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Spare the Children : Washington’s budget cutters should take the long view when it comes to aiding the young

Sure, Washington has to cut spending and rein in federal deficits. But amid the ongoing bitter struggle on Capitol Hill, it has become distressingly clear that children, disproportionately, will get some of the worst of it as government services are slashed.

Childhood should be a happy time. For millions of California children it’s not, says a recent report of Children Now, a child advocacy group. The statewide statistics were staggering even before Washington took up the budgetary ax that is falling on benefits for youngsters who are poor, hungry, disabled or immigrants and those who need help in school.

In 12 months during 1993 and 1994, 901 youngsters were killed by gunfire in California, and 2,852 suffered nonfatal gunshot wounds, the report says. A shameful 664,294 reports of child abuse or neglect were filed.

Poverty takes a huge toll among children. Of California’s 8.9 million children, 2.3 million are poor enough to require free lunches at school. Teen-age pregnancy exacerbates poverty. Last year, 68,519 babies were born to California teen-agers. Welfare reform legislation, pending before Congress, seeks to reduce illegitimacy by requiring teen-age mothers to live at home with their parents or another responsible adult in return for welfare benefits. Education, counseling and job placement, like that provided by California’s successful GAIN program, also reduce additional out-or-wedlock births. Reduced illegitimacy is an important goal, but it should be achieved without throwing millions of children off the rolls of Aid to Families with Dependent Children.

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Poverty is also fueled by the school dropout rate; 70,683 Californians quit high school last year. No diploma often translates into a low-paying job or no job at all--and no wedding band. Jobless men are not attractive candidates for marriage, another factor in out-of-wedlock births.

Job training could reduce unemployment, welfare dependency and illegitimacy, but pending federal legislation would slash funds for jobs programs. Congress and the President must agree on reasonable cuts to reduce the deficits, but why cut services for young parents who are willing to support their children but lack the skills for a job? Why is it out of tune with today’s politics to suggest that children should be given the same political priority as senior citizens? Agreed, children don’t vote and they lack a powerful lobby such as the American Assn. of Retired Persons, but neither kids nor seniors should suffer.

Good governance requires courage, tough calls and priorities driven more by what’s best for the nation than what’s best for reelection hopes. Federal cuts are inevitable, but the nation’s children should be spared.


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