Federal Policy

Every December Congress meets to try to pass all the urgent items they didn't manage to get done the rest of the year. Usually the list includes tax policy changes demanded by one well-heeled special interest or another. This year is no different. At the top of the lobbyists' wish list is reportedly "extending soon-to-expire business tax breaks... affecting research and development costs, investment deductions and debt write-offs."

But what about the tax policy issues directly impacting Congress's youngest constituents? It's true that children don't have fancy lawyers and lobbyists and PACs making big campaign contributions. But they do have a few scrappy nonprofits speaking up for their interests and backed by millions of parents. And at the top of the children's wish list this month is improvements to the federal Child Tax Credit

The federal CTC does a world of good every year for families all over Utah and across the nation.  Well over a third of Utahns qualify for the CTC every year when they file their taxes. That's over half a million households! And the amount of the CTC received by these Utah families exceeds $1.6 billion -- that's billion with a b. Wow! 

But there is a problem with the Child Tax Credit. Tens of thousands of Utah families fail to qualify every year for the full credit of $2,000 per child for a simple reason: The parents work low-wage jobs -- often working long hours -- but their low hourly wages still leave their incomes below the minimum level required under current tax law to qualify for the full credit -- over $29,000 of income for a single parent with two kids, for example. In other words, a single mom working full-time at $12/hour makes too little to qualify for the full CTC under its current rules. 

That means over 150,000 Utah kids every year are left out and left behind -- and these are the very kids who would benefit most from the proven positive impacts of refundable tax credits like the CTC -- including better educational outcomes and higher labor force participation rates years later when they become adults.  

And it gets worse: While most of the kids excluded from the CTC are white, disproportionate numbers of them are from Utah's communities of color, including an estimated 50,000 Latino children, comprising 29% of Utah’s Latino child population, as well as 6,000 Native American children, comprising 75% of Utah’s Native American children. This means that a tax credit that has incredible potential to reduce societal disparities is instead making them worse. 

That's a real shame, because the CTC does a lot to reduce child poverty already. National data from the Census Bureau's Supplemental Poverty Measure has found that refundable tax credits, including both the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit, reduced child poverty from where it would have been -- 18% or one-in-six children -- to 12.5% or one-in-eight children in 2019. That's over 4 million children lifted out of poverty. And if we could make the full CTC available to all the lower-income kids now being left out, that would help an additional 19 million children who need the help most. 

Even if Congress lacks the political consensus to restore the temporary 2021 CTC boost that cut child poverty last year by 36%, there are several more incremental ideas that would help a lot of kids: 

  • Implement a more rapid phase-in of the refundable credit, as proposed by Sen. Mitt Romney in his Family Security Act 2.0 proposal from earlier this year.
  • Make the full credit available without a phase-in for families with children under the age of 6. 
  • Exempt from the phase-in grandparents acting as custodial parents and parents whose disabilities impact their ability to work.
  • Institute a look-back policy that counts previous years' earned income in determining whether a work requirement has been met.
  • Restore the pre-2017 status quo where all children in immigrant families could receive the CTC.

The role of Utah's Congressional delegation in any Child Tax Credit improvements passed this month is expected to be one of the keys to success. After all, it was Utah Senator Mike Lee who demanded that Congress include improvements to the CTC in the 2017 TCJA legislation (though that law also cut off an estimated 1 million immigrant children without Social Security numbers from the credit). And it is Senator Romney who has put far-reaching additional improvements on the table with his Family Security Act proposals. 

If you agree that Congress should act this month to improve the Child Tax Credit, let your Representative and our two Senators hear from you!  Lifting more kids out of poverty would truly be a wonderful holiday gift for Utah's children this year. 

Published in News & Blog

By Sariah Villalon (Voices Policy Intern)


We live in a digital world where social media has become integral to our society. It has broadened our communication, allowing us to connect and share information with anyone around the world. It has helped bring awareness to many issues and achievements within our society. But let's face it, unintended risks and consequences come with every innovation. One of them is its effect on our mental health, especially our young people's mental health.

