I am glad that Congress has provided federal funding for the remainder of the fiscal year and reduced uncertainty regarding the future of many vital programs. However, in order to ensure the future strength of our national security, I believe the federal government must now turn its attention to re-evaluating spending caps that threaten critical early childhood programs.
As the former Adjutant General of Arkansas, I know that the military's most important asset is the brave men and women who answer the call to serve. That is why I am deeply concerned that 74 percent of young people ages 17 to 24 in Arkansas, and 71 percent nationwide, cannot qualify for military service because they are too poorly educated, medically or physically unfit, or have a disqualifying record of crime or drug abuse.
The implications of this recruitment crisis were underscored last year when the Army, the largest of the U.S. military branches, fell short of its 2018 recruiting goal by 6,500 soldiers. Without a robust pool of talented recruits to pull from, the military will be unable to continue to protect our country from threats at home and abroad.
That's why I recently joined nearly 350 retired generals and admirals in sending a letter to all members of Congress urging them to develop a federal budget that provides balanced investments in both defense and non-defense discretionary (NDD) programs. While it goes without saying that investments in our defense infrastructure are critical to the future of national security, we must not overlook the importance of investing in non-defense discretionary programs that help children grow up to be healthy and productive citizens.
These crucial programs include the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which helps low-income families afford child care. Research shows that access to quality child care has significant positive impacts on children's social, cognitive, and physical development. Head Start and Early Head Start, which are also NDD programs, help children from low-income families access early learning opportunities and become prepared for kindergarten. Studies have found that Head Start participants gain long-term educational benefits, including increased rates of high school graduation.
The sequestration cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 pose a direct threat to the effectiveness of these and other key NDD programs. Without a new budget agreement from Congress, NDD funding will be cut by $55 billion compared to Fiscal Year 2019. These cuts would severely undermine the ability of programs like CCDBG, Head Start, and Early Head Start to serve children and put them on the path toward productive citizenship.
Last year, Congress worked in a bipartisan fashion to pass a two-year budget agreement that avoided sequestration cuts, provided key new investments for important programs, and did so in a balanced manner that strengthened both defense and NDD activities. I strongly urge U.S. Rep. Steve Womack to utilize his position as ranking member of the House Budget Committee to work to avoid the drastic cuts of sequestration, while maintaining a balanced approach to setting discretionary budget levels.
By raising the caps and investing in critical non-defense discretionary programs, Arkansas members of Congress can protect our national security and ensure the success of the next generation. I hope that Representative Womack and other congressional leaders will consider the impact that these programs have on the future of our country.
William Wofford, a retired U.S. Army major general and the former Adjutant General of Arkansas, is currently a member of the national security organization Mission: Readiness, and lives in Conway.
Editorial on 03/02/2019