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Sunday, March 3, 2013

GOP Attacks On Children

It is far past time to bring out more truth on Republican malfeasance.  After all, the Republican attack on women was and is, horrific, but so is their attack on science and research; their attacks on Chuck Hagel and other Presidential nominees; their attacks on voting rights; their attacks on people with vulnerabilities-- especially the elderly, the poor, laborers and immigrants, and those with disabilities.  Republican radicals are willing to take away benefits, voting rights, decent wages, health care, food programs, housing repair, infrastructure rehabilitation, adequate schools, and a clean environment just so they can weaken, and eventually destroy, the power of the federal government.  In doing so, they put people at risk because the federal government is the protector of the people; a resource and an advocate for those who have needs that cannot be met by individual states.  In my estimation, the Republicans in Congress are now engaged in an attack on our children, whether or not they, and the public-at-large, see it for what it is.

Let us begin by reminding ourselves of the attempts by radical Republicans to repeal what they have described derisively as “Obamacare.”  Congressional Republicans voted over 30 times to repeal part or all of the Affordable Health Care Act.  In doing so, whether intentional or not, they were attacking the CHIP program, which was an integral part of that legislation.  CHIP provides health insurance coverage for nearly 8 million children up to the age of 19 in families where the income is too high to qualify for Medicaid but who can’t afford private health insurance coverage. In that Act, there was a substantial raise in the amount of money being made available to the states for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Act also included authorization of this program through 2019.  While many will be transitioned over to Medicaid, other recipients will see a 23% rise in the CHIP federal matching rate  beginning in October 2015.  This will result in added federal money going to the states for children’s health care, but radical Republicans, by their repeal votes, betrayed their willingness to harm children who fall under these provisions.

Another area that the radical Republicans were attacking as they sought Affordable Care Act repeal was Medicaid, in spite of the fact (or maybe because of it) that the program was therein expanded to include more needy families that don’t meet the extremely low poverty guidelines, thus covering more children.  It was the Ryan Budget that exposed for all to see, the heinous attitude of the radicals toward the Medicaid program.  By proposing to devolve the Program to state control,  their sights were set on either diminishing or destroying Medicaid, because state administrative and staff costs would eventually eat away at that Program’s services and its benefits.  Unfortunately, that would mean that children and young people, many with developmental disabilities and other handicapping conditions, would be harmed by cut-backs in coverage, to say nothing about those that would have been added under the Affordable Care Act!

On top of that attack on health care, these same congressmen decided to try to cut back on school meals, on food stamps, on grants to families in poverty and special need.  The latter is called WIC and is a program meant to feed pregnant women, infants and children, and would alone be cut by $7.6 billion.  Other cuts to domestic programs that would harm low-income children youth and infants include: $2.3 million in juvenile justice; $1.3 million in community health centers; $210 million in maternal and child health block grants; and $27 million denied to poison control centers.  Bet you thought I was referring to the sequester cuts, didn’t you?

No, that was the story with a Continuing Resolution back in 2011.  But now that “sequestration” has come into view, let’s take a look at what went into effect on March 1, 2013.  Let’s first be quite clear:  sequestration will cause severe harm to programs benefiting the middle class, the working poor, and those caught in poverty, especially seniors and children.  Cuts to education grants to states alone will affect projects for smaller classes, after school programs, and special education programs for children with disabilities.  Even though the proposed cuts are to take effect over a period of ten years to spread out the pain, nonetheless, they total $1.2 trillion and  some programs who are not equipped to handle it, are going to feel the axe right away in order to begin meeting the year-by-year goals.

Start with the fact that thousands of pre-school children will have to be dropped from enrollment in Head Start.  Although some districts may be able to delay cuts until the beginning of the new school year, there will be cuts come September.  Reduced funding means reduced student numbers but also reduced staff numbers, so that the staff themselves face hardship brought on by unemployment.  How does one go about choosing which children and which staff must be cut?  

