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Child Watch® Column: “The Budget Is Not Fair, Mr. Chair”

Release Date: May 2, 2014

Marian Wright Edelman

“The budget is not fair, Mr. Chair, if 69 percent of the cuts comes from programs for low-income children and families and we are giving extra tax cuts to the wealthiest among us…. If we can afford to give new tax extenders to wealthy corporations and people, we can afford to expand Head Start for every child and to make sure that every child is housed and is fed.”

That’s part of what I said when I had the opportunity to testify at the House Budget Committee Hearing “A Progress Report on the War on Poverty: Lessons from the Frontlines” on April 30th. I shared my belief that the budget proposal by House Budget Chair Paul Ryan recently passed by the House of Representatives would turn progress in the war on poverty backwards by cutting critical funding to safety net programs that help millions of poor children and families while giving tax breaks to the wealthiest and most powerful among us. The Ryan budget will widen the already indefensible income and wealth inequality gaps.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities at least 69 percent of the Ryan budget cuts to non-defense programs over the next decade would come from programs that serve low-income children, families, and individuals including Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps), school lunches and other child nutrition programs, Pell Grants, the Earned Income Tax Credit, the low-income portion of the Child Tax Credit, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) that helps children with very serious disabilities. At the same time the Ryan budget slashes programs for children and the poor, Citizens for Tax Justice estimates it would give millionaires an average tax cut of at least $200,000 by lowering the top personal income tax rate from 39.6 to 25 percent, repealing the Alternative Minimum Tax, and reducing the corporate income tax rate from 35 to 25 percent, as well as other tax breaks.

The Ryan budget is not the only unjust decision Members of Congress have made. On April 29th, the House Ways and Means Committee approved without any offsets a permanent extension of six corporate tax breaks that would drain the treasury of $310 billion over 10 years. That same committee in the very same meeting dropped a provision in the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Improving Opportunities for Youth in Foster Care bill because of its cost. This tiny, positive provision that would have ensured foster youth had documents like Social Security cards, birth certificates, and health insurance cards to help them make it on their own when they aged out of foster care would have added $12 million to the ten-year cost of the bill—four thousandths of a percent of the cost to taxpayers of those huge non-offset corporate tax break extenders.

Some of the same lawmakers who routinely support massive corporate tax breaks are among those currently opposing proposals to invest $90 billion in early childhood programs over 10 years as too expensive and refusing to pass an extension without an offset of long-term unemployment benefits that would cost $10 billion. And on April 30th the Senate voted against opening debate on a Democratic bill to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour that would move 900,000 people out of poverty, cost the federal government not one cent and in fact could save federal and state governments money by reducing the need for nutrition and other safety net supports.

I don’t know what religious texts Members of Congress read, but when I look at the prophets and gospels and the teachings of every major faith I learn that not caring for the poor, the sick, the lame and the orphan is wrong. Acting as Robin Hood in reverse and taking from the poor and needy to give to the wealthy and powerful is even worse. America’s dream and promise of a level playing field has become a nightmare for millions of poor children and families struggling to get a foothold in our $17 trillion economy.

The way to end poverty is not to cut the very programs that are making the difference between a child eating and a child going hungry. Nothing in my decades of work for poor children makes me believe that cutting vital lifelines for millions of families who have fallen on hard times because of economic downturn is the way to create well-paying jobs or help parents have the time and resources to be able to nurture and support their children. Nothing in my experience makes me believe that putting college further out of reach for low-income students will help them compete for well-paying jobs. Nothing in my experience makes me believe that the current Ryan budget proposal will help create the economic opportunity and support systems every American needs when hard times hit. And nothing in my experience will ever make me believe that snatching food and shelter and early childhood and education lifelines from children and hard-working poor families to further enrich those who already have far more than their fair share of government help is economically and morally defensible. What kind of leaders believe we can afford massive tax breaks for the richest one percent but cannot afford to meet the survival needs of all our poor children?

We don’t have poverty in our midst because we have done too much for people. We have poverty because we have done too little and have not been fair to all our people, especially our children. We should be fixing the policies that have fueled inequality and given birth to an economy that has stopped working for the majority of hard-working people in our country. Congress and all of us should be striving to ensure there is a job with a living wage for every working-age person in this country, that every single child, regardless of his or her parents’ income or skin color or country of origin, has access to nurturing and enriching early childhood programs and effective schools, that no families have to choose between paying the electricity bill or buying medicine for their sick child, or have to figure out how to make the last $20 in food assistance stretch till the end of the month. It is profoundly unjust and immoral to pretend to be trying to reduce poverty for those struggling to survive—including 16 million children—and cutting the very programs enabling them to survive in a hostile economy, cutting the very programs that help ensure the next generation’s adults won’t be scarred by a childhood of deprivation.

