Congress steps up to help children and families in need

While lawmakers didn’t approve the enhanced child tax credit, give lawmakers credit for increasing funding to a number of programs that help kids.

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Congress approved a $1.7 trillion spending package that includes billions for programs that help children and their families.

Congress approved a $1.7 trillion spending package that includes billions for programs that help children and their families.

Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

In a recent weekend dominated by holiday stories and stories about inclement weather, one story that slipped under the radar was Congress’ approval of more than $10 billion to help children and families.

The money was part of the $1.7 trillion federal spending bill passed by Congress that also includes money for Ukraine and NATO allies, defense funding, emergency disaster assistance, overhaul of the electoral vote-counting law and more.

Most notable was the $8 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant that helps low-income families pay for child care, which received a 30% increase over the previous fiscal year, or $1.85 billion in additional funding.

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There’s a direct link between child care and the workforce. Child care providers and teachers and other staff make it possible for parents to go to work, keeping their children in a safe and nurturing environment. The pandemic highlighted how underfunded our child care system truly is, and the funding increase is a positive step to ensuring that gaps in child care system will be addressed.

Other increases went to:

  • Head Start, which will receive nearly $12 billion, an 8.6% boost. This research-backed program helps young children from low-income families prepare for school.
  • Homeless assistance, which will receive $3.6 billion, a 13% increase for grants that will benefit people experiencing homelessness.
  • Community Development Block Grants, which will received nearly $6.4 billion — an increase of almost $1.6 billion — for local economic and community development projects that benefit low- and moderate income areas and people.
  • The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which will get $5 billion. Combined with the $1 billion appropriated earlier, this would be the largest regular appropriation for the program, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association. Home heating and cooling costs – and the applications for federal aid in paying the bills – have soared this year.

The legislation will also establish a permanent nationwide Summer EBT program — originally a food benefits programs started during the pandemic — beginning in the summer 2024, according to Share Our Strength, an anti-hunger advocacy group. The permanent programs will provide families whose children are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals with a $40 grocery benefit per child per month, indexed to inflation.

And under new rules governing summer meals programs in rural areas, children will be able to take home or receive delivery of up to 10 days’ worth of meals, rather than have to consume the food at a specific site and time.

Families who have had their food stamp benefits stolen through what’s known as “SNAP skimming,” will be provided with retroactive federal reimbursement of the funds. With “SNAP skimming,” criminals steal card numbers and other information from electronic benefits cards by attaching devices to point-of-sale machines or PIN pads.

And finally, the bill also provides more funds for mental health services to children and schools, and to address the opioid epidemic and substance abuse.

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Congress should be applauded for addressing these issues, but they did not approve the enhanced child tax credit, which has been championed by a coalition of Democratic lawmakers and consumer advocates. The enhanced child tax credit was in effect last year and lifted 2.1 million children out of poverty in 2021, according to the Census Bureau.

The child tax credit has long enjoyed bipartisan support, though Republicans have been wary of making it fully refundable because they are concerned it could discourage parents from working.

Alas, the fight to approve the enhanced child tax will have to go on — but as any good politician knows, you can’t always get everything you want at once. Congress took positive steps with its latest federal spending bill and should be applauded.

Jeffery M. Leving is founder and president of the Law Offices of Jeffery M. Leving Ltd.

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