Children’s Defense Fund Urges Biden to Stand Firm in Opposition to Work Requirements, and Congress to Pay Country’s Bills Without Making Children Bear the Cost
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Last month, the House passed a bill that uses the ongoing debate around lifting the debt ceiling to force budget cuts to critical federal programs that support the health and wellbeing of children and youth.
Republicans’ proposed cuts and revisions to crucial benefits for low-income families will have a cruel and devastating effect on children. Low-income families, particularly Black and Brown families, are still reeling from the effects of the pandemic, made worse by last week’s expiration of pandemic-era expanded assistance. Our natural priority is to accelerate their recovery and provide our children the supports they need to grow up with dignity, hope, and joy. So we marvel at the moral bankruptcy of legislators who vigorously and enthusiastically pull in the opposite direction—who see 11 million children living in poverty and conclude we need them poorer, or 9.3 million food-insecure children and conclude that we need them hungrier, or 3.9 million children without health coverage and conclude we need them sicker.
This is not hyperbole. If Speaker McCarthy has his way, the families of nearly one million children would lose income supports for rent, utilities, and other essentials through new provisions to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The reductions would plunge more children into homelessness and, as our culture falsely conflates poverty with neglect, would entangle them in a child welfare system that is acutely unaccommodating of Black and Brown families. Cuts would also endanger 900,000 older adults at risk of losing food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and remove 10 million Americans from Medicaid rolls, shrinking the “village” in which children find daily support.
Even more pernicious is the proposed reliance of each of these benefits on expanded work requirements for beneficiaries, a provision with a solid foundation in racial stereotyping, no foundation in reality, and a despicable premise that a child’s right to eat relies on an adult’s ability to work. In reality, most beneficiaries already work. Yet, some might have health conditions or work low-wage jobs with little control over their hours. For families with children, an expanded work provision clashes with the realities of child care, a cost that exceeds that of public college in 35 states and claims one-third of a single parent’s salary in all but seven states. Even if affordable, child care is often inaccessible with center care supply falling 3.6 million slots short of current demand—a demand the proposal aims to reduce by blocking child care subsidies for 180,000 children.
Study upon study has shown us that work requirements are effective for precisely one thing: not for increasing employment, not for lifting Americans out of poverty, but for denying benefits to needy families and making children poorer, hungrier, and sicker. Children’s Defense Fund unites its voice with the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and our institutional and grassroots partners across the nation in declaring work requirements a non-starter in any deal to raise the debt ceiling.
We call on Speaker McCarthy and his colleagues to pay the country’s bills without forcing our children to bear the cost. We call on President Biden to stand firm in his opposition to work requirements and to honor his commitment to rejecting any provision that increases poverty. I invite my colleagues leading faith communities across the nation to join the chorus of voices in this moment imploring federal leaders to care for the last and the least and to promote the common good. And I call on you to take action now and tell Congress to stop budget cuts for America’s children, youth, and families.
A society articulates its values in its policies and budgets. What Congress does these next few weeks will speak volumes of our collective values. And make no mistake: Our children are listening.