Fight erupts to defend kids from Bush budget cuts

WASHINGTON — “Unjust, unfair and un-American.” That’s how the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) describes President George W. Bush’s $2.57 trillion budget.

“It provides the wealthiest Americans with more money, while cutting programs that provide critical services for our most vulnerable children.”

Avram Goldstein, CDF media spokesman, told the World that CDF President Marian Wright Edelman is spearheading a nationwide fight to block the cuts. “Our effort is both national and regional,” he said. “We are going state by state.”

Even with funding at current levels, he said, many federal programs are reaching only a fraction of eligible children. “These budget cuts will force even more reductions. Put it together with billions in tax cuts that benefit only a small percentage of wealthy taxpayers and it adds up to an unjust and immoral budget.”

Edelman spoke to thousands of children’s advocates during a “Leave No Child Behind” teleconference Feb. 16. “If there was ever a time to stand up, speak out and act courageously to defend our children from fear and want, this is it,” she said. “The very future and soul of America is at stake.”

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said Bush’s budget tells hard-hit working families “you’re on your own” in the name of an “ownership society.” The proposed budget, he charged, “slashes programs that help workers build a future for their children and prepare themselves for changes in the workplace. … The ones most affected by his irresponsible budget policies are the most vulnerable — the unemployed, elderly and children.”

Bush’s permanent tax cuts for the rich will “add $10 trillion to the deficit over the next 20 years,” Sweeney added. And over the next 75 years the tax cuts are three times greater than the claimed shortfall in Social Security.

Bush’s elimination of Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) “will have a devastating economic impact on local communities,” leaders of the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) said in a joint statement with the National League of Cities and the National Association of Counties.

USCM President Don Plusquellic, mayor of Akron, Ohio, debunked Bush’s sleight-of-hand in hiding the termination of CDBG by “consolidating” it with 17 other programs in the high-sounding “Strengthening America’s Communities Grant Program.”

“This new proposal is totally unacceptable and we are extremely disappointed that this tactic is being used as an excuse to eliminate CDBG and cut much-needed resources to local communities,” Plusquellic said.

Ohio’s mayors, both Democrats and Republicans, have united to fight the cuts. Toledo Mayor Jack Ford said his city receives $8.5 million each year in CDBG grants.

“Wiping that out would dramatically delay or end the rebuilding of inner-city housing. By ending community block grants, you’ll be accelerating the decline of urban America.”

Under Bush’s new budget, Ohio would receive $264 million less under the “No Child Left Behind” law for the Title I reading program. It would put Ohio 41st in the nation for allocation of funds to help elementary pupils learn to read.

Bridgette Beeler, a junior high math teacher, told the Toledo Blade that Bush’s cuts in education funding would mean 83,000 children across the state would get no help in learning to read. She also decried Bush’s proposal to slash by $36 million funds for Ohio after-school programs, depriving 36,000 children of a safe place to go after school.

“Fight Crime: Invest in Kids,” a nationwide coalition of police chiefs, sheriffs and prosecutors, also blasted the cuts in after-school programs. Ingham County, Mich., Sheriff Gene Wrigglesworth, a member of the group, said, “If Congress and the president can find $80 billion for the war in Iraq, basically at the stroke of a pen, it seems to me that they can find a few measly millions of dollars to make this program viable.”

The CDF released a statement, “Choose to Stand for Justice for Children and the Poor,” which charges that millionaires will receive an average tax cut of $136,298, or a combined total of $22 billion a year, when Bush’s tax cuts are fully implemented.

“That would be enough to fund 735,738 child care places for children of working parents … health insurance for 3,130,515 uninsured children … Head Start for 641,092 poor preschool children … full immunization for 6,797,143 un-immunized infants and children … 144,709 new elementary school teachers,” the statement charged.

On the other hand, Bush’s cuts mean that 300,000 children of working-poor parents will lose child care. As many as 300,000 will lose food stamps and 25,000 poor children will no longer be enrolled in Head Start.

Iowa Farmers Union President Chris Petersen blasted Bush for proposing $2.5 billion in cuts in farm programs on top of the $15 billion in underfunding for the 2002 Farm Bill since it was enacted.

“We have a lot of problems in rural America today,” he said. “These cuts will … put still more small- and medium-sized family farmers out of business.”

Howard Bateson, an Ohio grain farmer, who voted for Bush, said, “We wouldn’t call it a double-cross … but I don’t think this [budget] is going to sit real well.”

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