Late last week Senator Casey unveiled his new legislative initiative, the Five Freedoms for America’s Children. It is an ambitious proposal, outlining a collection of policy goals and legislative proposals to make sure that every child in the United States is provided with a safe, nurturing and secure start to life. This plan is meticulously researched, and because of that it is quite lengthy. Below you will find a detailed recap of Casey’s outline for how politicians of today can build a system to benefit the children of future generations. Any quotes noted below are from the plan proposal on Senator Casey’s website, unless otherwise indicated.
In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered an annual address that has come to be known as the Four Freedoms speech. The centerpiece of that speech was this passage:
In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world. The second is freedoms of every person to worship god in his own way – everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want…everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear…anywhere in the world. That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation.
Senator Casey grounded his Five Freedoms for America’s Children on the goals outlined by President Roosevelt, but he also noted that he was inspired by a passage of writing from his father, the late Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey. Governor Casey wrote:
Only government, when all else fails, can safeguard the vulnerable and powerless. When it renegs [sic] on that obligation, freedom becomes a hollow word. A hard-working person unable to find work and support his or her family is not free. A person for whom sickness means financial ruin, with no health insurance to soften the blow, is not free. A malnourished child, an uneducated child, a child trapped in foster care – these children are not free. And without a few breaks along the way from government, such children in most cases will never be truly free.
The Broad Strokes
Based on those foundational statements, Senator Casey crafted his Five Freedoms for America’s Children. They are:
- The freedom to be healthy
- The freedom to be economically secure
- The freedom to learn
- The freedom from hunger
- The freedom to be safe from harm
For each of these freedoms, Senator Casey has provided a set of publicly available research data, the conclusions that he has drawn from that data, and suggestions for policies to be implemented.
Freedom to be Healthy
“All children deserve access to quality health care. Public policy should ensure that children benefit from both preventive health care and the dramatic advances in American medical care.” – Senator Casey
In the documentation portion of the plan, Senator Casey shows that over 4 in 10 American children currently receive health coverage that is either provided by the government (Medicaid, Medicare, VA) or subsidized by government sources (CHIP, ACA Marketplace). But those programs cover less than half of children with disabilities or special health needs, and only cover 8 in 10 children who live in poverty. And even with these government programs, there are still children in the country who remain uninsured. Even worse, the percentage of children enrolled in some of these critical programs is declining dramatically, as the Trump Administration has continued their attacks on government health care initiatives. The charts below, from Senator Casey’s site, show the decline in coverage, just from 2017 to 2018.
His proposed solution: automatic Medicaid enrollment for all children at birth. This would ensure that all children are guaranteed access to early care, testing and treatment (if needed). In his words, “access to Medicaid, and especially to [the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment program], leads to positive education and economic outcomes over an individual’s lifetime. By guaranteeing access to health care, this policy will create a better future for our children and our Nation.”
Freedom to Be Economically Secure
“Economic stability and security for children and their families are the best predictors of a child’s well-being. Many programs that alleviate poverty have been shown to improve a child’s birth, health and educational outcomes.” – Senator Casey
The research background of this portion outlines the income levels of America’s families and the widespread lack of savings. It also provides some information on policies that some states have undertaken to address this issue. The senator draws from what has been learned in the implementation of those state programs in crafting his policy response.
Senator Casey suggests several policy solutions to create financial security for children:
- The American Family Act – this is a bill introduced by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) that nearly doubles the amount provided under the existing Child Tax Credit.
- The Working Families Tax Relief Act – this was also introduced by Senators Brown and Bennet, and it expands the current Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) as well as the Child Tax Credit, and makes the latter fully refundable.
- Senator Casey’s new proposal to be added to the other two initiatives is a Children’s Savings Account – this would establish a savings account for every child parent(s) or guardian earns under $100,000 per year (about half of children in the United States), and each year $500 would be deposited at tax time. Parents, family and friends could add to that account as well.
The combination of these three policies would drastically reduce childhood poverty.
Freedom to Learn
“High quality early care and education activities improve children’s capacity to learn and succeed in school, their emotional development and their ability to succeed in jobs and careers.” – Senator Casey
In the research portion of the plan, it is explained that a declining number of children who qualify for early childhood programs like child care assistance are accessing those services. It also details that under 4 in 10 of the kids who are eligible to attend the Head Start program are doing so, even as child care costs are skyrocketing. Also provided is information about the benefits of Head Start, and the positive later-in-life outcomes that result from quality early-childhood programs.
The Senator offers a three policy solutions:
- Increase funding of the Head Start program by $18 billion a year, so that all 3 and 4 year old children in the country can attend full day early education programs.
- Increase funding to the Child Care Entitlement to States (CCES) program, so that states can offer more child care cost subsidies to families.
- Implement the senator’s own Child Care and Dependent Tax Credit Enhancement Act. This legislation would create (based on income level and number of children) a tax credit of up to $6,000 per year to offset child care costs. This would be available to families that make up to $120,000 per year.
A National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine study found that the child care tax credit alone would raise nearly 900,000 children out of poverty, create half a million jobs and create aggregate earning growth of more than $9 billion.
