Political Theater in Congress Puts Millions of Families at Risk




When Congress reconvened after the August recess, it was expected that the House would jump into tackling the budget impasse. After all, the United States is on the brink of shutdown for the second time this year. Unless Congress takes swift, decisive action, the federal government will run out of money, triggering a shutdown on October 1st that will jeopardize federal programs and place additional financial strain on millions of vulnerable and low-income Americans.

Instead, on a day when the Census Bureau reported that child poverty rates rose 139% from 2021 to 2022, Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and House Republicans shirked their duties to the American public, choosing to create political theater by opening a farcical impeachment inquiry on President Biden.

As House Republicans play games, American families are struggling to survive. As is often the case, those who are the most at risk and vulnerable among us will bear the brunt of the repercussions.

The Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program provides monthly aid to roughly 6.6 million poor families. But, with rising food costs and a streamlined application process making it easier to participate in the program, the existing budget of $5.69 billion is not enough to provide benefits at the current level through the next fiscal year. The Biden administration has requested that Congress address the need for additional funding for the program, including $1.4 billion to prevent any disruption in nutritional aid for low-income families. Without the additional funds, the WIC program may need to implement waiting lists or cut benefit amounts to program participants.

The $24 billion in pandemic stimulus money provided to the child care industry by Congress is set to expire at the end of September. The loss of this funding places an estimated 70,000 child care programs in danger of closing. According to the Century Foundation, roughly 3.2 million kids will be left without child care, impacting millions of parents who may be forced to exit the workforce or reduce their working hours, costing affected families an estimated $9 billion in lost earnings.

And it isn’t just children or parents that will be affected; the economy as a whole will suffer. The loss in tax and business revenue could cost states upwards of $10 billion in economic activity every year. The child care workforce is likely to lose more than 200,000 jobs, and six states could see the number of licensed programs cut by half or more. Democrats in Congress have introduced The Childcare Stablization Act, to extend childcare program funding. Please call your legislators and tell them to support The Childcare Stabilization Act before the program expires and leaves millions of kids without care. 

When Congress inexplicably chose to discontinue the expanded Child Tax Credit in December 2021, they allowed 5 million children to plummet into poverty. While Congress takes risks with the nation’s welfare, American families continue to struggle with the rising costs of housing, goods and services, and child care. Passing the American Family Act of 2023 would lead to the largest reduction of childhood poverty in American history, and would be one of the most historic actions Congress could take for children and families.  

House members cannot come to terms on their appropriations bills, largely in part because the spending limits are lower than amounts negotiated in the earlier deal, or conservative Republicans have attached provisions that are deal breakers for Democrats.

As part of their proposed agriculture appropriations bill, House Republicans want to slash funding to WIC by $800 million according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a reduction of more than 12 percent that would result in benefit cuts or complete loss of eligibility for millions of parents and children.

Of the 12 House bills, eight contain measures from conservative Republicans that aim to restrict access to abortion, gender-affirming care, or both. With these “poison pill” measures attached, the bills are unlikely to receive many – if any – Democratic votes.

McCarthy and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have proposed adopting a continuing resolution to allow more time for negotiations and to avert a shutdown, but the far-right Freedom Caucus has vowed to oppose this measure unless it includes provisions that are unlikely to see any Democratic support.

Budgets serve as a reflection of our priorities and principles, and reductions in support for hardworking families would represent a significant departure from American values. It’s time for the House of Representatives to stop jeopardizing the lives and well-being of American families. ■

Header photo via New York Times