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Transcend Politics: Keep Children and Families at the Center

Originally published in The Huffington Post

We opened this week with millions of Americans honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, and we will close the week with the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States. A dramatically different political, policy and power environment emerges with the incoming Trump Administration, one-party control of Congress, and increased Republican majorities at the state levels. It is an opportunity, as Dr. King’s legacy reminds us, to grapple with some very real issues – issues that place the American dream out of reach for millions of families across our country.

All Americans want to see our country’s leadership put their well-being at the center of the agenda, above political grandstanding. The well-being of children and their families is not a partisan issue. Ensuring opportunity can pass from one generation to the next is at the heart of the aspirational American dream. Leaders from both parties have outlined policies to help families break free from the trap of poverty. And Americans from all walks of life are eager to see the rhetoric translate into concrete action. In an Ascend at the Aspen Institute commissioned bipartisan survey from Lake Research Partners and The Tarrance Group (November 2016), 86 percent of Americans, across all demographics and political leanings, expressed strong support for programs that invest in children and their families together to fight poverty. More tellingly, 74 percent favor those programs even if that approach would increase their own taxes.

When we get down to the business of governing next week, how do we answer families’ persistent call to keep them front and center where they belong?

The President-Elect’s Administration has indicated that infrastructure, health care tax reform, family leave and child care will be priorities. These are big issues that will take up much of Congress’s time and will have profound impact on families. But we must not lose sight of other efforts to further the economic security and well-being of families across the United States. With that in mind and on behalf of the families whose voices guide our work, we offer these recommendations to policymakers who want to be responsive to families:

Build on progress made expanding coverage, improving quality and reducing costs of health care. Every family turns to the health care system at some point in their lives, for themselves and for their loved ones. Our youngest children, young parents, families with low incomes, and others who are vulnerable need a system that works for them too. In undertaking reforms, Congress and the new Administration should:

Prioritize human capital when we invest in infrastructure. People can only get back to work and stay there if they have job training that matches the local market, are prepared to advance to higher-skilled and higher paying jobs, and have high quality affordable care, so their children are safe, happy, and learning. That means:

Ensure affordable, high-quality child care and early learning. Millions of families rely on child care daily. And the quality of that care matters. In 33 states and the District of Columbia, infant care costs more than in-state public university tuition. Working families should not have to let go of quality to afford care. New research from Nobel laureate Jim Heckman has demonstrated a 13 percent return on investment to society with high-quality, birth-to-five early education. The need for quality child care cuts across all demographics, from working parents to young parents going to school to build a better life for themselves and their families. As the new Administration crafts child care policies, delivering high-quality care where families live, work, and study is vital. To make that commitment real:

Strengthen family leave policies and engage the private sector in programs and policies that support jobs, productivity, and strong families and communities.

Keeping families firmly at the center of policy debates answers the challenge Dr. King put before us, echoed in the clarion call of the 2016 elections. Putting families at the center will lift up the entire country over time by reducing health care costs, increasing school achievement, producing a more educated workforce, and expanding the earning potential of all working families. That should be the priority for all our leaders.

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