People from across Nebraska will come together Tuesday to join the "Step Up for Kids" rally at the state Capitol.
As advocacy organizations focused on the interests of kids, families and other vulnerable populations, we wholeheartedly agree — we must step up for kids. Particularly now, when recent U.S. Census data show that almost one in five children in Nebraska (18.2 percent) experienced poverty in 2010. That means more than 82,000 children in Nebraska experience poverty, and along with it higher rates of hunger, poor housing and other hardships every day. These facts reflect a sad reality for our state, but there is hope if we make the right choices.
One of the most fundamental ways we can uphold our Nebraska values of family and community is by protecting programs that invest in the health and well-being of vulnerable children. We must step up for these programs so that they can support children in need. But will we take this stand? As a state and a nation, we are at a turning point.
This fall, a congressional committee ("supercommittee") must develop a proposal to reduce the federal deficit. How they do this will impact children and families in Nebraska well into the future. If we truly value our children and want to protect their futures, the supercommittee will keep two main principles in mind as they do their work.
First, the supercommittee must avoid any strategies that would increase poverty or inequality. This means protecting the federal programs that successfully care for the health and well-being of our kids, including Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and the Community Services Block Grant.
Medicaid provides preventative care, immunizations and other essential health services to more than 119,900 kids in Nebraska. More than 71,000 kids in Nebraska have food to eat because of the SNAP program. The Community Services Block Grant program helps 38,000 families in Nebraska by providing crisis assistance, early childhood education services and other poverty-reducing interventions to families on the community level.
Second, the supercommittee must take a balanced approach to deficit reduction that includes both targeted budget cuts and significant new revenues. It is not responsible or realistic to reduce our deficit with cuts alone. If the supercommittee fails to include substantial new revenues to help meet its deficit-reduction target, policymakers will have to make deep cuts in important safety net programs — or make deep structural changes that will force states to make difficult choices about providing services and serving vulnerable populations.
The committee must consider revenues, such as allowing some or all of the 2001-03 tax cuts to expire. As Nebraska's own Warren Buffett has pointed out, corporations and higher-income people can and should share in the sacrifices needed to reduce long-term deficits. Failure to include substantial revenues will place virtually the entire burden of deficit reduction on low- and middle-income Americans, worsening poverty and inequality and making it even harder for struggling families to make ends meet.
We urge policymakers to adopt a balanced approach to deficit reduction, to protect entitlement programs for low-income Americans, to protect eligibility and access to care in Medicaid, and to avoid further non-defense discretionary cuts. In short, we urge our members of Congress to "Step up for Kids" by fighting hard to protect programs that are essential to creating a stable and healthy start for Nebraska's children.
Becky Gould is the Executive Director of Nebraska Appleseed, and writes on behalf of the Nebraska Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, Voices for Children Nebraska, and NAMI Nebraska - all co-sponsors of the Step Up for Kids rally.