One penny not enough

Published 4:41 am Sunday, June 15, 2008

By Staff
One penny. Of every new nondefense dollar spent by the federal government over the last five years, only one cent has gone to children’s programs. One cent to cover improvements in child welfare, health, education and training, housing, family income supports, nutrition and child safety. That one penny should make us think hard about our priorities and help us voice expectations for our next president.
America has always been about improving opportunities for the next generation — a recent poll found that three-quarters of the American people want to make children a greater national priority in the federal budget. And yet, a report out last month from the national children’s advocacy group First Focus finds that since 2004, under the Bush administration, federal spending on children has declined while all other non-defense discretionary spending has increased. If the president’s fiscal year 2009 budget were enacted, in fact, the share of nondefense spending going to children would drop below 10 percent for the first time in at least two generations. The upcoming presidential election is well-timed — our leaders are not listening to us, and it is time to change priorities.
Last year, the N.C. General Assembly passed N.C. Kids’ Care, a health-insurance plan to cover more currently uninsured children in moderate-income homes. Numbers of uninsured children in our state are higher than they have been in a decade, and our state legislators took action. However, because Bush twice vetoed bipartisan bills at the federal level that would have supported states’ expansion of health insurance to needy children, N.C. Kids’ Care is stalled. It will not be implemented as planned on July 1 of this year, and tens of thousands of North Carolina’s children will continue to be uninsured. North Carolina is not the only state affected by the administration’s health insurance cutbacks — outcry has been so widespread, in fact, that states have filed lawsuits, independent evaluators have determined that the administration overstepped its legal authority in limiting states’ expansion plans and members of Congress are garnering support to attempt to reverse the decision. A report released this month by the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University finds that, nationally, tens of thousands of children have already lost out on planned coverage because of the Bush administration’s actions, and that the negative impact is expanding. By the end of the summer, children in at least 23 states, including North Carolina, will be affected.
Electing a president who will make health insurance for children a priority is a must for North Carolina. The percentage of uninsured children has been increasing steadily since 2004, and today, 1-in-8 children in our state lack coverage — holding hands, they would reach from Greensboro to Wilmington. Increasing enrollment in Medicaid and Health Choice, North Carolina’s health-insurance program for low-income children and their families, has not been able to compensate for the rapid loss of employer-based health coverage. The largest increase in the state’s uninsured population is among children whose families earn between 200 and 300 percent of the federal poverty level ($42,400-$63,600 for a family of four) — exactly the population of children that would be served by the new N.C. Kids’ Care program that has been stymied by the current administration.
North Carolina’s future success lies with its children; healthy children today mean a healthy work force tomorrow. We need to elect a president who will support our state in providing what we — parents, citizens and policy makers — know our children need. And it’s more than a penny.