Freedom from Hunger
“The negative consequences of hunger and food insecurity among children are well-documented. Hunger is associated with a higher risk of chronic diseases, particularly asthma, and also with a range of behavioral, social and mental disorders.” – Senator Casey
Many of the hurdles in addressing childhood hunger are purely bureaucratic, according to the research portion of the senator’s proposal. It outlines the tangled web of agencies, certification processes, and data matching systems involved in determining if a child is eligible for free or subsidized school nutrition programs. Other roadblocks to providing school meal programs involve awareness of eligibility, shaming issues, and the manner in which school debts are handled by districts.
The policy solutions that the Senator offers are:
- Expansion of direct certification of eligibility – if a child is eligible for a needs-based health care program (like CHIP or Medicaid) then they are automatically eligible for school nutrition programs. Currently this is only available to Medicaid recipients, but any number of other needs-based programs can be added to reduce the administrative burden on parents, school districts and states.
- Expansion of community eligibility – there are current policies in place where if a certain percentage of students are eligible for school nutrition programs, then ALL students in the given community can access those programs. The Senator’s plan would reduce the threshold for community wide free meals and change the manner in which it is calculated, so that more children have access to free lunch programs.
- Change and standardize the manner in which school lunch debt is handled to reduce stigma and shaming, by implementing retroactive reimbursement.
In Senator Casey’s words, “the most important impact of expanding direct certification and community eligibility is that when combined, these changes move the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs much further in the direction of universal meal service, especially in schools with significant proportions of low- and moderate-income students.”
Freedom to be Safe from Harm
“Children deserve to grow up free from abuse and neglect, yet, all too often, children in America do not grow up in a safe environment. An estimated one in seven children experienced abuse or neglect in the last year. “ – Senator Casey
The research portion of the plan explains the incidence of abuse and neglect experienced by the children of our nation. It proceeds to outline the issues involved in the under-funding of state systems designed to deal with abuse and neglect, and the growing and unmanageable caseloads experienced by the employees of those agencies. It also notes the ties between the opioid epidemic in the country, and the strains on service agencies helping children of parents that suffer from substance abuse disorders.
The senator details how the current legislation that funds and dictates the interaction between the federal funding and state agencies dealing with child welfare – the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) – works. It is currently funded at under $200 million a year. The Senator wants to see that expanded to a funding level of $5 billion across 10 years. The other solution that he proposes is a dispersal of grant funds to State Attorneys General to deal with wide-spread or long term abuse cases, like the cases of the Catholic Church, Penn State University, and Michigan State University. Currently, local police are expected to handle abuse cases, but such widespread, systemic situations can only be handled by statewide authorities.
At the heart of the senator’s proposal for safety is that the current systems only need small structural modifications, but must be funded at a level to provide sustainable operations, so that no child slips through the cracks.
Central to most of these policy proposals from Senator Casey is increased funding to existing programs, or funds for new policies. To do so, the senator calls for “reforming our national spending priorities.” In this section of the policy proposal, Senator Casey turns a critical eye past tax cuts as well as the 2017 GOP Tax Plan. He lays out how, if several portions of that corporate welfare programs instituted by the Republican Party were reversed, it would provide more than adequate funding to institute those reforms necessary to provide the Five Freedoms for America’s Children.
This portion is quoted, in full, from the Senator’s policy proposal:
The goal of the Five Freedoms for America’s Children is to reimagine our approach to public policy that affects children, and to create a framework to talk about those policies and how they address the needs of children in America. These are commonsense yet forward-leaning policies to ensure that we are giving our children the best start in life. By meeting their needs with respect to health, economic security, nutrition, education and safety, we can set our children on a path to success, and our Nation on a path to prosperity.
These proposals are intended to invite a robust debate, with the hope of securing the support of those who want to ensure that the light inside of each and every child can shine brightly as that child grows.
At a time when the very nature of our government is under assault from so many angles, it feels like all we can do is defend little bits of what we have. But Senator Casey’s proposal shows that it is possible to look for something better. In fact, by inspiring people to think about our goals, and what government can achieve if we support it properly, it puts in stark relief the gap between the future envisioned by America’s two political parties. It compels us to ask if we want to see a future governed by those who desire to starve government programs into ineffectiveness with no care for the wellbeing of our communities; or if we long for robust programs that work to support a shared vision of something better – like future generations of well-educated, healthy American children who are free from hunger, want and abuse.
What YOU Can Do to HELP
- Talk about this initiative with family, neighbors and friends.
- Share information and articles about it on social media.
- Write an Op-Ed to your local paper about the plan.
- Call your Congressperson (and Senator Toomey) and tell them that you support this plan and ask them what policy steps they are willing to take to guarantee the Five Freedoms for America’s Children.
Framing is going to be key to these conversations. As Senator Casey says, to enact these changes will require “reforming our national spending priorities.” Accordingly, one way to discuss this with others is to speak in terms of choices. Here’s an example:
“Ensuring that children get quality early childhood education is one of the best ways to ensure later in life success. We could get every three and four year old in the country into Head Start for less than the cost of reversing the 2017 GOP Tax Plan. What matters more? Our childrens’ well-being and futures, or yet another corporate tax cut?’
Now is a great time for us to talk about what we want for the future in terms of positive goals. And thankfully, we have someone like Senator Casey to provide us with a great place to start.
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