2017 Legislative Session: Budget Cuts, Bright Spots, and Looking Forward

From our COO, John Cavanaugh:

Nebraska children and families were major targets for budget cuts in this session of the Nebraska Legislature. In nearly every category of program assistance for children and families, steep reductions were proposed as the method to not only reduce spending to meet declining revenue, but also to provide major reductions in State government support to reduce tax revenue in the future, primarily benefitting the wealthiest Nebraskans. The largest reductions were to programs essential for a healthy Nebraska. Significant reductions were made in Medicaid, Behavioral Health AID and Children's Health Insurance (CHIP). Reductions in provider rates will further force reductions in access to care to many of those most in need. 

Other major efforts targeted early childhood care and education directly by attempting to freeze funding in the child care subsidy program and suspend the School Readiness Tax Credits. The child care subsidy program is essential to Nebraska families working in low wage jobs and the School Readiness Tax Credits are an important tool for increasing the number of child care providers participating in Step Up to Quality. Increasing access to quality child care, particularly in the first five years is the most vital program we have for improving academic performance of Nebraska children. Now is not the time to roll back the progress we have made in expanding access to quality care for the most at risk children. Though more work still needs to be done to sustain the child care subsidy program and build quality, Senator Bob Krist and Senator Sara Howard led efforts this session to establish firm floors on provider rates and did not accept the cutting proposals as introduced. 

One bright spot for parents and children this session was the passage of Senator Tony Vargas' LB 427. The legislation will help ensure pregnant and parenting students in both rural and urban communities will have appropriate supports in place. The bill was sparked by research from the Nebraska ACLU that exposed a lack of school district policies around things like absences and the expression of breast milk. The statewide need for this bill was supported by data in the report "Future Unknown: The Outlook of Teen Pregnancy in Nebraska" from the Holland Children's Institute and UNMC College of Public Health. Because of LB 427, school districts will be better equipped to help pregnant and parenting students graduate and seek out quality child care for their children. 

The debate in this Legislative session was the most partisan and personal in recent history. In the real world, the issues impacting children and families are not partisan and should be issues that bring people together in support of their neighbors and a common future of success for children. Access to quality health care should be universal; the question should be how best to meet the needs of everyone in an affordable and cost-effective way. Nebraska should see paid family leave advance as the lack of access to it is economically and developmentally consequential. Senator Sue Crawford's proposal to extend paid medical leave for working Nebraskans is currently stalled in the Business and Labor Committee. While this bill did not advance this session, the effort continues to demonstrate the broad support among both employers and employees in Nebraska. 

We must continue to educate and advocate for policies that are critical for children and working families. We must hold lawmakers accountable to the Nebraskans who support and value those policies. And we must defend against ongoing efforts to jeopardize the progress Nebraska has made in children's health and early childhood care and education. 

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