Cutting children's programs isn't cutting fat

Susan P. Leviton

March 23, 1992|By Susan P. Leviton

SOPHIA, the mother of three, works six days a week as a chamber maid in a Baltimore hotel. She receives no government benefits and spends three-fourths of her salary on rent.

Her company offers no health insurance, and she and her three children struggle to make ends meet. Now her youngest has started crying from the pain of an awful earache. So Sophia faces the choice of taking her daughter to a doctor and paying for medication or paying this month's rent. All over Maryland families are having to make these choices.

More than 40 years ago the distinguished conservative Republican leader, Sen. Robert Taft, said, "I believe that the American people feel that with the high production of which we are now capable, there is enough left over to prevent extreme hardship and maintain a minimum standard floor under subsistence, education, medical care and housing, to give to all a minimum standard of decent living and to all children a fair opportunity to get a start in life."

This nation today is nearly four times as wealthy as when Taft spoke. Yet we are not, as a state, meeting families' and children's basic needs. There are those who say we can weather this financial crisis without raising taxes, if we just cut the fat. Last year over $200 million was cut from programs that provided for basic needs for children and their families.

We are not cutting fat when we cut $13 million from housing programs while one in every four homeless people in America's cities is a child.

We are not cutting fat when we cut $12 million in child health services in a state that ranks ninth from the bottom in number of children who don't make it through their first year of life.

We are not cutting fat when we eliminate suicide prevention programs while one in 10 adolescents attempts suicide, and while 100 youngsters in Maryland last year took their own lives.

And we are not cutting fat when we cut $1.5 million from dropout prevention programs at the same time almost 17,000 Maryland students (roughly equal to the population of the state's prisons) drop out of school each year.

We can do it differently. We can enact a revenue package that is progressive, sensitive to a changing economy, one that reaches to a variety of funding sources. Maryland voters today are paying increasing attention to the budget crisis. According to recent polls, when the choice is between cutting vital services, such as the elimination of early childhood education programs and funds for local health services, or accepting reasonable tax increases, Maryland voters will opt for the latter.

As stuntman Evel Knievel said, a wide chasm cannot be crossed in two small jumps. Maryland's present budget crisis will not be resolved by tinkering at the edges. We need strong effective leadership which acknowledges that a lost childhood can never be regained.

Susan P. Leviton is president of Advocates for Children & Youth and a law professor at the University of Maryland.

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