‘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?


A mad dash to the right

The NC legislative session isn’t even finished yet and I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck. As the effects of this disastrous session begin to be felt across the state, I’m sure other North Carolinians will feel the same way.

Across the state, thousands of classroom personnel — teachers and teacher assistants, will lose their jobs, even though the Republican leadership denies it’s happening. As usual, if they say something isn’t real, then it must not be happening. That’s what you get when you live in your own little bubble where you don’t have to have compassion for anyone else.

Women who seek to end their pregnancies will have to listen to an anti-abortion lecture and wait 24 hours, even if they’re pregnant by an abusive partner who would beat the crap out of them if he found out. It’s as though we shouldn’t be allowed to make decisions about our own bodies unless the right agrees with those decisions.

The new “austerity” budget, which contains deep, deep cuts to education and health care programs, wasn’t about money, according to Rep. Tim Moffit, whose district includes Arden and Candler, “it’s about policy.”

Well, policy follows the money. Your priorities are where you put — or take away — the dollars, and it’s clear that this legislature prefers corporations to humans and right-wing “moral” values to compassion.

Medicaid will lose some of its “optional” services, such as specialized housing and other necessary services for people with severe disabilities. Instead of living in intermediate care facilities, they will be moved to nursing homes, where they won’t get the occupational, physical and speech therapy and other amenities that make their lives worth living. They’ll be warehoused.

People on Medicaid will lose their eye and hearing care. No glasses, no hearing aids.

I don’t see these things as optional, but the people in the North Carolina General Assembly do.

They have gutted environmental protections and made it harder for the state to collect taxes from corporations.

They have made it harder to vote, eliminating same-day registration, shortening early voting and requiring a photo ID from every voter. These measures affect poor and minority populations the most — those who would be most likely to vote against the right.

And if you get really pissed off and want to yell at one of these cads? Well, they’re trying to pass a law that allows them to carry guns into the legislative parking lot, so you don’t want to make them feel threatened.

But you don’t have to vote for them again. Remember this session come Election Day, and you might want to shoot an e-mail to your representative and senator to let him or her know you’ve been watching.



Midnight cowboys

The NC House met just after midnight to override Gov. Bev Perdue's budget; apparently, leaders were concerned the teachers coming to Raleigh today might be able to sway some votes.

The NC House met under cover of darkness in the wee hours of this morning to override Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of their disastrous, immoral budget.

It’s likely they didn’t want to wait for the light of day because today is a teacher lobbying day in Raleigh, and they didn’t have to courage to talk to these dedicated educators and then go slash their budgets. They wanted the deed to be done already. I’m sure Republican leaders wanted to be certain no one was swayed by pleas and real stories of need from teachers.

So, with the Senate poised to override the veto, it looks like this immoral budget will be what we have to live with for the next two years.

Republicans are saying their budget is the same as the one Gov. Perdue proposed, but it’s far worse, with deeper cuts to early childhood education, our about-to-be-devastated  university and community college systems and to the social network. They’re cutting $60 million from the state’s mental health system, which is so bad already it’s under investigation by the US Justice Department.

There is no rationale for these kinds of cuts. We are not broke. The only thing I can think of is that our state legislators who voted for this thing have no compassion for their fellow human beings.

I mean, if we’re so broke, why does House Majority Leader Thom Tillis have the money to offer huge raises to his staff members? Tillis gave his legal counsel, Jason Kay, a $30,000 a year salary increase to $140,000, and a 25 percent raise of $30,000, to $150,000, to his chief of staff, Charles Thomas. Half the speaker’s staff got raises.

Tillis spoke in January of “shared sacrifice,” but I guess you only have to share in the sacrifice if you’re not Thom Tillis or one of his staff.

I’ve already e-mailed my state representative, Tim Moffitt, and told him I will remember his vote come Election Day. He has reponded with this:

“I’m sorry that you feel that way.  The cuts to education amount to .05% difference compared to the Governor’s budget.  That’s after an explosive growth of over 250% in the last 14 years with barely a move in the overall achievement levels of our children.  Sadly, money is not the issue as it is in most things, it’s policy.”

He is wrong, of course. Early childhood education programs were starting to make a difference; they are the only way children in poverty can catch up to their wealthier peers.

And education is not the only part of this budget that is immoral. The budget shreds what was left of the social safety net, especially for people who have mental illnesses and others who depend on Medicaid.  It cuts $60 million out of the budget for our state’s mental health system, which already is in such bad shape it’s being investigated by the US Justice Department. Please, if your representative voted for this budget, let him or her know how you feel, and let them know we’re coming for them in 2012.

The immorality of ‘optional’ care

I read in the newspaper this morning that the NC Senate is considering cutting “optional” Medicaid services as the costs rise.

Sounds reasonable, right? That’s until you hear what’s optional. The place where my friend Stacie and her best friend, Ashley, live is optional.

That’s Stacie in the photo, showing off her beautiful smile. I met her and Ashely five or so years ago when they went to their prom. Although both young women are non-verbal, they have effective ways of communicating with each other and their caregivers. When Stacie thought she was running late for her hair appointment the day of the prom, she tugged on my sleeve, pointed to her watch and touched her hair. I promised her the hairdresser would wait for her.

Stacie and Ashley have lived together since they were small children; they’re in their mid-20s now, living at one of three residences at the Irene Wortham Center. Their days are filled with activities and caring people, and they are as close as any two sisters — there’s even a little rivalry between them.

But the NC Senate believes these residences and the services they render are “optional.” Extra. Non-essential. If the funding is cut off, Stacie and Ashley don’t have family who can take them in and care for them. They likely will land in separate nursing homes where there is little emotional or physical stimulation.

Liz Huesemann, the executive director of the Irene Wortham Center, doesn’t think she will be able to get enough money to continue caring for these two young women — and 22 other people who are helpless to decide their own fate.

“I’ll tell you what will happen,” Huesemann said. “They’ll wither away and die. They’ll just die.”

Also optional will be eye care and dental care for adults, and God only knows what else. The story in the newspaper didn’t go into much detail. Maybe that’s because the people in the NC Senate know people would be upset to know what’s about to happen to people with serious disabilities.

Or maybe they figure most people really don’t care what happens to less-than-perfect human beings. Historically, their needs have been ignored. They were warehoused in places like Wrentham State School in Massachusetts and Letchworth Village in New York, and they died very young.

Then in the 1960s and 1970s, advocates demanded humane treatment, and things improved. Warehouses became homes, with people grouped in smaller numbers, and even the most profoundly disabled people receiving stimulation and therapy.

We’re about to take a huge step back in time. Don’t think for a moment people with disabilities don’t understand when no value is placed on their lives. Stacie and Ashley know people care about them. They know someone will help them when they need it.

I can’t imagine placing them in a nursing home that doesn’t have the facilities or the staff to care for them properly.

It matters very much to me. If it matters to you, call your state senator in Raleigh and tell him or her you’re watching.

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