In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson coined the phrase War on Poverty while introducing legislation designed to combat a 19 percent poverty rate that he declared unacceptable. He believed that federal programs had an important role in reducing poverty. Today, we are seeing a new War on Poverty that will harm, rather than help, the poor by cutting funding for low-income families leaving them with no safety net and little hope of a brighter future. As the holiday season of generosity ends and we look to 2018, we need to ensure that the effective policies that affect and target our most vulnerable children are strengthened—not cut.
Over the past few months, two actions by Congress demonstrate that they have little intention of helping low-income families. First, the recently passed tax cut bill will do little to provide relief to low-income households, with analysis projecting that the richest 20 percent of American households will receive two-thirds of the bill’s benefits in 2018. Even the last-minute amendment prompted by Senator Marco Rubio to expand the Child Tax Credit would only result in a modest $300 average annual increase in tax returns for low-income families who are already paying more than $2,000 a year for childcare.
Second, Congress has allowed federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to expire, potentially affecting the 9.2 million children enrolled in the program. The program is funded through block grants, so states will exhaust their existing funds at different points in 2018: 16 states at the end of January and another 21 by end of March.
Childhood poverty remains a persistent and daunting problem in the United States. A report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranked the U.S. 35th out of 40 member nations in addressing childhood poverty. One in every five children in the U.S. is living below the poverty line and poverty is the single best predictor of life trajectories. Recent research by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia showed that as early as 5 weeks of age, children born into poverty had less grey matter brain volume (i.e., the part of the brain where information is processed) than their middle-income counterparts. In addition, living in poverty exerts its impact throughout life in poorer health outcomes like chronic illness and heart disease decades later.