The long-term well-being of the United States is rooted in how well we invest in young children and prepare them to lead the country, drive economic growth, and build strong families. This requires children to have their basic needs met: food, housing, safe caregiving, and adequate medical care. Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s policies have undone many of these goals.
For the past four years, the administration has undermined basic supports—in particular, targeting Black families, Indigenous families, and other families of color, as well as families with low incomes and immigrant families. Now, as the nation faces a pandemic that is disproportionately affecting these same communities, the administration’s unique failure to respond to the coronavirus crisis is exacerbating existing harms that will negatively impact a generation of children.
Here are five ways that the Trump administration’s policies are harming children:
1. Increasing food insecurity for children
Despite an increase in food insecurity and unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration excluded nearly 5 million children from SNAP dollars provided by Congress as part of coronavirus relief efforts. As of April 2020, 1 in 3 households with children were experiencing food insecurity; in September, between 7 million and 11 million children lived in households where there was not enough to eat. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump also proposed cutting SNAP by 30 percent over the next decade, which would affect the 9.2 million SNAP households with children. And in 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed three regulatory attacks on the SNAP program that would decrease benefits for millions of families and strip almost 1 million children of automatic eligibility for free and reduced-price school meals.
Such disregard for children’s well-being has serious long-term consequences. The effects of household food insecurity on young children can include developmental delays, hospitalizations, and worse health outcomes than their food secure counterparts.
2. Leaving millions of children without health insurance
During the Trump administration, the number of uninsured children reached 4.4 million—despite the fact that uninsured rates for children were at a record low when Trump took office in 2017. There are 726,000 more children who are uninsured now than there were at the beginning of the Trump administration; and this figure does not even account for those children who have lost health insurance since the COVID-19 pandemic began. These increases in uninsured rates for children can be directly attributed to cuts in outreach and enrollment assistance, efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and anti-immigrant policies that have led to lower enrollment in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Moreover, the administration previously proposed capping federal funds for Medicaid, which would limit lifesaving support for many children with disabilities.
Even during the pandemic, the Trump administration is in court attempting to dismantle the ACA and further reduce insurance coverage for children and families.
3. Harming immigrant families
The Trump administration’s cruel immigration policies have broken families apart, instilled fear in immigrant communities, and forced immigrant families to choose between their health and well-being and their lawful immigration status. In May 2018, the administration ordered the prosecution of all undocumented immigrants—including asylum-seeking parents—at the border. While parents faced prosecution and deportation, children were deliberately separated from their families and held in abhorrent conditions. From July 2017 to October 2019, more than 5,400 children, including babies and toddlers, were forcibly separated from their parents. Even though a federal judge later ordered that these children be reunited with their families, many remain separated due to the government’s inadequate system for tracking them.
The Trump administration has also worked unsuccessfully to overturn the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which would have harmed at least 250,000 U.S.-born children who have parents protected under DACA.
4. Failing to open schools and child care safely
The Trump administration mishandled the coronavirus pandemic from the beginning, losing precious weeks and months to get the virus under control. As a result, many schools are still closed and child care providers are struggling to stay afloat.
Schools are unable to open safely unless they have access to COVID-19 tests, personal protective equipment, and financial resources for added expenses—all of which the Trump administration has failed to provide. At times, the administration has even hindered local and state access to these needed materials.
In addition, without more federal funding, the United States could permanently lose half of its child care capacity. A recent CAP analysis found that 4.5 million child care slots could disappear, meaning that millions of parents would lose access to child care, which could affect their ability to work, and that millions of young children would lose access to consistent, quality child care and early education opportunities that support their healthy brain development. Even so, President Trump and his allies in the Senate are prioritizing the appointment of a new Supreme Court justice over the passage of legislation to address this economic crisis.
5. Slashing housing assistance
Before the pandemic, only 1 in 5 families with children eligible for housing assistance received it. And when the pandemic did reach the United States, even more families needed support in meeting their rent and mortgage obligations. Unfortunately, Americans have only received, at a maximum, one stimulus check and a temporary moratorium on evictions that has not stopped rent or mortgage costs from piling up or missed payments from negatively affecting credit scores. As a result, nearly half of households with children are likely to leave their home due to eviction in the next two months. Even with the CDC’s recent halt on some evictions through the end of 2020, 8 million households could be facing eviction in January 2021.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration was threatening children and families’ access to housing. For years, President Trump’s budgets have proposed nearly tripling the rent for households in which a member is assumed to be able to work, which could put 1 million children at risk of homelessness. In May 2019, the administration also proposed a rule that would have removed housing assistance for mixed-immigration-status families, which would have placed 55,000 children at risk of eviction and homelessness.
Early experiences can affect children’s life outcomes. Food insecurity can lead to delays in healthy development; housing insecurity can cause adverse health outcomes and worsen academic outcomes; lack of health insurance leads to delayed medical care and unmet health needs as well as added stress for parents; and separation from parents exposes children to toxic stress, which alters the structure of their developing brains. Yet the Trump administration continues to pursue these policies—policies that are directly linked to negative outcomes for children. In pursuing an agenda that is detrimental to young children, President Trump’s policies have threatened the country’s economy, health, and well-being.
Erin Robinson is the campaign manager for Early Childhood Policy at the Center for American Progress. Katie Hamm is the vice president for Early Childhood Policy at American Progress.