Budget Fights Threaten the Most Vulnerable Millennial Families

A jogger runs past the the U.S. Capitol at sunrise on October 22, 2015.

While this month’s budget deal was an encouraging step in the federal budget process, there is a lot of work left to do in order to decide how the funding will be spent. After lawmakers risked shutting down the government and defaulting on the national debt, Congress was able solidify a compromise in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, and negotiations in December will determine the appropriation of government funding moving forward. However, a government shutdown over ideological policy riders is still possible next month. Potential riders to the broader appropriations bill include proposals to defund Planned Parenthood and to place a moratorium on Syrian refugee resettlement.

As in previous negotiations, vital programs for young people will be on the table. Millennials are a huge proportion of today’s students, as well as a rapidly growing share of the nation’s parents, caregivers, and workers. The nation’s shared stability and prosperity depend on passing an appropriations package, without unreasonable policy riders, that gives young people and their families the opportunity to succeed and thrive.

The state of negotiations

In the aftermath of the budget deal, which provides a framework to fund the government for the next two years—notably, beyond the next presidential election—lawmakers still have to appropriate spending across government programs. The deadline to pass a new appropriations bill or a continuing resolution is swiftly approaching on December 11, when the current agreement runs out.

Before passing the current budget deal, both the House and the Senate proposed appropriations bills under spending caps known as the sequester. This meant cutting critical investments in education, health care, anti-poverty programs, and many other areas that are key to the stability and success of young people. The budget deal increases federal funding to $112 billion above the sequester caps for the next two years, with the stipulation that the funding be split evenly between defense and nondefense spending. As lawmakers readjust to new spending levels, they will produce new appropriations plans; these plans will likely start as individual bills—such as the $80 billion spending measure for veterans and military base construction that the Senate passed earlier this month—and then be combined into a single omnibus bill.

Congress’ starting point will be the proposals from earlier this year, which are based on the Republican leadership’s budget philosophies. With this in mind, contrasting the administration’s fiscal year 2016 spending proposal with those of the House and Senate can provide context for what next month’s negotiations might look like on important issues for students, young workers, and families.

Access for students

Compared with previous generations, Millennials are much more educated, especially Millennial women—who are nearly four times more likely to have a bachelor’s degree than women in their grandparents’ generation were at the same age. However, higher education is still out of reach for many young people, and today’s levels of student debt are unprecedented.

The recent House Republican budget proposal threatened to cut the Pell Grant program by $370 million, which would severely hamper the ability of young people—especially young people of color—to access affordable education. Pell Grants helped more than half of Latino undergraduates and almost two-thirds of black undergraduates pay tuition during the 2013-14 school year. Congress has the opportunity to invest in students and support borrowers, as seen in the president’s budget, by increasing access to community college, continuing to index Pell Grants to inflation, and expanding income-based repayment plans to all student borrowers.

Opportunity for workers

Much of the Millennial generation came of age during the Great Recession, and many young people are still struggling to launch their careers. While the national unemployment rate is at 5 percent, its lowest point in seven years, the unemployment rate for youth remains above 10 percent and is even higher for black and Latino youth.

Young people need a budget that expands opportunity, but the Republican leadership’s budget proposals would cut critical job training and employment services for more than 2 million people and eliminate expansions of key tax credits for working families, including the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC. The president’s budget, by contrast, would expand job training programs, especially for youth; modernize the unemployment insurance safety net; and expand the EITC to childless workers.

Support for families

Many Millennials already have dependents. Eighty-four percent of babies born in 2014 had Millennial mothers, and many young people who are not parents yet want to have children in the future. As Millennials study and work, these families face intense financial pressure. Millennials face higher poverty rates than previous generations at the same age, which, combined with stagnant or falling wages, make raising children a huge challenge.

Unfortunately, the Republican leadership’s House and Senate budget proposals threaten to make it even harder for vulnerable families to succeed—with insufficient funding for early childhood education programs such as Head Start, the elimination of all family planning and preventive health services funding under Title X, and reductions in both permanent supportive housing and housing choice vouchers for low-income families. The president’s budget, meanwhile, would encourage state paid leave programs, promote equal pay for women, and extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC—all of which are crucial to family stability.

Conclusion

Over the next few weeks, Congress must come to an agreement on how to appropriate government funding—or risk another government shutdown. A budget that works for Millennials must provide support and opportunity in the classroom, at work, and at home for the most vulnerable families, without ideological policy riders. The recent budget proposals from congressional Republicans fail to address the challenges that young people face and threaten important existing programs. Under the new budget deal’s spending levels, which exceed the former sequestration caps, Congress has the chance to solidify and expand existing programs to help young people succeed in school, access well-paying jobs, and raise healthy families.

Sunny Frothingham is a Policy Advocate for Generation Progress.