It’s budget season…

Reports have been published that show spending money on children and youth in foster care today will save significantly in the future by lowering rates of incarceration, welfare dependence, homelessness, and the need for other public services.  However, elected officials are not looking years down the road when they are plagued by such budget shortfalls today.

Here on the Hill and in states and localities across the nation it’s budget season.  Last month President Obama sent his proposed FY2012 budget to Congress.  However, Congress hasn’t yet passed a spending bill for the remaining 7 months of FY 2011.  Just yesterday they passed a continuing resolution for 2 weeks to avoid a federal government shutdown set to take place this Friday.

With all of the uncertainty surrounding federal spending, and the vast state and local budget shortfalls, one thing is for sure–child welfare programs are at risk.

While ultimately budget decisions are left up to Congress, the President’s budget proposes slight decreases in overall discretionary funding for child welfare programs.  First Focus released a report outlining the proposed changes to child welfare funding.  “Among the most notable aspects of the budget is the inclusion of an increase in funding of $250 million in mandatory funds in FY 2012 to support a reform agenda focused on providing incentives to states to improve outcomes for children in foster care and those who are receiving in-home services from the child welfare system. This increase is part of the Administration’s broader proposal to provide $2.5 billion over ten years to support a comprehensive child welfare reform proposal aimed at making improvements in the foster care system to prevent child abuse and neglect and keep more children safely in their homes and out of long-term foster care.”

Elected officials across our nation are met with the challenge of funding necessary services and programs to serve the needs of their constituents.  It is important to remember that budgets are not really a matter of dollars and cents, but a matter of how the well-being of lives will ultimately be impacted.  A good reminder of this is a quote by Hubert H. Humphrey which is imprinted on the wall at the U.S. Health and Human Services building, “It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

In an op ed byPaul Krugman appearing in the New York Times, Krugman raises some tough questions about the impact of budgets and spending on America’s children.  “When advocates of lower spending get a chance to put their ideas into practice, the burden always seems to fall disproportionately on those very children they claim to hold so dear.”  While Krugman discusses the child population in general, we all know that children and youth in foster are even more vulnerable to poor outcomes and have a higher level of need for government programs.

Krugman asks, “The really striking thing about all this isn’t the cruelty — at this point you expect that — but the shortsightedness. What’s supposed to happen when today’s neglected children become tomorrow’s work force?”

Photo Credit: photographer Vik Orenstein