on the state of our nation’s children released 20 years ago this month. The final report of the National Commission on Youth, released on May 1, 1991, led to the enactment of the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, and the creation of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), among other important initiatives.

The National Commission on Children was formed in 1989 at the direction of Congress and the President to “serve as a forum on behalf of the children of the Nation.” The Commission was charged with the task of assessing the status of children and families in the United States and outlining promising new directions for policy and programs. Two years later, in the midst of a recession, the National Commission on Children approved their final report entitled, “Beyond Rhetoric: A New Agenda for America’s Children and Families,” which led to a number of critical policies for children. Furthermore, President Clinton used the Commission’s final report as a catalyst for his domestic agenda.

“Twenty years ago, our government lacked the ability and resources to evaluate the status of our nation’s families, preventing us from developing programs aimed at improving children’s wellbeing, from birth through adolescence. But this Commission changed that course for an entire generation of children. Serving as Chairman of the bipartisan National Commission on Children and forging consensus on the need to invest in children and families was one of the most meaningful experiences of my career,” said Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). “Without the Commission’s report, we would never have seen the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and CHIP – two programs that are very near and dear to my heart and essential to making sure that all children have a chance at a healthy start in life.”

While enormous gains were made on behalf of children in the 1990s as a result of the enactment of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit and other recommendations set forth by the Commission on Children, progress stalled in the last decade precisely due to the lack of a comprehensive agenda around children. Today in America, more than one in five children is poor, 8 million children lack health insurance, and the overall share of federal, nondefense spending going to children’s programs dropped by 12 percent over the past 5 years.

“The American people are deeply concerned about the plight of the next generation. By a nearly three-to-one margin (58-20%), the American public believes that the lives of children are worse off today compared to a decade ago,” said Bruce Lesley, President of the First Focus Campaign for Children, a bipartisan child advocacy organization. “Americans do not want to see massive cuts to important programs for our nation’s children. Instead, they want to see a national agenda focused on improving the lives of children and restoring the American Dream. As we continue debating how to recover from the economic downturn, it is an opportune time to recognize the work of the National Commission and the need for a new national action plan for improving child well-being.”

Last November, Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced legislation to once again establish a federal entity to catalyze the next generation of groundbreaking policies for children and families. As proposed in the Children’s Act of 2010, a National Council on Children would annually assess the performance of the United States in ensuring the well-being of children. In addition, the Council would develop a set of national goals to improve the lives of youth, and make recommendations to advance children’s well-being.

Lesley added, “We applaud Senator Rockefeller for his past and continued leadership and look forward to working with Senator Casey to ensure the reintroduction of the Children’s Act in coming weeks. A coordinated, national plan to improve child well-being is essential to raise the visibility of children in federal policy, solidify our commitment to the nation’s future, and ensure that we can meet the needs of the next generation.”