Over the years, there has been an increase in depression, anxiety, and suicide among the youth, especially among girls. Social media may influence these mental health problems through social comparison, cyberbullying, and exposure to other toxic content (Nesi, 2020). 

Governor Spencer Cox recently addressed the relationship between social media on the mental health of our youth and how we could improve the mental health of our youth in Utah. Some of his recommendations are the following:

  • Hold social media companies accountable by providing tools for parents to safeguard their children,
  • Implement a cell phone-free environment in schools to reduce distraction for students.
  • Encourage parents to set an example for their children by spending quality social time with one another without social media use.
  • Educate their children on what is appropriate to say on these platforms.
  • Monitor their children's social media use by using different tools.
  • Have an honest conversation about social media

There are multiple good points that the governor pointed out. We agree that social media companies need to be held accountable for the algorithm and design of their apps that provide a toxic environment for their users. A couple of legislative efforts have been created to hold social media responsible. But is it enough?

We do not see so much urgency from these big techs. Even if they get fined, they could pay everything off quickly. It also puts too much burden on the parents to monitor and safeguard their children. We also have to be honest that we cannot blame everything on these companies. So, what can we do?

We need to hold these social media companies responsible by making them contribute to funding social media education for the youth. Organizations such as Digital Respons-Ability train parents, students, and educators on digital citizenship.

We cannot escape the digital world, and it will only progress from here on. We need to teach our youth how to use the technology and social media they have properly. Removing phones during school time will not solve our problems. By educating the youth, they can be better equipped to make informed decisions for their lives and improve their learning.

Another is research on the effect of social media on youth mental health. As we know, mental health is multi-faceted. We cannot just say that one factor causes mental health problems. We need more longitudinal studies on its effects to counter better or mitigate its adverse effects.

More importantly, let's talk more openly about our mental health. Let us educate ourselves and share our experiences with our children so they can also be aware of their well-being. Give them the resources to improve or manage their mental health. When children are more knowledgeable, it can increase their chances of knowing when and where to get the help they might need. 

Learn more on how we can help through this video. You can also download this infographic on Youth Mental Health & Digital Media for more information. 

Published in News & Blog

Since the start of the pandemic, Utah has received nearly $600 million in emergency federal funding to ensure that our child care sector can continue to serve families despite nearly overwhelming COVID-era challenges. 

In one year, at the end of September 2023, most of that funding will be exhausted. The potential impacts of this “funding cliff” are: 

    • More child care program closures, 
    • Much higher child care costs for families, and 
    • More dramatic workforce turnover due to lowered wages. 

By this time next year, Utah’s working families with young children will be in even more serious trouble when it comes to child care. That is, if we don’t start talking about how to use state dollars to fund the programs that have kept child care programs stable and open over the past two years. 

Utah’s child care industry struggled long before the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic exacerbated persistent issues in the sector such as:  

    • Tuition costs that are as high or higher than rent or mortgage payments, and 
    • Wages for providers so low that more than one-half (53%) of child care educators across the nation use public benefits to make ends meet.

Utah’s child care industry would not have been able to weather the COVID pandemic if not for $572 million in federal dollars, $325 million of that through the American Rescue Plan. This infusion of desperately-needed financial support: 

    • Kept hundreds of center- and home-based child care programs open even in the darkest moments of the pandemic;
    • Allowed more families to access child care subsidies with fewer out-of-pocket expenses; 
    • Funded higher wages and even a workforce bonus for early care and education professionals; and
    • Supported regional efforts to recruit new child care providers into the field, while paying startup and licensing costs for these new business owners.

Perhaps the greatest impact was felt through child care stabilization grants offered through the state Office of Child Care. These grants helped child care providers defray the unexpected costs associated with the pandemic, and stabilize their business operations so they could continue to provide care. The grants also helped many providers pay their staff members $15/hour or more. Thanks to these grants, Utah has experienced much fewer child care program closures than many other states.

