Our Children are at a Crossroads

Our children — and our country — are at a crossroads. Over the past three years, COVID-19 and its economic fallout affected every aspect of the lives of children, infringing on their health, education, economic security, safety, and well‑being. The full extent of the consequences for children will not be known for years.

At the same time, the pandemic spurred Congress and the federal government to invest in children at historic levels and to monitor their health and safety in unprecedented ways. The pandemic drove action on issues that children had been experiencing for years and that came to a head during the political, social, and economic upheaval. As is often the case, children from historically marginalized communities, such as children of color and children in immigrant families, experienced the deepest impact. Thanks to Champions for Children in Congress, lawmakers passed some of the most significant legislative reforms for children to ever occur.

Through various pieces of pandemic legislation and the appropriations process, critical funding was provided to child care providers, public schools and Head Start centers to better support children and allow parents and caregivers to return to work. Investment was made in children’s programs such as nutrition benefits and homeless children and youth wraparound services to address the problems that arose from increased unemployment and school closures. Legislation also expanded eligibility for essential programs such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Medicaid health care coverage. In one of the most notable reforms, a more equitable tax code was created by strengthening the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit — with the CTC improvements resulting in more than a 40% reduction in childhood poverty and millions of children being lifted out of poverty.

The impact of these provisions cannot be overstated. Congress provided relief and support for children and families when it was desperately needed. In fact, the federal share of spending on children rose from an all-time low of 7.55% in 2020 to a recorded high of 11.98% in 2022.1 Unfortunately, many of these improvements were temporary. As the Public Health Emergency draws to a close, and many of these essential programs unwind or have already ended, children will be put at significant risk.

Certainly, poverty, hunger, homelessness, child health coverage, education, the mental health crisis, and other issues faced by children are emergencies in and of themselves. Will we continue to treat these issues as emergencies? Or will political gridlock inflict continued suffering on children and families?