Child Welfare in the 21st Century

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CONGRESS SHOULD NOT PUSH CHILDREN OVER THE “FISCAL CLIFF”

Posted by lboyd544 on December 16, 2012

The looming “fiscal cliff” will result in automatic tax increases and spending cuts unless a deal is reached before year’s end. To not come to some resolution will do profound harm to Oklahoma’s children.

Nearly one-quarter of Oklahoma’s children live in poverty.  About two-thirds relied on either Medicaid or food stamps during 2011. The Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, Unemployment Insurance and food stamps prevented thousands more Oklahoma families from falling further into poverty last year. Yet the automatic budget cuts scheduled to go into effect on January 1 would devastate these programs.

A single mother raising two kids in Oklahoma on a full-time minimum wage salary currently gets a $7,000 tax credit check thanks to the Earned Income and Child tax credit.  That check could disappear.  The additional burden would be equivalent to a $3.50 per hour pay cut.

Republican Congressman Tom Cole recently strayed from the position of House leadership when he said in a private meeting that we should lock in tax cuts for the middle class now and postpone fighting over tax increases for higher-income earners until later. Representative Cole should be applauded for being part of a serious discussion about a critical issue.

As important as it is to avoid the fiscal cliff, we must also make sure that any deal doesn’t ultimately do as much damage as the automatic cuts. The solution is a balanced approach that includes new revenue and spending cuts – as has been endorsed by at least two bipartisan deficit reduction commissions.

Several core principles should be reflected in any deal to avoid the fiscal cliff.  First, it must not exacerbate either poverty or income inequality.

Any deal must also eliminate the Bush tax cuts for wealthy Americans.  According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans would account for nearly half the projected growth in the nation’s debt for the foreseeable future.

There should be no harmful changes to the Medicaid and food stamp programs that are the safety net preventing even more Oklahoma children from living in poverty.

Congress should also be careful not to simply shift burdens to the states. Additional cuts should take into account the $1.5 trillion in reductions to non-defense discretionary spending that have already been made.

The fiscal cliff represents a monumental challenge for our nation, and spending cuts must be part of the solution.  But we must avoid cuts that will save a little now only to cost us far more in social, public safety, corrections, and education costs later.  We must be even more careful not to solve our fiscal problems on the backs of defenseless children who did nothing to cause the problems we confront today. We will need them healthy and well-educated to lead our country for many years to come and confront the long lingering challenges of getting the federal budget under control.

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