I grew up in the Central Valley of California, the eldest of eight children. My family benefitted from public assistance in a variety of ways. There were times when the electricity was shut off or there was little food in the house. I have vivid memories of pots and pans blackened from cooking in the living room fireplace when the gas hadn’t been paid. I remember the large plastic bag of frozen burritos delivered to the house by a local charity organization when our supply of government cheese, beans and rice had run out. Without the financial support from my grandparents, tax benefits that help the poor, and "food stamps" (the precursor to SNAP), or other relief assistance – programs that many families rely on, today – we would not have survived. It is likely, too, that without government assistance, I would not have gone to college. But, today, all of that is under attack. Congress continues its relentless assault on children by attempting to destroy the health coverage on which most poor and low-income kids depend. Last week, a tax plan was unveiled a tax plan that would further erode what actually makes our country great: the assurance that every child, regardless of the zip code in which she was born, has the opportunity for a promising future.
“There they go again”
Try as they might, the majority in Congress can't seem to help themselves but to try to chisel away, attempt after attempt after attempt, and destroy the supports that poor and low-income families depend on to ensure their children have access to services and programs needed for success in school and in life. But (with a nod to Presidents Reagan and Clinton), there they go again, letting the Federal Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) funding expire in September. There they go again doing little to nothing to lift up low-income, working families, even though those families now make up about one-third of all families in the U.S. There they go again, praising themselves for the pittance of an increase in the Child Tax Credit, a change that will actually EXCLUDE at least 16 million children – including 5.4 million poor children, 1.2 million of those living in deep poverty … that tax credit denied completely to immigrant and mixed-status families … a tax credit that vanishes from even middle class families once the cuts to essential programs on which they depend go into effect. There they go again with a projected $1.5 trillion increase in the deficit over the next 10 years. There they go again, with a tax-cut bill that primarily will only benefit the top one percent of households and profitable corporations. There they go again, to pay for the tax-cut bill, projecting large, destructive cuts down the road for Medicare and Medicaid, SNAP, Head Start, home visiting and child care, school funding and college assistance, and housing and mental health services.
These are all programs that support economic mobility!
I should know. I was one of those needy children. Today, I am the Executive Director of a thriving non-profit organization in Maryland, working to help improve the quality of early childhood education so that more and more vulnerable children have the same opportunities that other children have – like I had. Each of my seven sisters also attended college, and they are thriving - some with Masters degrees, a Ph.D. and, recently a degree in law. Every child deserves that chance.
Equity vs. Equality
There is a lot of discussion in the State of Maryland about equity, and I notice the ease with which, "equity" is conflated with "equality." I challenge you to, respectfully, course-correct any conversation you have where you hear the error being made. If I may, "equality" is making sure that everyone gets the same. "Equity" recognizes that some – perhaps, because of disability status, economic circumstances, the language spoken at home, or adverse childhood experiences – need more. Because of my own adverse childhood experiences, I needed more. So do millions of children and families whose futures would be decimated by a the cruel there-they-go-again tax-bill that benefits those who already “have” … a there-they-go-again tax-bill that is contrary to decades of economic research.
In Maryland, 58,000 (14% of) children live below the poverty level ($24,600 for a family of four). Growing up in poverty is one of the greatest threats to a child's cognitive, healthy development and ability to learn. Vulnerable children and families depend on the safety net we have in this country – a net that helps define who we are and what we believe. I am, by no means, wealthy. But, today, my family could be considered as having more than most. We are, like many Americans, willing to pay more to help others who have less. That’s the promise we should all make to children.
I'm not sure how America can be great again unless we do.