‘What about the children?’

That’s a question I recall hearing again and again during the 1980s and 90s as a reporter covering family issues, social justice issues and education. It came mostly from upper-middle class people in good school districts who were concerned about their children’s welfare, class size, access to computers at school and with limiting kids’ access to such horrible things as dirty words and suggestive song lyrics.

They were genuinely concerned about their own children, especially the ones who decided to run for the school board. All of them claimed they were running “for the children.” One even said, “I’m doing it for the kiddles.” I asked if she really wanted that quote to go under her photo alongside “Reason for running:”

Some ran so they could work to get their Evangelical views into the classroom. I usually recognized the buzzwords they used, such as “intellectual freedom to teach different ideas,” and of course, “intelligent design.”

One of my colleagues once said in the midst of the campaign season, “I wish just one person would be honest and tell us he’s running so he can have power over something.”

At least people wanted to be involved. Today, some school boards have vacancies they can’t fill. Schools are being attacked, as are most other institutions that help children.

While some of the nation’s wealthy seem to see public education as a form of welfare, programs that protect the welfare of children in every respect are being slashed.

Medicaid, which offers health care to the nation’s most needy, is about to be cut, compromising the health of millions of children; subsidized children’s health care for families that can’t afford insurance now has waiting lists so long it’s effectively shut down to new people in several states.

After-school programs, which keep children in a safe place until their parents can be home with them, are being defunded.

Parents are working several part-time or two full-time jobs just to make ends meet while child care subsidies are being slashed. That’s because in every city in the United States it takes at least two full-time jobs at minimum wage to make ends meet on even the most modest budget (no cable TV, no meals out …).

A few years ago, here in Western North Carolina, a working mother left her child in the car because she had no other option to care for him and she needed her job as a CNA in a nursing home to keep their small apartment. Her shifts were not the same as most child care center hours, so she had nowhere to leave him safely. She opted to leave him in the car and check on him periodically, rather than leave him home alone. The child died and the mother was villified. Most of my colleagues were outraged that a mother would endanger her 4-year-old like that.

But I remember being a single mom, struggling to pay my bills and find a safe place for my children while I worked. I had a boss who would let me bring them to the office with me if I had to work late or on Saturday. I had an upstairs neighbor who would look after my older son if he needed anything — he was a latchkey kid when he was 8 because I couldn’t afford to pay for care for both my boys and I couldn’t get a subsidy unless I quit work and went on welfare.

Today, one in five children lives in poverty, likely not getting the nutrition they need to stay healthy or the intellectual stimulation they need to overcome poverty when they get older. They are less likely to have access to a computer, or even good books. They are more likely to have health and/or behavioral problems, to drop out of school, to turn to crime and to remain poor as adults.

Even so, as we “negotiate” how to cut government spending, children’s needs once again are on the table, but not the wants of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans who control a staggering 40 percent of the nation’s wealth. Heaven forbid we ask for shared sacrifice from them or from behemouth corporations that pay little or no tax.

So, what about the children?


Gambling with our money

OK, let’s say your friend comes to you and begs to borrow $500. He’s got a system that’s sure to beat the house. He’s always been a good friend, so you trust him enough to lend him the money.

He gambles and loses every penny, so he comes to you and demands $1,000 because it’s your fault he lost. You weren’t wise enough with your money, he says, and he forces that $1,000 out of you through the court.

Now you’re really hurting, so you ask for help and your now former friend laughs at you and says he needs more. He goes to the government and gets millions and you have to pay higher taxes so the government can get it back. At the same time, the government cuts off any assistance you were getting, and your employer cuts back on your health care and other benefits.

This is what the banks and Wall Street have done to us.

They took out homes as collateral and gambled away the money we were paying in mortgage payments. When the bottom fell out, they demanded our homes back and then pleaded poverty to the federal government, which bailed them out.

There were no payments to working Americans; in fact, before the government would agree to bail out General Motors, it made the workers make concessions, like cuts to their pay and benefits, for the sins of their management.

What’s worse is that no one has gone to jail for this theft. The wealthy bankers who casued this mess have had their taxes reduced while the rest of us are paying a higher percentage of our dwindling salaries.

They have destroyed private-sector unions and now are working on killing the public-sector unions. They took down ACORN, one of the most effective community-organizing groups ever.

They want is in disarray because that makes us less effective in fighting against them.

But there is some hope. Recall groups in Wisconsin are doing well. People are waking up and understanding that these budget cuts are a sham designed to move more wealth to the top, and they’re getting angry.

The banks and Wall Street haven’t changed the way they do business. Everything that brought us to disaster is still being done.

It’s our money, and we have to break their gambling habit.

Everybody loses

NC House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, released details of the proposed state budget on Tuesday evening.

If the North Carolina budget released by the GOP-led House last night were to become law, everyone would suffer. Here’s just a few of the cuts:

  • $2 billion in total cuts, including reductions in teen pregnancy prevention programs and adoption assistance and the elimination of a successful prison alternative program that actually saves the state money.
  • A 15 percent cut to the university system, which its leaders say would be devastating.
  • 8.8 percent cuts to schools that would include all teachers’ assistants in second-and third-grade classrooms, cuts to other administration and maintenance staffs and transportation. This is on top of a $304 million discretionary reduction built into the budget. That means the real size of the cut to public schools is 13.2 percent, nearly $1 billion.
  • The Smart Start pre-kindergarten program would lose about $37 million; More at Four would be cut by $30 million, losing space for more than 2,600 children.
  • Funding for senior centers would be reduced by 47 percent.
  • Community health grants would be cut by 23 percent. 
  • The state Department of Health and Human Services would have to cut its budget by almost 11 percent.
  • Mental health services would lose $37 million at a time when the US Justice Department is investigating its lack of ability to care for people.
  • Cuts to reimbursement rates for physicians in the state’s health insurance program for low-income children.
  • $58 million in increased court fees.
  • Less funding for domestic violence services.
  • Laying off 40 members of the State Capitol Police force.

That’s just some of the bad news. Greg Borom, who does advocacy with Children First/Communities in Schools of Buncombe County, ticked off some of the cuts this morning.

“Anything you care about in health, education or children’s services is at risk,” he said.

“There isn’t a classroom in the state that would be left untouched by the GOP’s job-killing budget,” Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt said in a statement to WRAL in Raleigh. “From preschools to elementary schools to community colleges and universities, this proposal jeopardizes the very future of our state.”

Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, said lawmakers need to “stop trying to please the tea party.”

There’s been no talk about raising revenues. It seems not to matter if people would die in the streets because of these cuts — and be assured, some will.

It’s a cruel and punative budget proposal. The people who put together this budget obviously care nothing for the people of North Carolina.

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