Because of "the future debt we'll leave our children," we must make federal budget cuts, the platitude goes. But it is precisely our children's future that Congress could end up cutting. Programs for children and families are among the softest targets for policymakers desperate to make cuts this fall.
Members of Congress have been eyeing Medicaid, food stamps, education and early care and other programs for deep cuts. Yet these are the programs that have been an important safety net for more and more American families as they deal with their own budget crises.
Recent Census data show that more than one in five American children now lives in poverty. That's more than 16 million children including 135,000 in Utah. Persistently high unemployment is a factor as families struggle to keep and hold jobs in the wake of the recession.
Utah's 7.4 percent unemployment rate, although better than the national average, has meant that more families are depending on safety programs. Lost jobs have meant more families threatened by hunger, and demand for food stamps is up sharply. Lost jobs often mean lost family health benefits.
To cut the deficit without hurting these families, Congress must agree to a balanced approach that includes both revenues and cuts. While some in Congress are dead-set against any change to the tax code that would increase revenue, most economists agree that we cannot simply cut our way out of the national debt.
The key fiscal policy goal is to reduce deficits sufficiently to stabilize the debt relative to the size of the economy. The only way to accomplish this without severe cuts that would hit low- and middle-income Americans hard in areas ranging from Medicare, Medicaid, and possibly Social Security to basic assistance for the poor and weaken core government functions like education, scientific research, and ensuring safe food and water, is through revenue increases.
We must shore up the programs that families in need rely on today.
Medicaid and CHIP help provide high-quality, affordable health care coverage to many of Utah's children who would otherwise be uninsured. Child care and early education programs help parents pursue their careers, as well as help nurture the workforce of the next generation. And tax credits for children and families are essential anti-poverty measures. The Earned Income Tax Credit alone helped to keep 3 million children in our country out of poverty last year.
There is a tribe in Africa called the Masai whose traditional greeting is said to be "How are the children?" If the children are well, that's taken to mean that everything is well in the group. We, too, should remember that our true health as a society is linked to the well-being of our children.
As a way to judge the actions of Congress, "How are the children?" is an excellent guiding principle.
Karen Crompton is executive director of Voices for Utah Children in Salt Lake City.