02/18/2011 04:33 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

For the Children?

National politicians are engaged in a contentious debate on the future of America. The national debt is mushrooming, unemployment persists, and inflation looms. U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner and his majority party propose to slash federal spending "for the sake" of our children and future generations. In his FY2012 budget proposal, President Obama seeks a balance of belt tightening and protection of social programs but also proposes severe cuts in low-income energy assistance and other community services.

We do need to think about and plan for the future. But we ignore the "now" at our own peril. The House majority's proposed FY2011 Continuing Resolution cuts funding for K-12 education; cuts Head Start early education; cuts nutrition programs, including Meals on Wheels for the elderly; cuts college aid; cuts energy assistance; cuts community health centers; cuts job training. Do they really think that we protect our future by insuring that our families today are cold, sick, hungry, uneducated, and unemployed?

Here are the realities we face: in 2009 nearly 15 percent of all people in the United States lived in poverty -- 43.6 million individuals -- a disproportionate number of whom are children. Poverty rates for Blacks and Latinos greatly exceed the national average. Foreign-born residents make up 12 percent of the U.S. population but are 19 percent of those living in poverty. According to a 2009 study by the National Center on Family Homelessness, one out of 50 -- or about 1.5 million -- American children are homeless each year. Over 50 million Americans are hungry. Fifty million are uninsured. And this is before the cuts currently proposed on Capitol Hill.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 14 percent of the federal budget in 2010 supported programs that provide aid (other than health insurance or Social Security benefits) to individuals and families facing hardship. A Center on Budget analysis shows that such programs kept approximately 15 million Americans out of poverty in 2005 and reduced the depth of poverty for another 29 million people.

Our nation's investment in safety-net programs, education, and job training helps individuals; but, just as important, it strengthens communities and the nation as a whole. A healthy and educated, taxpaying workforce is the key to securing our future. Neglecting those in need is morally indefensible and economically foolish. We will squander our nation's potential if we fail to nourish, in every sense of the word, our populace.

Let's address our deficit problems and even balance the budget, if that's what makes sense. But let's not do it at the expense of the health and well-being of our nation's children and their families. It's presumptuous to say one speaks for the children. Yet I feel safe in guessing that 100 percent of our children would rather have a good meal and a warm place to sleep than lower taxes and a smaller government. We call upon our leaders to be thoughtful stewards of our nation's most precious resources, now and in the future.