While very grateful for this support, early care and education providers across Utah tell us that the impending funding cliff has them feeling worried and even hopeless about the future of their work. What they will do when the stabilization grants end in September 2023, and this long-needed government support vanishes?

 A report based on surveys of child care providers in Kentucky reported that when federal American Rescue Plan COVID relief dollars run out in that state: 

    • More than 70% will be forced to raise tuition for working parents
    • Close to 40% indicated they would cut staff wages, and 
    • More than 20% said they would permanently close their child care center. 

Even before the pandemic, Utah had a 65% gap between the need for child care and the capacity of programs to provide it. When relief dollars end, this gap could widen, forcing parents to leave their jobs in an already desperate job market. The lack of accessible child care already accounts for a loss of $512 million in lost earnings, business productivity, and revenue each year in Utah. 

The end of ARPA funds could also mean wage losses in a profession already vastly underpaid at $10.47/hour (or $20,940/year) in Utah. 

State leaders can and need to find ways to continue these business-saving policies. With Utah lawmakers talking about overflowing state coffers and potential tax cuts, we know the money exists. These dollars can be redirected to make a real investment in the child care sector. Even small efforts like covering the costs associated with licensing or removing the bureaucratic burdens of city parking requirements can make an impact.  

This month, newly released Census Bureau data showed an incredible national decline in childhood poverty. Poverty fell to the lowest level on record in 2021 and it was the largest year-to-year decline in history. The decline is largely attributed to a combination of emergency pandemic aid and the child tax credit expansion. We know that access to quality, affordable, safe child care is a good investment in children and families. Let’s learn from the lessons of the last two years and make the investment in children and families that Utah needs. 

Published in News & Blog

This Early Childhood Care & Education (ECCE) Advocacy Convening is for our grassroots partners in the childcare and early education fields, who want to be help build a better child care system to serve Utah families! 

This ECCE gathering will be an interactive, accessible half-day event for parents (and other who are responsible for young children), child care providers, community advocates, and early education advocates from all over Utah.

** For attendees traveling from off the Wasatch Front, free lodging is available for the evening of Friday, April 1, in downtown Salt Lake City. You must register by 12:00 p.m. on March 21 in order to take advantage of this offer. 

LOCATION


  • IN PERSON: Capitol Board Room 204 (2nd Level) at the Utah State Capitol Building in Salt Lake City

  • ONLINE: Zoom access provided in the week prior to the event to registered attendees 

DATE


This training is being held on a Saturday (April 2)  in order to be more inclusive of early education professionals who are busy caring for and teaching children throughout the work week, as well as the working parents who rely on these folks while they themselves are on the job. 

TIME


The training will begin at 9:00 a.m. and end at 2:30 p.m. 

SCHEDULE


  • 8:30 to 9:00 a.m. - Breakfast Social with free hot breakfast provided by Elizabeth's Catering 
  • 9:00 to 9:30 a.m. - Welcome and Overview
  • 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. - Panel Discussion with Utah Legislators
  • 10:30 to 10:45 a.m. - Break
  • 10:45 to 12:15 p.m. - Interactive Child Care Advocacy Strategizing for 2022-23 
  • 12:15 to 12:30 p.m. - Free hot lunch served by Elizabeth's Catering
  • 12:30 to 1:15 p.m. - Lunch discussion with Panel of National Child Care Advocacy Leaders
  • 1:15 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. - Small group planning for 2022-23 Advocacy Action
  • 2:00 to 2:30 p.m. - Wrap Up and Appreciations   

There is no cost to attend, but in-person participation is limited. Participants can attend either in person or onlineRegistration must be completed by Friday, March 25.

Register Today

Published in Events

Kids Count Utah: A Data Book on the Measures of Child Well-Being in Utah, 2021 is the first glance at the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Utah’s children. Please click on the button below for the full report. 

2021 UTAH KIDS COUNT DATA BOOK

Children under the age of 18 make up a third of the state’s population. Not surprisingly, Utah children and their families faced additional challenges as a result of living through a global pandemic.

