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Leaving Our Children Behind
Heather Wokusch

While the Bush administration has promised to "leave no child behind," reality on the ground looks a little different.

The facts are staggering. Over 11 million American children live in poverty, 9.2 million have no health insurance, and 3.6 million suffer "worst-case" housing needs. While the US is the world leader in defense expenditures, it ranks only 17th in efforts to lift children out of poverty; while it is number one in health technology, it ranks 23rd in infant mortality.

But promises made to children back in the heady presidential campaign days seem long forgotten now. Among other photo-op commitments, the $1 billion Bush guaranteed for abused and neglected kids never materialized (although the administration somehow came up with billions for weaponry and corporate handouts). In his inaugural address, Bush stated that "deep, persistent poverty is unworthy of our nation's promise," then pushed through a tax cut benefiting the wealthiest one percent of the population. He proposed doubling the child tax credit - but only for upper and middle class families.

And then there's the Bush welfare reform act, recently pushed through Congress. Hailed by the administration as helping millions of Americans "realize a life of hope, dignity and independence," the bill imposes a 40-hour work week requirement for welfare recipients, yet slashes low-income childcare programs. Do the math on that - who takes care of the kids when single mom is working?

The welfare reform bill additionally throws hundreds of millions of dollars into marriage-promotion schemes, yet puts roadblocks in the way of young mothers hoping to receive education and job skills training. Mechanisms for accountability have been conveniently left out of the bill, and programs/services to directly help poor families eliminated. The administration is now pressuring the Senate to pass the legislation it calls "compassionate."

Brings back memories of campaign era Bush insisting that "the biggest percentage of our budget should go to children's education," then submitting a 2002 budget bulging with corporate perks, defense contractor pork, and 40 times more money for tax cuts than for education.

It says something about a nation's short-sighted priorities when it spends three times more on each incarcerated citizen than on each public school pupil. When just one month of its military spending would be enough to eradicate poverty for all of its children for a full year.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson was recently asked why no additional funds could be made available for low-income child care, and he gave a simple response: "the war." In defending the largest defense spending increase in two decades, Bush said, "We're interested in defending the freedom, no matter what the cost."

What freedom? What about the freedom to be a kid? To live without poverty? National security necessitates more than military weaponry - it demands a nation's children have the right to grow up with a roof over their heads, a little food in their stomachs, and adequate health care. With corporate taxes slated to drop to historic lows, you would think similar governmental generosity could be doled out to our kids most at risk.

It's a cold fact that in today's society, morals are defined less by pious posing and eloquent words than by following the money trail. And in Bush's America, impoverished kids have been left to fend for themselves.

Heather Wokusch is a free-lance writer. She can be contacted via her web site at www.heatherwokusch.com