A week after the state Senate, the state House of Representatives passed its budget on Friday, April 5. Negotiations between budget leaders in the House, the Senate and the Governor’s office have begun.
What are the key ingredients of a good state budget for kids?
First, a good budget takes smart steps forward to close the opportunity gap. Second, it is built on the principle that you don’t solve one economic crisis by creating another.
The Children’s Alliance is looking at how budget writers’ choices are shaping up for:
HUNGRY KIDS: The Senate takes a smart step towards restoring State Food Assistance for hungry families. The House merely sustains the present 50 percent level of State Food Assistance, which will mean a drop in benefit levels this fall. To get a firm grip on educational opportunity, Washington’s schoolchildren need State Food Assistance to be fully funded.
EARLY LEARNING: We are glad to see that lawmakers from both chambers share an understanding that investments in the youngest children pay the biggest dividends. The House and Senate budgets would both make some progress in early care for Washington’s children by expanding our state’s pre-K program for income-eligible families, the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP).
The House budget invests more in the program than the Senate does, adding the resources necessary to expand ECEAP to the kids who need it as soon as possible.
One of the important factors affecting a child’s healthy growth is child care. The Senate threatens to cut the state’s child care subsidy program for low-income families, Working Connections, from 33,000 to 29,000 families. Working Connections is not only a means of economic security for working parents; it’s a critical part of our early learning system. It’s also how we ensure that low-income families don’t turn into no-income families.
The House not only preserves Working Connections, it boosts the payment rate to providers so families can more easily find the child care they need and offers solid incentives for providers to improve quality.
HEALTH CARE: Recognizing that good health is key to success in school and in life, both House and Senate budget writers have restored Apple Health for Kids to its award-winning innovation offering affordable premiums to all eligible families.
Lawmakers in both chambers will also follow the Affordable Care Act’s lead and expand Medicaid – putting health care within the reach of an estimated 77,000 uninsured parents. And, both budgets take steps to restore dental benefits for adults enrolled in Medicaid. These steps are both good for children, too: when parents have regular health care, their kids are more likely to also get the care they need.
REVENUE: The House budget takes some strides forward in finding revenue solutions to basic needs. House budget writers would eliminate 15 tax loopholes that could otherwise cost us $751 million over the next two years.
That’s the right approach. Kids can’t cross the opportunity gap without investments in health care, education, child care and child nutrition. Those investments take revenue. Otherwise, we risk living in a state that funds education at the expense of basic needs. In trying to solve one crisis, we’d create another.
We know that the House and Senate are committed to closing the opportunity gap. That means making sure that all kids are ready to learn, well-fed, and healthy, so they can jump right in on the first day of kindergarten – and surge past the milestones on their way to a healthy, productive adulthood.
By following these principles of a good budget for kids, lawmakers can make sure that every Washington child will have a strong start.