Unfortunately, over 10 percent of Utah children are experiencing poverty. Additionally, since 2019 Utah saw an increase of over 4,000 additional children considered to be in Intergenerational Poverty (IGP). More children caught in a cycle of IGP is concerning as it could mean that their own children may continue that same cycle if their economic situation does not improve.

Providing a quality education to children during the pandemic continues to be a challenge. The most recent data shows that student proficiency assessment results decreased over the past year. And data also shows that many children are not receiving the mental health treatment they need. A new data indicator shared in the 2021 data book looked at access to mental health. The data collected from the National Survey of Children’s Health shows that approximately 60% of three- to 17-year-olds struggling with mental health are not receiving treatment.

Voices for Utah Children hopes that the yearly KIDS COUNT data book project and the publication of Measuring of Child Well-Being in Utah continues to be a valuable resource that can provide guidance to both policymakers and the general public on how to improve the lives and futures of Utah children.

Published in News & Blog

This Early Childhood Care & Education (ECCE) Advocacy Training is designed especially for our grassroots partners in the childcare and early education fields, who want to be more involved in advocating for state and federal policies that support Utah families with young children! 

Our ECCE Training will be an interactive, accessible half-day event for early educators, providers, community advocates, parents and policy partners from all over Utah.

Location

** This event has been moved to online/remote-only to keep all our parents, early educators and advocates from getting sick during this COVID "surge" season **

Date

This training is being held on a Saturday (Jan 22)  in order to be more inclusive of early education professionals who are busy caring for and teaching children throughout the work week, as well as the working parents who rely on these folks while they themselves are on the job. 

Time

The training will begin at 9:00 a.m. and end at 12:30 p.m. 

Participants will:

  • Receive accurate, understandable information about:
    • the new Child Care and Pre-K programs before Congress that may soon to be available to states, and 
    • state legislation related to early care and education expected in the 2022 legislative session.
  • Build basic advocacy skills.
  • Gain a familiarity with the state legislative process. 
  • Receive support in developing plans for advocating in their sphere of influence.
  • Meet other advocates who are passionate about early childhood care and education.
  • Create an individual advocacy plan, based on their interests and abilities, that may include: 
    • Following bills and listening to legislative meetings via le.utah.gov. 
    • Calling or writing to their Representative or Senator.
    • Visiting their Representative or Senator on the Hill.
    • Providing public testimony.
    • Participating in public education via local media outlets.
    • Inviting their Representative and Senator to visit childcare and preschool sites.
    • Attending regular advocacy gatherings for information and updates.

There is no cost to attend, but in-person participation is limited. Participants can attend either in person or onlineRegistration must be completed by Monday, January 17.

Register Today

Published in Events

The recent reporting on widespread racism in the Davis School District is not just a wake up call to all Utahns, but the direct result of the legacy we have fostered by leaving racism unchecked, ignored, and accepted. Now is the time to take action. 

We at Voices are committed and prepared to speak up and to work with other organizations to create a Utah where all residents regardless of race, creed, color, sexual orientation, or status can live free of hatred, racism, and bigotry.

Here are some of the ways you can help support the actions we are currently working on: 

Our full statement can be found below or downloaded here


 Voices Statement on Racism in Utah Schools and Communities 10 26 21

Published in News & Blog

Beginning this Summer 2021, Utah Local Education Agencies (LEAs) will be receiving approximately $615 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds (ESSER) funds from the American Rescue Plan. Now is the time to use this funding to help our youngest learners that will need the additional instruction and interventions now more than ever.

In this explainer, Voice's staff Anna Thomas and Laneta Fitisemanu will cover the ESSER funding Utah is set to receive as well as ways that we can use the funds and support full day kindergarten and preschool expansion. 

We have exactly two school years (2021-22, 2022-23) and three summers (2021, 2022, 2023) to spend these funds. It is critical that we think big picture about where we invest this money when it comes to education.

