Kids don't vote. Yet every election cycle brings promises to improve children's lives in the name of bipartisan family values.
With 16 months to go in the long presidential campaign slog, candidates are polishing up their talking points on how to improve the lot of the American family. Some even talk about supporting programs that help parents better prepare their preschoolers for academic success.
The reality is that parents all across the economic spectrum face struggles they shouldn't have to because when it comes to valuing what families need, our elected representatives are out to recess.
My sister has a well-paying executive job, yet she has to juggle childcare for her 8-year-old daughter, especially in the summer months, because of how much the quality and costs vary in her area. A close friend, also a single mom with a 2-year-old, has told me that even with reliable child care, she couldn't manage it all if her parents didn't periodically come up from Atlanta to lend a hand.
These women are well-educated parents with full-time jobs and benefits. The situation of too many American families is far more fragile.
According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, over 1.6 million children experience homelessness each year. This condition worsens kids' health—homeless children have four times the respiratory infections, four times the rates of asthma, and go hungry at twice the rate of other kids. And 15.8 million U.S. children live in households suffering from food insecurity, meaning that families have limited options for obtaining food.
It is exactly in these areas—housing and nutrition—that our federal representatives are falling furthest behind in offering real solutions.
According to the Children's Budget released last month by First Focus, a bipartisan advocacy group dedicated to kids and their families, funding for federal initiatives serving children has dropped almost 10 percent in the past five years.
In education, this meant cuts of nearly $7 billion in 2013 alone, forcing districts to cut programs for disabled students, lay off teachers and support staff, and some districts even considered limiting their school bus routes. Housing-assistance grants for low-income families went down $1.5 billion from 2011 to 2013, a significant hit on the estimated $9 billion of government housing assistance that impacts children. And while mandatory spending on nutrition assistance programs, most commonly known as food stamps, went up slightly since 2011, that's because the formula that decides that responds more to economics than year-to-year appropriations. Discretionary spending in the area went down.
Promising to support young kids and their parents to level the playing field and help them thrive is good.
Making interventions in families' most basic needs—making sure they eat, have a roof over their heads, and that parents can count on viable and healthy child care options when they work—would be even better.
Carolina González is a Next America contributor based in New York City.