- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 10, 2005

The unflappable Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the District-based Children’s Defense Fund, usually rattles off statistics about the shameful plight of America’s increasingly poor children in such scholarly fashion that an observer might fail to match the abysmal figures with the accompanying abominable images that inevitably tug at your heartstrings.

Earlier this week, however, the erudite Mrs. Edelman spoke rapidly and rabidly against the proposed federal budget cuts of $39 billion to $50 billion to “crucial safety-net programs” that provide basic sustenance to 13 million children now living in poverty in America’s rural and urban communities.

“There seems to be no moral bottom to what some members of Congress will do,” Mrs. Edelman said. “They put children and the poor on the chopping block again in a Robin-Hood-in-reverse move.” Raising her voice and her fists, Mrs. Edelman was visibly angry when she appeared Tuesday before black columnists at the annual meeting of the Trotter Group in Nashville, Tenn.

Poverty was a major topic at the symposium in light of the government’s slow response and recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and its survivors spread across 44 states.

Awash in the aftermath of storm coverage, the U.S. Census Bureau released startling statistics a day after Hurricane Katrina hit that indicated 1.5 million additional children falling under the poverty line in 2004. Poverty has grown by 12.8 percent for children in the past four years with 9 million of them uninsured. Surprisingly, seven out of 10 of these children live in a household where at least one family member works full time.

Mrs. Edelman called the proposed cuts “absolutely immoral and misguided” and “unacceptable under any circumstances, but especially unacceptable when children and Katrina survivors continue to wait for help, and Congress is poised to approve $70 billion in new tax breaks favoring the wealthiest Americans.”

Closer to home, to spotlight the hardship on children that the proposed budget cuts to child and family services that were passed in the Senate last week ($39 billion) and slated for House passage this week ($50 billion), D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, visited Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School to serve food to students whose school lunch program is jeopardized.

Mrs. Norton noted that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that under the proposed cuts, 40,000 children will lose eligibility for free or reduced-priced school meals as a result of losing their eligibility for food stamps. The cuts also will have a significant effect on Medicaid, which provides insurance for 25 million children.

“These cuts increase the deficit by $20 billion, give more tax cuts to the wealthy and hurt those who need help the most with cuts to student loans, health care, child and family services, and agricultural programs,” Mrs. Norton said.

Mrs. Edelman said these cuts “are not only morally outrageous, they’re economically stupid,” because investing in prevention programs will save the government money in the long run.

Today, the poor’s porridge? Tomorrow, the middle class’s mortgage deduction?

Should our taxes pay for the adventurous pleasures of the rich and restless while children and seniors slowly starve and receive delayed health care, if at all? “It’s just plain wrong,” Mrs. Edelman said. “We don’t have a money problem; we have a priority problem.”

Using figures from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Mrs. Edelman pointed out that “the wealthiest Americans are already enjoying lavish benefits from the tax cuts made in 2001 and 2003, which cost this country $225 billion this year alone and will climb to higher levels each year in the future.”

And, “the additional tax cuts that the Congress is now considering will cost another $197 billion over the next 10 years.” Further, “households of more than $1 million a year — the richest 0.2 percent of the U.S. population — and who are already receiving tax cuts averaging $103,000 this year alone, will get another $20,000 a year in more tax cuts under the Bush administration’s plans.”

Mrs. Edelman attempted to dispel the stereotypical myths about poor children, noting that more white and rural children than black and Hispanic urban children are the beneficiaries of government safety-net programs. There are, however, a higher percentage of children from minority families who receive assistance.

No matter their race or environment, more children will be hurt if these budget cuts are passed in their present form, as an unusually frustrated Mrs. Edelman said, atypically pleading passionately with the public to “tell your representative to make the right choice for children.”

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