Don’t let pain trickle down to kids

Editorial - March 2005


Remember trickle-down economics? If the rich are doing better, their money will trickle down to everyone else. President George W. Bush’s proposed federal budget has a trickle-down effect as well—the massive cuts in the federal budget will trickle down to hurt our kids.

Your child, her classmate or perhaps the 2-year-old down the block could easily become a casualty of this budget. That’s because these proposed cuts jeopardize not only federal programs, but state, local and private programs that depend on the federal government for funding.

That low-cost daycare center down the block? Don’t count on it forever. Health care for uninsured kids and their families? That’s on the chopping block, too, along with after-school activities, Head Start funding, food stamps and a host of other services that educate, protect and nurture our children.

Bush says no child in America will be left behind. His budget proposal says the exact opposite.

If Bush’s budget goes through, hundreds of thousands of kids will lose childcare assistance. Funding for elementary, secondary and vocational education programs will drop 16 percent by 2010. And that’s just the beginning.

At the same time social services spending plummets, military, defense and homeland security spending will increase. Perhaps most offensive to us, the tax burden on the wealthiest Americans will continue to fall. Bush’s proposed new tax cuts total $1.4 trillion over 10 years. Most of that money will return to the wealthiest Americans—those who need it least—while those least able to defend themselves—children—lose.

Bush is doing his best to hide that fact. For the first time since 1989, a sitting president has failed to detail his plans for these endangered programs beyond 2006. The proposed cuts that are spelled out—those in 2006—are the smallest. More drastic cuts won’t materialize until 2010. 

Here at home, there’s good news and bad news—but even the good news may turn bad since so many of the family-friendly programs rely heavily on federal funding.

For example, Illinois recently expanded its KidCare health insurance program to include 200,000 more kids, as well as some entire families—but two-thirds of that money comes from the feds.

And $96 million in federal grant money helps Chicago provide health care, afterschool programs and other services to hundreds of thousands of Chicago residents. Meanwhile, suburbs throughout the six-country metropolitan area rely on federal grant money, some of which goes toward programs for kids.

Not all of the good news/bad news hinges on federal money, however. In Illinois, the state continues to fail at adequately funding public schools. True, Gov. Rod Blagojevich is living up to his promise to increase education funding, but it’s not enough. His refusal to consider a higher income tax to pay for education means that the state’s public school students will continue to be left behind. His plan to hike the cigarette tax is an unreliable source of income. Some smokers will choose to quit (a good thing, to be sure) but others will simply cross state lines to buy the same product at a lower price.

In the last two years, the governor has increased education funding by $404 per student. Even with the additional money, the state is falling short in 2005 of what its own Education Funding Advisory Board believes was the minimum required to adequately educate a student in 2003.

This is not acceptable. If we don’t pay now, we will pay later: Half of all welfare recipients are high school dropouts, 18 percent of community college students enroll in at least one remedial course and 30 percent of Illinois prison inmates cannot read at a sixth-grade level. We say again: Our kids deserve better.

Kids across the country deserve better, too. But if federal grants dry up, local governments and organizations will either have to come up with more money on their own or cut services. The latter is more likely. And that would be a tragedy, not only in the immediate future, but later on as society grapples with the remedial costs of serving thousands of children who didn’t get the preschool, childcare or health care they needed.

We realize our nation is in the midst of a war in Iraq. That it costs money to keep our servicemen and women safe. But our children also deserve protection, and the president’s budget does little to ensure their safety.

If we fail to invest in our children early on, we all will pay the price in the end.

Kids Eat Chicago

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