Most of my family, friends and acquaintances are relatively comfortable: they have access to adequate health care; they have the resources to maintain a healthy diet and reliable transportation; and if a tough time hits, they have networks to help them through it.
But this is not the case for more than 35 million of our fellow Americans who live in poverty, at least eleven million of whom are children. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, four out of every 10 children in this country live in “households struggling to afford basics.”
These children suffer in many ways. Poor families usually live in neighborhoods that are not served by top-rated schools. They do not live in close proximity to stores with fresh and nutritional food, and are not within short walking distance to public transit lines. They often have limited if any access to health care, and sick and hungry children will not learn in even the best of school systems.
Poverty-ridden children are mostly invisible to well-to-do Americans, but their wellbeing is important to America’s future. Nelson Mandela said it well: “Children are the rock on which our future will be built, our greatest asset as a nation. They will be the leaders of our country, the creators of our national wealth who care for and protect our people.” Mandela’s “rock” includes all children, not just the happy and healthy ones we see in our immediate family and social circles.
It is Not Oaky
But, it is not okay to say “Well, my kids are doing fine,” and then ignore the millions who are not. No, that is not okay, and over time it is damaging to our national human infrastructure. Long term poverty breeds hopelessness and despair, which very quickly can morph into anger and violence.
Poverty in America today is a national problem and requires a national response, which means bold action is needed from our political leaders. Over the course of my career, I’ve appeared before those political leaders in a multitude of budget and policy hearings at state, national and local levels to make the case for adequate funding of nutrition, education, medical care, and housing needs of children. I’ve heard countless elected officials express thoughts that are similar to (but much less eloquent than) Mandela’s. But I have not seen most of those same people incorporate their words into significant programs and budget dollars. The “we love children” rhetoric––whether in Congress or state legislative chambers–– is usually followed by a much longer soliloquy about budget deficits and the need for tax cuts.
This “we love them, but…” attitude toward kids is front and center in the Republican response to the Biden $2.3 trillion infrastructure bill and the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan. Together the two proposals include a range of commitments to America’s poor. In addition to funding traditional physical infrastructure projects like repairing roads and bridges, increasing broadband access and building a network of electric automobile charging stations, the two proposals focus on building up America’s human infrastructure.
They include increased housing options for low-income Americans, making the child tax credit permanent, establishing a universal pre-K program and free community college. The proposals expand nutrition programs, increase funding to support child care, institute paid family and medical leave for parents, increase the minimum wage for childcare and early childhood education staff, and mandate free universal preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds. The president’s plan recognizes that all of the American people––not just political parties and not just the political donor class––are the key assets in building a strong and sustainable future.
What is the Republican Response?
“He’s mortgaging everybody’s future in order to do what, fund a bunch of liberal pet projects? It’s crazy stuff ” said Republican Senator Josh Hawley. Congressman Steve Scalise, House Republican Whip, labeled it “a Socialist agenda being pushed by Speaker Pelosi and President Biden…it is Soviet infrastructure.” Rank and file Republicans repeated and repeated and repeated their standard one-word response to anything a Democrat proposes: “socialism.”
The GOP obviously does not have a substantive platform to stand on. So, the Republican response to a fact-filled plan to reenergize the country by supporting the American people is to give it a label: “socialism.” For Republican strategists the opposition to Biden’s proposals is urgent. They know that polls show that rank-and-file members of their party and Independents are joining Democrats in supporting many of the proposed initiatives.
House and Senate Republicans do not want to let that stand––not because it is bad policy, but because it might boost Democrats in 2022. Instead of negotiating on the substance, they launch poll-tested and coordinated attacks using buzz words like socialism. They spread lies, conspiracy theories and innuendos and they believe their base will accept their words without doing fact checks. They are willing to sacrifice the good of the nation and the wellbeing of millions of Americans in order to boost their personal and party’s power.
We the people must not let them dupe us. The future of the America that our children and grandchildren will inherit from us is at stake. Do your homework on both the infrastructure plan and the American Families Plan. Then contact your representative and Senator and urge them to get on board.
Bill Jamieson’s career has included leadership positions in business, government, and education. He was also an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church and his ministry centered around advocacy for low-income families and children.