On January 8, 2020, Bruce Lesley, the president of First Focus on Children, a bipartisan advocacy organization that works with lawmakers to help improve the lives of American children, sent a letter to Majority Whip and Senator Mitch McConnell. In the letter, Lesley pointed out that dozens of bills, all of which were designed or created to help improve the wellbeing of children, have been sitting on the Senate floor, some dating back to 2018. They were bipartisan bills, with some of the most progressive legislation coming from none other than Senator Mitt Romney. Much of the legislation — such as two separate bills that would expand and improve upon the Child Care Tax Credit —could have conceivably been passed, even in an acrimonious Senate. Inexplicably, they haven’t.
“Both sides of the aisle, in fact, are complaining about how little the senate has done,” Lesley told Fatherly. “We didn’t even put our entire agenda on there. These were just bills that we felt were either bipartisan, common sense, or technical correction kinds of bills.”
While some of the bills on McConnell’s desk are more sweeping than others, it’s hard to see why a vote can’t be called on them. Perhaps it’s just the will of the Honorable Senator from Kentucky. But even his self-proclaimed status as the “Grim Reaper” of the Senate can’t account for all of the inaction: many of the bills on the list were never even referred to the appropriate committee in the House or Senate. If they have been, they still haven’t been taken up. The inaction is astounding. In the meantime, kids will be harmed.
“I used to work in the Senate,” says Lesley, explaining to Fatherly why he wrote a letter to the Senate Majority leader and Minority Whip Chuck Schumer asking them to act on a backlog of several dozen bills that hadn’t been passed and would help children in America dramatically. “I worked there for 10 years. When I was working there, I felt like you could really reach across the aisle and get stuff done. It wasn’t like this. I get why there’s partisan rancor over big things that people fight over, like guns, and abortion. But, look at these bills that we listed. Most Americans don’t even know they exist, but if they passed, they would actually make important differences in the lives of children. And it should be bipartisan.”
Here are 28 bills that would change the lives of American kids, should they be enacted.
Bills That Would Help Kids Get More Of The Federal Budget
For the past few years, the number of dollars allocated to children in the federal budget has shrunk dramatically. In 2019, for the first time ever, there was more money spent on paying down the national debt than spending on children. What accounts for this? The Trump administration cut programs that helped children and families from the budget, including cutting housing vouchers for 200,000 families, $21 billion in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Medicaid by $763 billion over the next decade, among many more cuts.
To address this issue, Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced two bills to the Senate.
- The Children’s Budget Act (S.1776.) This bill would require that spending on federal children’s programs be separately evaluated and laid out in the President’s yearly budget proposal so that it can be clearer to see how spending — or cutting spending — on children’s programs would affect them.
- The Focus on Children Act (S.1780) This bill would help the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) provide studies and reports on federal spending on kids. This would help Congress know how budget cuts, or budget increases, that are being considered or that have already been passed will impact kids.
Bills That Would Increase Access to Health Care And Health
The past few years have been marked by a few ominous signs in kids healthcare, most alarming of which is the fact that the number of uninsured kids has, for the first time in a decade, risen. One reason for this has to do with states cutting funding to medicaid; another is the long and protracted battle over the bipartisan Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) a health care program run through Medicaid that gives kids access to low or no cost health care and which recently ran out of funding in 2018. While funding was restored for a few years, another battle is looming. Some of the bills sitting on McConnell’s desk would make CHIP funding a permanent, not appropriated, part of the budget.
- The Newborn Screening Saves Lives Reauthorization Act (H.R. 2507). This bill was passed in the House by a voice vote in the summer of 2019. It has bipartisan sponsors such as House Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) and would reauthorize programs that exist under part A of title XI that increase access to newborn screening testing, counseling, follow-up, and more for heritable genetic disorders. The bill only reauthorizes and expands upon previously existing legislation. It is not reinventing the wheel.
- The Helping Medicaid Offer Maternity Services Act (H.R. 4996). This bill, which was discussed, marked up and advanced by the U.S. House of Representatives Health Subcommittee in November of 2019, would incentivize states to extend Medicaid and CHIP coverage for new moms throughout the entire pregnancy postpartum period and include a five-percent increase in federal Medicaid Assistance to help states do that. This is particularly important in states with massive maternal mortality issues like Texas and Georgia.
