Baltimore Sun op-ed urges congressional supercommittee: Don't Cut Kids.

Baltimore Sun

Protect programs that keep kids out of poverty

By Bruce Lesley

Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and other members of the congressional "supercommittee" created by this summer's federal deficit ceiling law are charged with making a plan to reduce the federal budget deficit. That's a daunting task. But as new Census Bureau data shows, kids in Mr. Van Hollen's 8th District and in Maryland as a whole face an even more daunting one: staying afloat as more and more of them sink into poverty.

First Focus, a national bipartisan children's advocacy organization, has crunched the numbers, and the Census figures show that an alarming 16,000 children in Mr. Van Hollen's district lived in poverty in 2010. That's an increase of 78 percent since 2006, and it shows that a bad economy is hitting Maryland kids and their families hard. The decisions Mr. Van Hollen and other supercommittee members make will determine whether federal initiatives can continue to protect kids in Maryland and all over the country from the economic downturn's worst effects.

Today, Medicaid and Maryland's Children's Health Insurance Program ensure that 616,000 Maryland children don't have to become uninsured if their parents lose a job. Today, federal nutrition initiatives deliver nutritious meals to 434,000 kids during the school day and provide nutritious foods at home to kids who might otherwise go to bed hungry. And today, the federal Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit prevent tens of thousands of children from falling below the poverty line.
Federal investments like these also deliver real value for Maryland's communities and the entire state. Keeping kids insured through Medicaid and the state Children's Health Insurance Program means Maryland uses health care dollars cost-effectively, to keep kids healthy instead of ignoring small problems until they become big ones that require expensive emergency room care. Federal nutrition initiatives mean hunger doesn't stand in the way of learning, at a time when Maryland schools already face enough hurdles. And federal family tax credits help to keep families afloat, and that means their neighborhoods and communities don't face the broader social problems that result when families fail.

Will critical federal initiatives be there to protect Maryland kids tomorrow? If they are, will they have the resources they need to continue to make a difference? The decisions Mr. Van Hollen and the 11 other members of the supercommittee make over the next few weeks will answer those questions and help decide the future of Maryland children.

Right now, we don't know which way it will go. Lawmakers are facing extreme pressures to cut wherever they can. That's why it's so important for parents, educators, pediatricians, PTA members, advocates, faith leaders and every citizen who cares about the future of Maryland kids to speak up. Mr. Van Hollen and the rest of Maryland's leaders in Congress need to know that when less than 10 percent of the federal budget is focused on kids, deeper cuts to the lifelines holding so many Maryland children and their families up is not the way to solve our budget problems.

If those leaders make the right choice, Maryland families and communities will be better able to weather the economic storm today, and children will be better able to lead the state tomorrow.

Bruce Lesley is president of the First Focus Campaign for Children.

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