Inglis: On the cliff


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Amid the political impasse that has come to define negotiations about the fiscal cliff, the Congressional Budget Office has released figures that underline why Congress and the president can't seem to broker a deal.

If Congress fails to reach an agreement, the federal deficit will be cut roughly in half, the United States is expected to dive back into recession, and the unemployment rate is expected to tick back up to 9.1 percent by the end of 2013. At the same time, going over the fiscal cliff would portend greater economic gains in the long run, with greater growth rates and projected unemployment falling to 5.5 percent by 2020.

In this conflicting milieu, children represent an often-overlooked group in the larger forecast for the fiscal cliff. According to a report released by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the cuts to federal programs would have an instantaneously negative effect on one of our most vulnerable groups.

In Iowa, cuts to Title I grants to public school would translate into about 105 education jobs lost and about 8,951 fewer students served. Likewise, approximately 156 Head Start jobs would go by the wayside, with almost 747 young Iowans left out of the program's educational and nutritional efforts.

At a more basic level, around 4,322 Iowa children would go without immunizations, and some 1,651 would have their childcare subsidies cut.

Coming at the fiscal cliff from an historical perspective, the Reagan and Clinton presidencies provide diverging examples of ways to approach budget cuts in respect to children's welfare. The Reagan administration enacted across-the-board cuts comparable with the spending cuts the nation faces today. Yet by slashing 70 percent of antipoverty funding, Reagan caused a marked increase in hunger and homelessness within the country's low-income youth.

By contrast, Clinton signed the 1996 welfare-reform act and ushered in a far more nuanced approach to children's needs in doing so. A long-term study published by Stanford found that children actually improved their educational performance under Clinton's changes, citing low-income children's improved test performance after welfare reform.

As legislators seem set for an all-or-nothing standoff on the fiscal cliff, they would do well to remember these two examples and respond — with care and compromise — to the country's children in need.

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