The 2021 First Focus Campaign for Children Legislative Scorecard

In 2021, the first year of the 117th Congress, the federal government made its most significant investment in children in First Focus on Children’s 16-year history of publishing the Children’s Budget. Through the passage of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act, the share of federal spending dedicated to children increased from 7.64% to 11.15%.

Through the leadership of President Biden and many of the Members of Congress recognized in this report as Champions and Defenders of Children, our nation’s lawmakers recognized that every aspect of the lives of children was being negatively impacted by the COVID-19 global pandemic and the ensuing economic recession. Children, who are far too often treated as an afterthought in federal policymaking, were made a top priority.  

In the response by President Biden and Congress to the dual crises, long overdue investments were made in family economics, education, early childhood, child care, family medical leave, child nutrition, and health care. Investments were also made to address this global crisis internationally.

As an example of ARP’s scope, Congress passed and President Biden signed the ARP’s improvement of the Child Tax Credit (CTC) to make it fully refundable for the first time since its creation in 1997. ARP also increased the CTC to $300 a month for children 0-5 and $250 per month for kids 6-17. In the middle of a global pandemic and economic recession, the combination of these provisions cut child poverty in this country by over 40 percent.

Unfortunately, those provisions and others of importance to children were temporary and many have expired in 2022. Again, many of the Members of Congress identified in this report are fighting hard to extend many of these critical provisions, but child advocates are concerned that Congress has yet to act and may return to the old, tragic, downward trend in the share of federal investments in our nation’s children.  

If Congress fails to act, this would have corresponding tragic consequences for children, as it would lead to increases in child poverty, child hunger, child homelessness, and child abuse, and would threaten education, early childhood, child care, and health care services. 

Children stand at a crossroads. Congress will either prioritize children or fall back into a pattern of paying “lip-service” to kids while failing to make them a priority. Congress will either pursue an agenda that improves the health, education, safety, and well-being of children or fail them. 

Now, more than ever, children need policymakers to be Champions and Defenders who are willing to focus on, support, raise their voices for, and attach their names to legislation that would improve the lives of our nation’s children. These Champions and Defenders must also actively oppose legislation or regulatory and administrative actions that would harm kids. 

Consequently, this report is about accountability. The Legislative Scorecard recognizes those lawmakers in the 117th Congress who actively worked to make children a greater priority in the halls of Congress. This report also identifies the eight worst-performing lawmakers who seem to be going out of their way to actively harm children. We must urge them and others to do far better for our kids and our nation’s future. 


This year’s 120 Champions and Defenders of Children include 40 senators and 80 representatives who have stepped forward to make “the best interests of children” a top priority in the Senate and House in 2021. They have all taken affirmative steps to positively address the problems facing children. Based on votes and bill sponsorships, the report also identifies one senator and seven representatives who perform the worst for our kids.

What makes the 120 Champions and Defenders unique is that they have repeatedly used their legislative roles to raise and move to the forefront those issues that are important for children. Champions consistently pursue policies and legislation that make children a priority across the full array of issue areas. Defenders more often than most consider and take action in support of the best interests of children in a number of votes and by sponsoring or cosponsoring of bills.

Others in Congress, who may just fall short in terms of points to qualify as a Champion or Defender, have also taken important votes or played a leadership role for children on some important aspects of policy that would either improve the lives of children or protect children from harm. We applaud these lawmakers for their work in those areas.

As Congress debates and sets the nation’s federal priorities on policy and budget matters, the Champions and Defenders cited in this report make children a “first focus” of their work in making public policy decisions. And as advocates for children, we want to take this opportunity to spotlight the 2021 Champions and Defenders of Children and express our gratitude and appreciation to them for their strong support for children while simultaneously urging the eight worst to do far better by our kids.