Dear Congress, Actions still speak louder than words

Sanji Downing
June 27, 2016

A few months ago I wrote a blog on how committees in the House of Representatives three times had the opportunity to do right by children, but instead took steps to make their lives, and their climb to success, that much harder. Well, in the past few months since I wrote that blog, the harmful actions towards children by some in Congress haven’t stopped.  In fact they have continued.

To recap: in March House Committees voted to eliminate the Social Services Block Grant program (SSBG), which funds vital programs important to abused and neglected children; deny the Child Tax Credit (CTC) to various low-income working families with children; change the matching rate in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP); and introduced a bill to make it harder for schools to provide meals to hungry children in poor communities.

Then came May and June.

On May 18,the House Education and Workforce Committee passed the harmful bill child nutrition mentioned above. The Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 (H.R. 5003), makes a number of changes to child nutrition programs, including school breakfast and lunch programs, such as changing community eligibility and creating a three-state block grant demonstration project. It is estimated that this bill would result in countless low-income children no longer having access to the healthy meals they need and which help them learn and grow.

On May 25, the House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Committee voted to eliminate funding for the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), the nation’s primary federal juvenile justice law. JJDPA funds vital programs, including those that help keep vulnerable girls and boys who run away from home out of locked custody; protect youth from the dangers of adult jails; help young people successfully return to their communities, and address the racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system. It is estimated that the loss of this funding would impact xx number of young people.

On June 7, Speaker Paul Ryan released the Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility plan to address poverty in the US. The plan contained some questionable at least, and harmful at best, proposals for children. One of the most destructive proposals, which was originally proposed 20 years ago in the Contract with America, and is now dusted-off to be part of this plan on poverty, is to eliminate Supplemental Security Income (SSI) cash assistance for disabled children. Roughly, 1.3 million children, including some with the most severe impairments and illnesses, and living in families with low incomes and limited resources, receive SSI, which averages $650 per month for a child. This additional money helps families pay for healthcare, food, clothing and other necessities for these children. It is estimated that eliminating SSI cash assistance would push more children with disabilities and their families into deep poverty and severe hardship.

In my last blog I noted I was disappointed by what was going on in Congress. Well now, after months of continued actions that would be harmful to children, I am angry. I still can’t fathom what, if anything, abused and neglected children, or children in need of health care or a hot lunch, did to upset members of Congress so much that they would want to make their challenging lives even harder. Now I can just add disabled children, poor kids and vulnerable youth to that list.

Thankfully, I am not alone in wanting something different from our elected officials. The CLC conducted polling with Hart Research Associates that found that 63% of Americans support increasing investments in the health, education and nutrition of children; and strong majority of adults say they are more likely to vote for a candidate who commits to making child-wellbeing policies a priority if elected, especially in the areas of: child abuse and family violence (75%); child poverty and hunger (71%); and child health (67%). I am guessing these same voters don’t want harmful changes to programs like SSBG, which helps abused and neglected kids, or to the Child Tax Credit, school nutrition programs or SSI - all which help children in poverty or experiencing child hunger. Nor do they want backwards changes to CHIP which provides healthcare coverage for children.

Thankfully too, hundreds of people across the country have written to their elected officials telling them to, in effect, stop picking on kids. And our allies up on the hill are speaking out as well. On June 9th advocates and allies on held a press conference on Capitol Hill and spoke out against the harmful child nutrition bill, SSBG cuts and Speaker Ryan’s poverty plan. Then on June 15 another press conference was on H.R. 5003, the harmful child nutrition bill.

Yet, it seems that even with all this support for something better for children, evidently some members in Congress, especially those that say they care about poverty and opportunity but consistently take actions that undermine these words, aren’t getting it. They must do better by children. That is why everyone who cares about babies, children and youth, must continue to speak out against these harmful proposals and in favor of a better approach. Clearly some members of Congress can’t figure out on their own how to do what’s right for our nation’s children. So, we’re all going to have to speak up a little louder and tell them what to do. Or maybe, just save them from themselves.

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