February 2013 U.S. Poverty Action

Generate Media on How Budget Decisions Impact Children and Families

In the coming months, Congress will have to make some important decisions on the federal budget. These decisions could have a particularly harsh impact on low-income families, particularly children. By generating media urging Congress to protect programs that support low-income children and families, we might be able to stave off damaging cuts. Take time to draft a letter to the editor, op-ed, or inspire an editorial telling Congress to protect children in the federal budget.

Submit an Op-Ed or Letter to the Editor to Urging Congress to Protect Children in the Budget

  1. Mention a recent story in the paper highlighting Congress, the budget, or poverty in America. These “hooks” increase the chances of your piece getting published.
  2. Remind readers that cuts to social programs such as SNAP, Head Start, or child care services hurt children the most. Half of all SNAP and Medicaid recipients are children.
  3. Tell them that studies show that these services make a difference in children’s lives. A recent Iowa State University study demonstrates that SNAP reduces hunger in children by 20 percent and poor health outcomes by 35 percent.
  4. Explain that if proposals to cut SNAP and Head Start go into effect, millions of children will be hurt. For example, under budget legislation passed by the House last May, 22 million low-income children would see their SNAP benefits eliminated or cut and 280,000 low-income children would lose free breakfast and lunch meals at school.
  5. Tell readers we need a balanced approach to deficit reduction — one that creates jobs, generates revenue, and does not increase poverty.
  6. Urge your senators and representative by name to protect America’s at-risk children. Tell them to reject any cuts to SNAP, Head Start, and child care in budget negotiations.

Note: To find contact information for media outlets in your area, including telephone numbers and addresses, visit our Media Guide at http://capwiz.com/results/dbq/media/. In addition, see our Activist Toolkit pieces on writing a letter to the editor and generating an op-ed . Also, download the RESULTS Media PowerPoint presentation with helpful tips on generating media in our community. Be sure to send your published piece to your members of Congress!

Key Budget Fights Ahead

The next few months could be a critical time for America’s vulnerable children and families. On March 1, the “sequester” goes into effect, which mandates $1.2 trillion in budget cuts over the next ten years. These cuts would impact “discretionary” programs (i.e. funded on an annual basis) such as Head Start, Early Head Start, child care assistance, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and others. In addition, the House and Senate must finalize the FY 2013 federal budget. The federal government is currently operating under a “continuing resolution” (CR), which essentially maintains last year’s spending levels; the CR expires on March 27.

The House and Senate will also work on FY 2014 budget resolutions. Last year, the House proposed a budget that included severe cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps), Medicaid, and discretionary spending. The House budget also proposed turning SNAP and Medicaid into block grants to states. These cuts in changes would result in millions of low-income Americans losing access to these vital services. The House is expected to propose a similar budget this year, with cuts possibly going even deeper.

Generating media to highlight the impact of these cuts on low-income individuals and families is an excellent way to educate lawmakers and the public. It also gives you the opportunity to urge lawmakers to protect programs that help lift and keep people out of poverty. Congress must not balance the budget on the backs of low-income children and families.

Budget Decisions Have a Huge Impact on Children

Many politicians like to demonize federal programs as wastes of money going to people who don’t deserve the benefits. This cynical view of our collective responsibility to take care of each other ignores one important fact – the primary beneficiary of anti-poverty benefits are children. For example, nearly half of SNAP recipients are children. As noted in the chart below, children make up 47 percent of SNAP recipients; that’s 22 million children based on current enrollment. For Medicaid, 27 million children were enrolled in the program in June 2011 (most recent data), more than half of all Medicaid enrollees.

SNAP /strong> is America’s largest child nutrition program. Nearly one in three of all American children receive SNAP and 70 percent of all SNAP benefits go to households with children. This money is not wasted. Based on U.S. Census official poverty measure, SNAP lifted 3.9 million people out of poverty in 2011, including 1.7 million children. Lack of adequate nutrition for children can result in stunted growth and development, not to mention life-long health problems. CBPP breakdown of SNAP recipientsA recent study from Iowa State University showed that SNAP reduces food insecurity in children by 20 percent and reduces poor health outcomes in children by 35 percent.

