Business, Law Enforcement and Military Leaders Highlight Urgent Need for Congressional Action on Four Key Priorities
The leaders touted a new report from Council for a Strong America addressing soon-to-expire home visiting funding, early childhood supports, afterschool, and nutrition
A recording of the full event can be found at the bottom of this article
Four critical policy approaches to provide young people with a foundation for success will pave the way for a stronger nation—but only if Congress takes swift, bipartisan action to support these urgent priorities.
That was the main takeaway from a Capitol Hill panel and report release presented yesterday by Council for a Strong America. The new national report, A Blueprint for a Stronger America: Four Key Policy Approaches That Will Help the Next Generation Succeed in School and Life, explains how high-quality early childhood care and education, voluntary home visiting, effective afterschool programs, and ensuring good nutrition all directly support a stronger future for our nation
“These key policy approaches – coupled with what the research tells us about their impact on children and families and public safety, national security, and economic vitality—are vital to how we determine the legislation and programs that we support,” said Council for a Strong America President & CEO Barry Ford. “In essence, they drive our ‘asks’ of federal and state legislators.”
A staggering 71 percent of young people aged 17 to 24 cannot qualify for military service, with obesity being a leading medical disqualifier, along with being too poorly educated or having a record of crime or drug abuse. Recent comments by Pentagon officials suggest the problem may be getting worse rather than better.
“Although these alarming statistics have obvious implications for national security, the problem transcends the military,” said retired U.S. Coast Guard Vice Admiral Jody Breckenridge, a member of Mission: Readiness. “If these young people can’t qualify for military service, what else aren’t they qualified to do?
Obesity in childhood can lead to lifelong health consequences, including high blood pressure, diabetes, joint problems, asthma, and high cholesterol. These conditions create problems not only for public health, but for national security. Obesity in young people can impact their future ability to serve in the armed forces or thrive in other careers.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and school meals programs serve as a front line of defense against food insecurity, malnutrition and childhood obesity. These programs help children at all stages of development access fresh, nutritious foods. In 2020, over half of households experiencing food insecurity participated in one or more of these programs.
“We urge Congress to pass Child Nutrition Reauthorization,” Breckenridge added. “This would update and strengthen school meals, summer meals, and WIC.”
The lack of quality, affordable child care is a key issue hurting business productivity and our nation’s economic growth. This infant-and-toddler child care crisis has only gotten worse as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, female workforce participation dropped to its lowest rate in more than 30 years, largely due to COVID-19. From February 2020 to February 2021, 2.4 million women left the workforce, compared to 1.8 million men, representing a drop in labor force participation of 3.1 percent for women versus 2.1 percent for men. Lack of child care was an important driver of women exiting the workforce during the pandemic.
These additional, negative impacts on the workforce are on top of an annual economic cost of $57 billion in lost earnings, productivity, and revenue as a result of the infant-and-toddler child care crisis.
“The infant-and-toddler child care crisis not only harms young children’s development by depriving them of nurturing, educational environments, but it also understandably interferes with parents’ ability to be present or focused at work,” said Jack McBride, CEO of South Carolina’s Contec, Inc. and a member of ReadyNation. “And, in many cases, these parents leave the workforce altogether.”
Most juvenile crimes are committed between the hours of 2 and 6 p.m. Kids need safe, supportive environments after school to stay out of trouble. Afterschool programs can also lead to healthier habits, including decreases in substance use and increased opportunities for physical activity.
“High-quality afterschool programs can help students develop academic and social skills that help keep them on a path away from crime and toward successful, happy, productive lives,” said Mike Ramos, former San Bernardino County (CA) District Attorney and a member of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. “Because of the positive impact these programs have on kids, and on public safety, Congress should increase funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers afterschool program in regular annual funding bills.”
A meta-analysis of 68 afterschool programs across the country found nearly three-in-five students who attended such programs had improved behavior in and outside of the classroom, and also performed better in math and reading, had higher GPAs, better school attendance, and were more likely to earn credits toward graduation.
The federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program (MIECHV) will expire on September 30 unless Congress acts to reauthorize the funding mechanism.
MIECHV funds evidence-based home visiting programs primarily run by state governments, which help pregnant women and parents with young children achieve positive maternal and child outcomes, particularly for those who are at-risk or economically disadvantaged.
The home visits are beneficial to both parents and children as they connect families with trained professionals who provide vital education and tools. These key staffers help guard against unhealthy parenting and child-rearing practices, help parents foster early academic success in their young children, link families to community resources, and empower parents to achieve financial security for their families.
All of the advocates headed out for Congressional office visits at the conclusion of the speaking program.
“Our members advocate for evidence-based policies and programs, at the national and state levels, that put children on the path to success,” said Ford. “We want all kids to grow up to reach their potential and contribute to our nation.”
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Watch the video of the event below:
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