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Budget Cuts Should Protect the Safety Net

Marian Wright Edelman | 11/14/2012, 11:37 a.m.

Americans committed to keep moving forward turned out in record numbers to vote in the battleground states. But we won't be able to go forward until Congress sits down and makes the hard decisions to create a just budget that invests in children, our poorest group of Americans, and creates jobs for their struggling parents while making sure those who have benefited from huge tax cuts pull their weight. Exit polls have made clear that the majority of Americans--Democrats, Independents, and many Republicans alike--agree that the richest Americans and corporations need to pay their fair share.

For all those who voted, our work and duty is not done. We need to make sure to tell the president and Congress to "be very careful what you cut" and make our voices heard now and for as long as necessary. Children, the poor and the middle class cannot afford more devastating cuts and instability as they continue to struggle against hunger, homelessness, joblessness, and loss of summer school and regular school days as a result of this long economic downturn.

To move forward, America's security and prosperity depend on our children's ability to drive the economy of the future. If a majority of them cannot read and compute at grade level in fourth, eighth and 12th grade, we will not have a strong economy. The leaders now facing crucial budget decisions must craft budget solutions that will protect the already porous safety nets on which so many children and families rely, and invest in the health, early childhood development and education of our children. To achieve long term growth for America, any solution must: (1) protect investments serving children and low income families; (2) invest in children which will create desperately needed jobs; and (3) ensure that the wealthiest Americans and corporations pay their fair share.

Cutting children in the budget now will cost us all more later. For example: Eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit now would increase child poverty 23 percent in the future. Since poor children are more likely to drop out of high school, they are less likely to find steady work as adults. Paying for each year of high school dropouts cost us more than $125 billion over the course of their lifetimes.

Rather than imposing strict austerity measures without regard for the human consequences, we must invest now in children to prepare them for the future and help create jobs. The Earned Income and Child Tax Credits, supplemental nutrition assistance, work supports like child care and health coverage, and income safety nets like job training are all essential if our children are to escape poverty and be prepared to shoulder America's economy in the future. Universal high quality pre-kindergarten and kindergarten systems and out of school quality summer literacy and enrichment supports will keep children safe, enable parents to work, stop summer learning loss and better prepare them to succeed in school.

Finally, unprecedented and growing income inequality is robbing our children of the equal opportunity that is their birthright and sullying our nation's purported values of fair play. Something is awry when our nation's 400 wealthiest citizens reported as much income in 2008 as the combined tax revenue of 22 states with almost 42 million people. It is time for the richest Americans and corporations to pay their fair share. They do not need another tax cut.