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Rep. Chris Van Hollen

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Breaking the Cycle of Childhood Poverty

Posted: 02/ 3/2012 9:50 am

This post is part of a series on childhood poverty in the United States in partnership with Save the Children and Julianne Moore. Moore leads the organization's Valentine's Day campaign, through which cards are sold to support the fight against poverty in the U.S. To learn more go to SaveTheChildren.org

America stands as a beacon of hope and the possibility of a better life -- but it is also a nation where nearly 1 in 4 children live in poverty. Some of these children don't have permanent places to call home, others go to bed hungry and don't have access to proper medical care, and often their schools are underfunded and understaffed. Every day, families in the United States face the stark choice between a roof over their heads and food on the table. Buying health insurance, owning a home, and saving up for college are just too far out of their reach.

It is widely known that the effects of childhood poverty follow children through adolescence and into adulthood. If children are not enrolled in early education programs, they are 50 percent more likely to be placed in special education and 25 percent more likely to drop out of school. They are 60 percent more likely to never attend college, 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime, and 40 percent more likely to become a teen parent.

The economic recession that we're still recovering from only makes these problems worse. That is why our first priority must be putting Americans back to work. We must also ensure that, while we work to reduce the deficit over the long-term, we protect the important social safety-nets for children. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program stands at the center of the effort to ensure families have access to the basic food they need, with over 45 million participants. Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program are critical to helping low-income children get a healthy start in life. Additionally, unemployment insurance puts more money in the pockets of parents and caregivers who are unemployed through no fault of their own, allowing them to purchase necessary items for their families. These programs not only alleviate financial burdens, they help the economy. As money flows to local businesses, existing jobs are saved and new ones are created. In addition to federal funding, the non-profit community is fighting on the front lines to break the cycle of poverty. For example, the advocacy efforts of Save the Children positively impacts more than 56 million children in the United States annually, and they serve about 147,000 children, parents, and caregivers each year through their programs.

Protecting these programs, especially during difficult economic times, is essential -- but there is more to be done. Fixing the structural problems in our education system is key to breaking the cycle of poverty and creating economic opportunity in this nation. Early childhood education programs, such as Head Start, lay the foundation for learning and increase a child's chances for future success. We need to renew our commitment to these programs, as well as a quality public K -- 12 education for all Americans.

One of the greatest obstacles to escaping poverty is the staggering cost of higher education. Increasing tuition rates can be insurmountable roadblocks for high school graduates who are trying to forge a path out of poverty for their families. Last Congress, we passed historic education reform legislation that revolutionized higher education assistance by investing billions in the Pell Grant program, community colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority Serving Institutions. The legislation will also cap repayments on student loan debt at 10 percent of discretionary income to help make sure that recent graduates aren't crippled by student loan payments. These investments put college within reach for students from low-income families, allowing them to not only obtain a college degree but also have better employment opportunities, earn higher salaries, and ultimately make our entire nation more competitive in the global economy.

Unlocking the potential of Americans is the key to revitalizing the economy, lifting our communities, and strengthening our nation. Now more than ever, Congress must shed partisan politics and come together to break the cycle of childhood poverty. It is not only a moral imperative, it is good policy.

 

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