Despite the importance of SNAP in providing food to America’s children, Congress proposed significant cuts to SNAP in 2012. Last May, the House voted to cut $34 billion from SNAP, which would mean 22 million low-income children would see their SNAP benefits eliminated or cut and 280,000 low-income children would lose free breakfast and lunch meals at school. Also, the Senate passed $4.5 billion in cuts to SNAP (over ten years) in 2012 as a part of the Farm Bill, which would have cuts benefits for 500,000 Americans by an average of $90 per month, and the House Farm Bill proposed to cut SNAP by $16.5 billion over ten years.

Head Start, Early Head Start, and child care services, by their very nature, benefit children, as well as their parents who rely on these services while they are at work. Nobel Prize-winning economist Professor James Heckman (University of Chicago) has studied the science of human potential and has also concluded that investing in early learning for disadvantaged children is a strong long-term investment (see chart at left). “Birth to five early childhood education for disadvantaged children is a cost efficient and effective investment in preventing downstream problems in education, health, social and economic productivity that place large burdens on local, state and national budgets, as well as weaken our global competitiveness and security.” (http://www.heckmanequation.org/) Unfortunately, automatic budget cuts slated to begin in March 2013 (“sequestration”) could have a profound impact on Head Start and child care services. If these cuts go into full effect, Head Start and child care programs will see a five percent cut for the rest of this year and even deeper caps going forward.).

The best solution to our budget deficit problems is creating a strong economy and good jobs for all. Any deficit reduction plan must be fair and balanced, meaning it should include investments that create good jobs, new revenue (even with the recent fiscal cliff deal, enacted budget cuts are double any new revenue raised), and targeted cuts to wasteful or unnecessary programs. Slashing benefits only punishes families, increases poverty, and sentences a generation of children to a future rife with economic, health, and social disadvantages.

Sample Letter: Protect Children in Budget Negotiations

Congress has some tough decisions ahead with regard to the federal budget. Unfortunately, leaders in Congress think that children in poverty should shoulder the burden of our budget deficits by cutting critical services like SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) and Head Start. The primary beneficiaries of these and other anti-poverty programs are children. And they make a difference. A recent study from Iowa State shows that SNAP reduces hunger in children by 20 percent and poor health outcomes by 35 percent. Head Start and child care help children do better in school and studies show that kids in quality early learning programs tend to be healthier, smarter, and more successful when they grow up.

It angers me that Congress would ignore the research and instead tell these children “tough luck.” Saying that children are our future means nothing if you don’t act like it. I urge Senators Smith and Jones and Representative Brown reject any cuts to SNAP, Head Start, and child care assistance and instead enact a balanced approach to deficit reduction that creates jobs, generates revenue, and does not increase poverty.

Magnify Your Impact with an Op-ed or Editorial

Although letters to the editor (LTEs) are important and effective ways to educate lawmakers and the public on our issues, op-eds and editorials can have an even bigger media impact. These pieces provide you more room to discuss the issue and make a stronger case for protecting low-income Americans. Unfortunately, few people choose to take advantage of this opportunity (opting instead to do LTEs). For years, RESULTS has prided itself on getting frequent op-eds and editorials published around the country. The process does require a little more time and effort than your typical LTE, but the reward is much greater as well. Think of the impact you’ll have with a 600 word op-ed on poverty in America or having your paper endorse protecting the EITC and CTC in an editorial. RESULTS staff can help you make that happen.

If you are interested in submitting an op-ed or asking your paper to write an editorial on the poverty data, please contact the RESULTS staff for assistance. We can provide you with coaching, advice, and resources to help you write your op-ed or pitch an editorial idea to your local paper. In some cases, our staff may contact you about doing an op-ed or editorial because you have an established relationship with a local paper or live in a key congressional district. For questions and assistance, please contact Meredith Dodson ([email protected]) or Jos Linn ([email protected]).


Learn more about how you can protect critical anti-poverty services and especially SNAP with guest speaker Ellen Teller of the Food Research and Action Center on the next RESULTS National Conference Call, Saturday February 9 at 12:30 pm ET. The call-in number is (888) 409-6709.