Then let us turn to the opposition to the President’s proposal for universal pre-school.  Radical Republicans don’t seem to care that early education is the backbone, the foundation, for children’s progress in learning.  They worry more about where the money for this program will come from than they do about the fact that this is one of the best things we can do for children.  It’s short-term and long-term effects are well documented in spite of some claims by the Radicals that Head Start was some kind of joke. It wasn’t, and isn’t,   They say its effects don’t last beyond third grade, but they never say to what “effects” they are referring.  As with all their other fabricated falsehoods (like “voter fraud” and “death panels“), they never say exactly what they mean.  Which effects of Head Start end at third grade?  Reading ability, socialization skills, attention span, health improvements, self-esteem?  Detractors fail to tell us.  And, since the Program itself has several different functions and goals -- education, how to learn, attention to health and social needs, parenting skills -- this is not a program to be judged on just one skill or effect.  It has many, and universal pre-school would hopefully follow its examples.

So where can the  money come from for universal pre-school?  From anywhere we choose!  For instance, although the Radical Republicans soft-pedaled it, there was a recent report of a “super-computer” project in DoD that cost a billion dollars, but turned out to be a complete waste.  How many other contracts under DoD are a complete or nearly-complete, waste?  We all know the answer.  Let’s find them, expose them, discontinue them and use the funds for pre-school education.  How about some of those contracts let to private firms providing all kinds of support to our troops -- are they still needed?

Apparently, radical Republicans (and recalcitrant Democrats) don’t particularly care that education is all about children and young people making their way in our world (the 21st century, not the 20th or 19th).  Nor do they seem to care that the sequester cuts can have harmful effects on children and families.  The Washington Times has published a list of programs for families and children that will be impacted by the sequester cuts.

* Approximately 10,000 teacher jobs, 70,000 children in Head Start, and 7,200 special education teachers, aides and staff are on the chopping block;
* Up to 2,100 food inspector jobs are at risk, which would put families and children at risk in lost food production and outbreaks from food-borne illnesses;
* Some 12,000 scientists and students who conduct research for critical diseases would see their jobs come to an end;
* Cuts to mental health could impact 373,000 mentally ill adults and emotionally disturbed children who need treatment;
*  Cutting funds for Title I schools could impact 2,700 schools and close to 1.2 million underprivileged students;
* About 600,000 women and children, including infants, could be dropped from WIC from March until September;
* Many families could be affected by lay-offs and furloughs from federal (and states thereby affected) government jobs, many of whom are women with children.
* Close to 125,000 families that receive rental assistance would see that come to an end, adding to the number of homeless children which is already at epic proportions: 1.5 million children are estimated to be without a home and that is about 1 in every 50 children.  But that’s just part of the story. 

A report by the National Center on Family Homelessness offers a snapshot view of child homelessness in America and a summary of the unique needs of homeless children.
Hunger: Children without homes are twice as likely to experience hunger as other children. Two-thirds worry they won’t have enough to eat. More than one-third of homeless children report being forced to skip meals.
Health: Homelessness makes children sick. Children who experience homelessness are more than twice as likely as middle class children to have moderate to severe acute and chronic health problems.
Education: Homeless children are twice as likely as other children to repeat a grade in school, to be expelled or suspended, or to drop out of high school. At the end of high school, few homeless students are proficient in reading and math – and their estimated graduation rate is below 25%.
In addition, the report claims that homeless children “endure a lack of safety, comfort, privacy, reassuring routines, adequate health care, uninterrupted schooling, sustaining relationships, and a sense of community. These factors combine to create a life-altering experience that inflicts profound and lasting scars.”

There is another area where such an attack is not quite so evident, but the outcome is the same: children are being harmed.  That of course, is our precious environment and how we treat it.

“America’s Children and the Environment” is an EPA report released in January 2013 that presents key information on environmental stresses that can affect children’s health.  It shows the status and trends of contaminants in air, water, food soil, etc., biomonitoring of chemicals measured in the bodies of mothers and children, and effects on health of childhood diseases. After all, studies show that the origins of adult diseases (like high blood pressure) are often affected by childhood diseases.  Others are showing that prenatal and postnatal pollution exposures lead to adverse changes in children, including: blood pressure elevation, reduced cognition, behavioral problems, and abnormal somatic growth.