- The Wise Investment in Children Act (S. 2358). Introduced by Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) in 2019, this act would increase the age of eligibility for children to receive WIC (women, infants, and children) welfare benefits until their sixth birthday, and to extend the postpartum period for breastfeeding women to receive WIC benefits to two years.
- The Supporting Healthy Mothers and Infants Act (H.R. 5249). Introduced by House Reps David Trone (D-MD) in November 2019, Glenn Thompson (R-PA), and other bipartisan supporters, this would modify WIC, by providing education on substance abuse and reach out to those eligible for the program who might be impacted by addiction. It would also appropriate $1,000,000 of the federal budget to expand the program to help moms.
- Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act (H.R. 2339). Introduced in April of 2019, this bill would limit the ability of tobacco companies to sell and market tobacco products to youth under 21 and would prohibit the flavoring of tobacco products, among other measures. It would also work to limit vaping advertisements.
Bills That Would Decrease Child Hunger & Child Poverty
Child hunger is an increasingly dire problem in the U.S. In 2017, 12.5 million minors were food-insecure, which is associated with negative impacts on child development, physical health, and growth. A number of stagnant bills, one of which was even introduced by MItch McConnell, attempt to address this issue.
- The Anti-Lunch Shaming Act (S. 1119/H.R. 2311). A bill with massive bipartisan support — sponsored by Susan Collins (R-ME), Cory Gardner (R-CO) Debra Haaland (D-NM) and more — this would make it federal law to by stigmatize or punish kids who are unable to afford their school lunches, a practice widely seen as cruel and punitive. It was introduced in April of 2019 and referred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.
- The Summer Meals Act (S. 1908/H.R. 2818), The Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act (S.1918), and The Child Summer Hunger Act of (S.1941). These are three separate bills, sponsored by a wide variety of bipartisan legislators, that would improve summer food programs for kids by increasing access to nutritious meals while school is not in session.
- The Child Poverty Reduction Act (S.1630) This act, which highlights the need to cut child poverty in half over a 10-year period and suggests a number of pathways to make that happen was introduced in July 2017. It was read twice, and referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. No action has been taken on it since.
Bills That Would Help Make Child Care Less of a Nightmare
American parents, on average, spend up to 36 percent of their income on child care. In 28 states, child care costs more than a year of college tuition. This puts a strain on families and forces a lot of parents to leave their jobs, the latter of which has effects on everything from lifetime earnings and the health of children to the economy as a whole. A number of bills seek to lift the burden.
- The Promoting Affordable Childcare for Everyone Act (S. 749/H.R. 1696) was introduced in March of 2019 and works to not only expand the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, but also increase the amount of employer provided care assistance for those who are primary caregivers. It was read twice and referred to the Senate committee on finance.
- The Child Care for Working Families Act (S. 568/H.R. 1364). Initially introduced by 33 senators in 2017, this landmark legislation would ensure that a parent spent no more than a certain percentage of their income on child care. It would also expand access to affordable child care for families as well as strengthen training standards on child care workers.
Bills That Would Help Youth Homelessness
Youth homelessness is an increasing problem, and homeless families are one of the fastest growing groups of housing insecure Americans. Roughly 500,000 Americans experience homelessness every single night and about a third of homeless people, or about 180,000 of them, are families with children. Seven percent of people who experience homelessness in the United States are under 25.
- The Homeless Children and Youth Act (H.R. 2001) would amend the definition of homelessness to align with the McKinney-Vento Act definition: children and youth who are homeless are “those who lack a regular, fixed and adequate nighttime residence.” This is currently how the Department of Education defines homelessness, but not the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This bill would align both definitions of homelessness and include kids who are near-homeless in the broader definition.
- Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act (S. 2803/H.R. 4300/H.R. 2657) was introduced last year. The bill will prioritize some federally assisted housing programs to assist youths who are aging out of foster care which can be a huge issue for aging kids. The good news is that H.R. 4300 passed out of the House by a voice vote in November of last year. It now awaits Senate consideration.
- The Housing for Homeless Students Act (S. 767/H.R. 4865), would modify the low-income housing tax credit to allow certain low-income building units that provide housing for homeless youth and veterans to also allow full-time students to qualify for the credit.
- Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act (S. 2916/H.R. 5191) would amend the definition of youth homelessness and reauthorize assistance for homeless youth. The bipartisan bill aims to reauthorize and improve upon the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act and was introduced in November 2019.
Bills That Would Help Migrant Children
The situation on the border, while never particularly great under the Obama administration, dramatically worsened under the Trump Administration. Migrant children were forcibly separated from their parents, a violation of the long-standing Flores Settlement Agreement, which required minimum standards of care for kids in detention and had detention limits. Lawmakers sought to correct the problem with policy, but the bills are stuck in limbo.
- The American Dream and Promise Act (H.R. 6) would codify the DREAM Act and shift the status of migrants who arrived in the U.S. under temporary protected status or deferred enforced departure.
- The Humanitarian Standards for Individuals in Customs and Border Protection Custody Act (H.R. 3239/S. 2135), which passed the House in a voice vote in July of 2019, would make necessary improvements and requirements in the treatment of migrant children.
Bills That Would Help Child Welfare
Kids in the foster care system in the United States are struggling. With more children entering the system in recent years than ever before due to the opioid crisis, fewer people becoming foster parents, and a lack of adequate funding for foster kids or transitory programs for them when they turn 18, foster care is a mess. Plenty of bills have been written to help deal with this problem, including bills that would help abused kids and help foster children get financial aid. But, obviously, foster kids aren’t the only ones who need help from the system. Trauma, hunger, and homelessness can also affect children’s life outcomes.
- Immediate Coverage for Former Foster Youth Act (S. 1697/H.R. 3057,) is bicameral legislation introduced in June that would help former foster youth get under Medicaid coverage faster. Current guidelines would have them wait until 2023.
- The Stronger Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (H.R. 2480) would reauthorize the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). It passed the House by a voice vote in May of 2019 and was written and introduced by Reps. Kim Schrier (D-WA), James Comer (R-KY), Lori Trahan (D-MA), among other bipartisan supporters.
- The Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act (S.789/H.R. 1724) would improve the financial aid process for homeless and foster care youth by making it easier for unaccompanied homeless youth to apply for aid. Among other things, it would remove the burdensome filing requirements, ensure that foster care support services do not count as “income” for the purposes of calculating financial aid.
- The Early Detection to Stop Infant Abuse and Prevention Fatalities Act (S. 1009/H.R. 2076) would improve early detection and management of injuries that might help flag potentially abused infants.
- The RISE from Trauma Act (S. 1770/H.R. 3180), would aim to improve the identification and support of children and families who experience trauma. Federal funds would be allocated to schools, criminal justice agencies, and social services agencies to help families affected by trauma. It was introduced in June of 2019, referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
- The Schools Preventing Hunger in At-Risk Kids Act (H.R. 4259), which was formulated by House bi-partisan members Susan Wild (D-PA), Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-AS), Don Bacon (R-NE), and others, would provide categorical eligibility for free lunch and breakfast for kids who qualify.
Bills That Would Give Parents Additional Tax Breaks
One of the most bipartisan-supported measures to help kids in the United States has always been to work through the tax code to provide breaks and benefits for working, middle class parents. Naturally, this has often left out the very poor, some of whom don’t work or don’t make enough to take advantage of, for example, the Child Tax Credit. Lawmakers have aimed to expand access — and the amount of money that people can get from their taxes for caring for their kids — with the following bills.
- The Improving the Child Tax Credit, would reform the existing Child Tax Credit and create a new Young Child Tax Credit. These provisions would significantly reduce child poverty, cover more eligible kids, and provide those kids more money. This isn’t the first time this was proposed. Another bill by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Bennet called The American Family Act (S.690), introduced in March of 2019, would also expand the popular tax credit. It was read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on Finance.
- The Child Tax Credit Equity for Puerto Rico Act (H.R. 302) introduced by House Representatives Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (R-PR), Jose Serrano (D-NY), among others, would modify the rules for the refundable portion of the child tax credit to allow residents of Puerto Rico to claim the refundable portion of the child tax credit on the same basis as U.S. taxpayers. It would also help residents of Puerto Rico with two children or less to claim the refundable portion of the credit on the same basis as residents with three or more children.