We have strong data and evidence supporting that full day kindergarten and preschool programs help improve learning gaps for children that participate particularly for our most vulnerable and underrepresented student groups. This is why using ESSER funds to help expand these much wanted and needed programs is critical and one of the most important investments we can make that will have a huge impact for years to come.

Let's invest in Utah kids by using this relief funding to expand early education programs and further support the value and importance of giving more of Utah children and families access to full day kindergarten and preschool programs! 

Resources and References

Published in News & Blog

Local education authorities, the state Office of Education, and the Office of Child Care have received hundreds of millions of dollars that can and should be spent to invest in what is best for Utah’s children.

We must work together to put these investment dollars to use with creative, community-supported solutions that help all Utah families with young children.

Let’s rise to the occasion and build quality early care and education plans and programs that work best for Utah kids!

ARP FB Post 1

NOW IS THE TIME TO MAKE BOLD PLANS IN YOUR COMMUNITY!

Here are some ways that American Rescue Plan funding can be used in your community to support early childhood care and education:

  • Free summer enrichment programs for families in need of academic support as well as child care!
  • Expanded full-day kindergarten opportunities to ensure all kids in your community can get caught up and start first grade on par with their peers!
  • On-line and in-person home visiting support for families with young children who want and need extra guidance regarding child development, safety and nutrition, and family financial stability. 
Click to download and share our American Rescue Plan for Early Education Flyer
Published in News & Blog

Voices for Utah Children Calls on Governor Cox to Veto Three Tax Cut Bills Due To New Federal Law

 Salt Lake City -- Voices for Utah Children, the state's leading child research and advocacy organization, issued a call today (Friday, March 12, 2021) for Governor Spencer Cox to veto three recently passed tax cut bills, HB 86, SB 11, and SB 153. The organization cited this week's enactment of new federal legislation, H.R. 1319, The American Rescue Plan Act, signed yesterday by President Biden, which cuts federal COVID relief aid to states by $1 for each $1 of tax cuts enacted on or after March 3, 2021. The three tax cut bills in question have yet to be signed by Governor Cox. 

 Voices for Utah Children's Fiscal Policy Director Matthew Weinstein said, "The three bills in question are tax cuts that almost completely exclude the lowest income 30-40% of Utah taxpayers and mostly benefit the highest-income 30-40% of filers. They permanently reduce by $100 million annually our ability to invest in our urgent unmet needs such as education, public health, poverty prevention, closing majority-minority gaps, infrastructure, clean air, and so on. Now we learned this week that their price has just doubled. Because the new federal COVID relief law penalizes states for tax cuts on a dollar-for-dollar basis, they will actually cost Utah $200 million of revenue next year, not just $100 million."

 Voices for Utah Children CEO Moe Hickey said, "This year we've launched our new #InvestInUtahKids campaign to raise awareness of the urgency of making investments today that will bear fruit for our children tomorrow. We applaud the Legislature for adding funds this year for pre-K and Optional Enhanced Kindergarten. At the same time, tremendous unmet needs remain and we cannot lose Federal Funds at this time. We urge Gov. Cox to consider whether it may be best to save these tax cuts for future consideration now that their price tag has doubled." 

 The federal legislation reads as follows: 

A State or territory shall not use the funds provided under this section or transferred pursuant to section 603(c)(4) to either directly or indirectly offset a reduction in the net tax revenue of such State or territory resulting from a change in law, regulation, or administrative interpretation during the covered period that reduces any tax (by providing for a reduction in a rate, a rebate, a deduction, a credit, or otherwise) or delays the imposition of any tax or tax increase.

COVERED PERIOD.—The term ‘covered period’ means, with respect to a State, territory, or Tribal government, the period that— (A) begins on March 3, 2021; and (B) ends on the last day of the fiscal year of such State, territory, or Tribal government in which all funds received by the State, territory, or Tribal government from a payment made under this section or a transfer made under section 603(c)(4) have been expended or returned to, or recovered by, the Secretary.

Published in Press Releases