Something we rarely think about is the effect upon children from opposition to environmental protection by means of budget cuts, regulation tampering, and policy decisions influenced by big business.  These brands of action have the potential to produce deleterious effects especially on vulnerable children.  From “Slesinger’s Blog” on NRDC - the Natural Resources Defense Council - comes some effects of the budget for the next fiscal year:

  • Will make it difficult to protect our health from toxins in air and water by slashing fund for the EPA;
  • Will prevent communities from building needed drinking water and sewage systems by cutting almost $2 billion from funds used to make these systems affordable to local governments;
  • Will decimate efforts to establish a clean energy economy by slashing funding for research on energy efficiency, renewable energy and alternative fuels, and even for the Energy Star program;
  • An Earmark includes a provision gutting the ability of the EPA to extend the reach of the Clean Water Act to developers, livestock factories, and mining operations that dump waste water into United States waters;
  • Utility, refining and coal interests have an Earmark relieving them from controlling carbon pollution that they spew into our air.

The salient point to be made is exactly that made in the article itself: “putting health protection on the chopping block means dirtier air, dirtier water, and more children…at risk.”  We cannot escape, no matter how unaware we are to these matters, that inadequate or negative legislation about climate and the environment, about health care and about education have harmful effects on children, not just adults.

And now, we come to what I believe is the ultimate betrayal of our children.  No, not the federal debt, which Republicans cast as the most worrisome aspect of our federal government: spending beyond our means and therefore creating a burden that will be placed upon our children and grandchildren because it will be left to them to resolve.  As I have posted here before, history does not support that concept.  The paying off of debt is a burden on adult taxpayers, and in the past, such an outcome has been well-achieved without austerity measures that might affect the current lives of children.  A balanced approach to the deficit is paying off: it is going down because of the combination of cuts and taxes that our President and his Democrat colleagues have pursued.  The winding down of two wars is also beneficial to that end.  At any rate, it appears that we are on the right track, in spite of Republican rhetoric and inaction.

No, I speak of the potential failure of our congressional leaders to stand up against the NRA and to put into law the President’s proposed common sense restrictions on the gun violence being perpetrated upon adults, and upon children and teenagers.   The Republican opposition to: a ban on semi-automatic assault rifles and over-sized ammunition magazines, to universal background checks and gun registration, plus inattention to reform of our mental health system, especially as concerns young people having difficulty with aberrant behavior and violence, threatens the lives of more of our children and young people.  Is this their way of saying that the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness are not unalienable rights, but gun ownership is the right on which all others depend?  Never mind that these are the people who bluster about debt, but are silent on death that comes to so many of our children because of the culture of violence that they largely ignore.  Gun violence reform is paramount for the promotion of the health and safety of our children.  They have an unalienable right to be protected, and we have the solemn duty to protect them.

One of the organizations with a lengthy record of concern over how guns and children don’t mix is the Children’s Defense Fund.  They have prepared reports on this issue for more than 20 years, and they are still doing so.  Their latest report on “Protect Children, Not Guns”, displayed on, provides us with some statistics that our Congressional representatives need to take seriously when they oppose reasonable gun control.  Consider the following:

  • A child or teen dies or is injured from guns every 30 minutes
  • In 2010, 18,270 children and teens died or were injured from guns
  • More children and teens die from guns every three days than died in the Newton massacre
  • Three times more children and teens were injured by guns in 2010 than the number of soldiers wounded in action that year in the Afghanistan war
  • The number of children under five who died from guns in 2010 was more than the number of law enforcement officers who died from guns inn the line of duty: 82 children under five compared to 58 officers.

Some will strenuously object that Congress is not intentionally involved in an attack upon children.  I suspect members in Congress would vigorously and contemptuously deny any such intention.  But, that is exactly the problem here:  the denial of cause and effect.  If you cut programs, deny opportunities, ignore the effects of raping the environment, side-step the lack of a world-class education for our poorer or even our middle-class children, and then pile on the denial of the need for better and greater health coverage for so many of our children, plus refuse to restrain the killing of innocents with guns, while also denying that homelessness is a major problem for children -- that all adds up.

It adds up to neglect and abuse.  Whether they intend it or not, whether they like the appellation or not, congressional representatives who are guilty of being immune to, or unaware of, the outcome of their legislative actions, inactions, and votes, are perpetrating a full-bore attack on the well-being of children and young people.  Such an attack, in my estimation, is nothing short of child abuse, and in my opinion, there is no higher crime than the neglect and abuse of children.  The time has come for parents and grandparents to see beyond the titles and privileges, and to call these representatives out for what they are failing to accomplish for the children of this nation.