In his last Sunday sermon at Washington’s National Cathedral, calling for a Poor People’s Campaign, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. retold the parable of the rich man Dives and the poor and sick man Lazarus who came every day seeking crumbs from Dives’ table. Dives went to hell, Dr. King said, not because he was rich but because he did not realize his wealth was his opportunity to bridge the gulf separating him from his brother and allowed Lazarus to become invisible. He warned this could happen in rich America, “if we don’t use her vast resources to end poverty and make it possible for all of God’s children to have the basic necessities of life.” I hope we will heed Dr. King’s warning before it’s too late.


Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.

Mrs. Edelman's Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.

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Submitted by Teese at: June 11, 2014
I agree wholeheartedly with your comments Marian. I can see in the other comments who believes and obeys God's Word and who doesn't.

Submitted by Fed Up at: May 9, 2014
I think we should CUT congressmen's salaries and benefits, TAX THE RICH, RAID THE CAYMANS AND MAKE THEM PAY THEIR TAXES. While you're at it, TAX CHURCHES. Did you know that Trinity Church in NY owns WALMART STOCK? What does the Church do for children? nothing! teaches them superstitious crap & imaginary friends. Capitalists and churches, PAY YOUR TAXES. Don't preach at the rest of us.

Submitted by right at: May 8, 2014
jobs,jobs this program doesnt work cut it!

Submitted by P.D. at: May 5, 2014
BRAVO! Thank you Marian, for your testimony to Congress. Children need champions like you...

Submitted by gramma at: May 5, 2014
AMEN! So get out and vote them out of office.

Submitted by Anonymous at: May 4, 2014
Thank you for your intense article. I plan to incorporate some of your comments as I strive to convince our South Carolina legislators to help our kinship care families. A number of states have made it possible for kinship care relatives to become foster parents so that they can earn the same financial benefits as regular foster parents. Weekly I talk with folks who are struggling to help the children stay out of the foster care system with strangers. And yet, they receive little or no help to pay increased utilities, buy clothing, pay school costs, increased food costs, even child care, etc. I believe that they are all our children. Thank you for keeping me posted about the national level. I visited Washington DC last summer, to attend a Generations United conference. I met with representatives of SC representatives and a senator. What a waste of time. And now, they are beginning to email me for support. They don't even know me nor what I stand for. Our children and families are struggling unnecessarily. Keep up the fight! They are all our children!

Submitted by Anonymous at: May 4, 2014
I wish this column were reprinted in every newspaper and website that is concerned with the present situation in this country. This is the voice of experience, nothing theoretical about it. Everytime I hear Paul Ryan defend his budget, I cringe, and wonder why any person, even the least compassionate or disengaged, cannot be moved by the sheer cruelty of his persona and political influence.

Submitted by Lar at: May 4, 2014
All I can say to Ms. Edelman's column is, "Amen, Sister!!!" Also, I don't know what scriptures Paul Ryan and his cronies are reading, either.

Submitted by El at: May 4, 2014
I hope everyone realizes that our children will provide our future in this country. What will that future look like?

Submitted by Carol at: May 4, 2014
Powerful, clear points that fuel my continuing frustration. Are some Americans so out-of-touch? No.. How ashamed they should be because they can't not know about the struggle of so many of our working poor. They CAN'T not know what their struggles mean for our future. I'm angry because they don't CARE!

Submitted by Susie at: May 3, 2014
Right On! We need to say it and say it again.

Submitted by Becca at: May 3, 2014
Politicians' religion is money.

Submitted by Patty at: May 3, 2014
Beautifully written - clean and clear. Yes, it's amazing that people who parade their religiosity have never considered the words of Jesus of Nazareth regarding children and the poor.

Submitted by carla at: May 3, 2014
RIGHT ON mrs.Edelman THANK YU FOR BEING A STRONG VOICE FOR JUSTICE

Submitted by Ruthie at: May 3, 2014
Thanks for speaking out!

Submitted by Susi at: May 3, 2014
As a former preschool teacher and school psychologist, I know that an investment in preschool education pays huge dividends in the future of our country. The children who have benefitted from Headstart, will be more likely to go on to higher education and less likely to wind up in the Juvenile Justice system or an adult correctional facility.

Submitted by edncees at: May 2, 2014
The Ryan budget will widen the already indefensible income and wealth inequality gap is not right. People working 2, sometimes 3 jobs & can barely buy food, school supplies is not right. You wonder why young people turn to crime??? They see no options. Work your butt off & still live near or in poverty. Help them as they try to change their lives. & play it forward.

Submitted by shortie at: May 2, 2014
I love this column. Children need strong advocates to protect them.

Submitted by Ann at: May 2, 2014
Always so well said!! Thanks!

Submitted by barbj at: May 2, 2014
I wish that I could have been there and stood shoulder to shoulder listening and praying with them.