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Renee Parsons Headshot

Who Will Feed the Children?

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently explained that, "I'm in this race because I care about Americans," and then went on to clarify that, "I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it." If Mitt had been doing his homework, he would know that the safety net is in desperate need of 'repair.' But Mitt is not alone in his lack of empathy for the poor.

After all, it was presidential candidate Bill Clinton's 1992 pledge to 'end welfare as we know it' that led to the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996 (HR 3734). The controversial act 'reformed' aid for dependent children and eliminated a federal entitlement welfare program for needy families. Supporters of the Act included liberal stalwarts still in office like Reps. Ackerman, Cardin, deFazio, Durbin, Hoyer, Kaptur, Lowey, Levin, McCarthy, Moran, Richardson and Sens. Biden, Harkin, Kerry, Lieberman, Levin, Reid and Wyden.

Once George W. 'Compassionate Conservative' Bush was in the Oval Office, after adoption of welfare reform, the few remaining family aid programs including WIC (women, infants and children), food stamps now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) all experienced a 20% reduction under the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. The act was adopted with VP Dick Cheney breaking a Senate 50-50 tie with 5 Republicans (Chafee, Collins, DeWine, Smith, Snowe) joining the Democrats against the Act.

Since before and after his 2008 inauguration, the words 'poverty' or 'poor' have scarcely ever made it past President Obama's lips in either his annual State of the Union addresses or any of the president's budget requests.

The future for WIC continues to look bleak with its removal from the 'protected' list of domestic discretionary programs via the Budget Control Act of 2011, which required a $840 billion cut in domestic programs.

The SNAP program, which experienced an increase in food stamp recipients from 17.3 million in 2001 to 44.3 million Americans in 2010, half of whom were children, was cut $14 billion in 2010.

Also delisted by the Budget Control Act of 2011 as a 'protected' program, TANF experienced a 15% cut of benefits to needy families in 2009 in 28 states with 17 of the country's poorest states cutting benefits 33% in 2010.

Despite wrapping his $3.8 trillion 2013 austerity-budget-for-some in populist rhetoric, the president's budget reflects a solid priority to the military-intelligence complex with $901 billion as compared to a $40 billion cut from 2012's domestic spending level. Alleged reductions in military spending are actually a sleight-of-hand trick coming out of future 'projected' budget numbers rather than actual funding outlays.

The breakdown of the military funding includes $525 billion for the Department of Defense, $39 billion for Homeland Security, $53 billion for Intelligence such the CIA and NSA, $97 billion for a joint DOD/State Dept. Overseas Contingency Operation and $27 billion for the Department of Justice including the FBI.

In addition, the 2013 budget includes a $500 billion interest payment on the country's deficit going to the banks, as well as a $360 billion 'savings' in reduced payments to Medicare and Medicaid providers. Providing no basis for such unbridled optimism, Obama's budget predicted an increase in GDP of 3% in 2013, 3.6% in 2014 and 4.1% by 2015 which, if it plays out as supposed, translates into increased revenues and hence a lower deficit.

By contrast, the already-reduced $333 billion for domestic spending includes $69 billion for Health and Human Services including TANF, $35 billion for Housing and Urban Development including a homeless veterans program and $23 billion for the Department of Agriculture, which includes WIC and SNAP.

Given Congress' willingness to cut domestic spending, further reductions to the administration's budget request can be expected just as the Agriculture, Rural Development and FDA Appropriations (HR 2112) experienced in 2012 with a massive $700 million cut to the once sacred WIC program, jeopardizing an estimated 350,000 recipients including very young malnourished children. Final passage included members of both the Progressive and Black Caucus supporting the Act which only goes to prove that some liberal Democrats are more loyal to the President than to underprivileged children.

Not surprisingly, the number of Americans living in poverty increased to 46 million in 2010, up from 37 million when the Great Recession began, according to 2010 Census data, but the federal government's commitment to fund programs to benefit those citizens has not kept pace. While children were 24% of the U.S. population in 2010, they suffer disproportionally with 23% of America's children living in poverty.

One in every three Hispanic child lives in poverty, with black children 26% of all children living in poverty, as are 54% are white children. The Carsey Institute has estimated that over 16 million children are currently living in poverty, up from 13 million before the recession and the shameful statistic that 25% of all children living in poverty, one in four, are under the age of six.

Since Ted Kennedy's passing, not one Member of Congress out of 525 has stepped up to champion poor children -- not one bleeding heart liberal, not one self-proclaimed Christian has come forward to be The Voice for homeless and hungry children, forgotten and neglected American families, shattered and struggling with the hopelessness of despair every day.

Yet, as the 2012 presidential campaign begins in earnest with millions and millions of dollars squandered on television advertising and high-powered consultants, the Obama campaign assures its Wall Street backers of their loyalty.

The aforementioned statistics do not begin to do justice to the reality of what it means to be a 21st century American child living in poverty -- going to bed hungry or to school on an empty stomach, more prone to incarceration, the persistent presence of crime, violence and voracious rats, the chronic depression and crippling fear of a life doomed to abject poverty and the gnawing reality of abandonment by a government founded on providing 'for the general welfare.'

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