Last week, in yet another display of the Trump Administration’s callous disregard for children’s well-being, leaders of the Environmental Protection Agency took a first step to gut its Office of Children’s Health Protection. For 21 years, under administrations of both parties, this office has worked to protect children from chemicals and air pollutants known to damage their small bodies, causing medical problems that can last a lifetime. In response to EPA leaders’ decision to place its director on administrative leave, two nationally respected physicians long involved in public health noted: “There is no question…the chemical industry will benefit and America’s children will be harmed”.
As long-time child advocates, who spent a collective 60 years in Washington and California lobbying on behalf our nation’s vulnerable young people, we find ourselves particularly alarmed at how proven protections for kids are losing their bipartisan nature and have become mere pawns in a political chess game.
For one thing, it was not always this way. Kids used to bring members of both political parties together; bipartisan legislation was a key way our nation advanced policies that helped children to grow up healthy and prepared for the future.
It was not so long ago that a number of bipartisan initiatives were put in place to protect children and advance their needs. In 1987, Congress created the National Commission on Children. Supported by members of both parties, and signed into law by President Reagan, it issued its report in 1991. The commission recommended policies that helped kids, collected data from different sectors, and conducted important policy analysis. Its public education and recommendations contributed to the passage of important legislation for children, such as the Family Preservation and Family Support Services Act and the Child Tax Credit.
Similarly, before the Children’s Health Insurance Partnership (CHIP) teetered on the cutting block of the 2018 budget, it was an extremely popular program on both sides of the aisle. In 1997, Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) reached across the aisle and worked together to pass the landmark legislation that insured more children would have access to health care. Over the years, CHIP would enjoy support from members of both parties.
Yet in 2017, funding for this program was allowed to lapse for nearly four months as it became a bargaining chip in budget and immigration negotiations. Congress and the Trump administration used kids’ health as a wedge issue — despite widespread support for the program.
Today, we have too few examples of acts of bipartisanship in service of our nation’s kids. Instead, we have heated rhetoric and political scorekeeping. Our children are in dire need of kid-partisan champions. For all of our economic vitality and global leadership, the U.S. has consistently been near the bottom in child poverty and infant mortality rates among developed countries.
In fact, roughly 1 out of every 5 children is likely to live in poverty; and over half of children ages 3–4 are not in preschool, despite overwhelming evidence that early childhood education is critical to long-term success and reducing rates of intergenerational poverty. More and more children today have to fear gun violence in their schools or face the consequences of the nation’s opioid crisis.
Perhaps most ominous is a looming decline in the resources our government invests in our children. The growing deficit and debt, along with reduced revenues from recently enacted tax reform, disproportionately threaten children’s well-being. Many voters may not realize that the way that most children’s programs are funded in the federal budgeting process is discretionary — making them especially vulnerable to being on the budget chopping block. When children’s health and well-being was firmly bipartisan, this sometimes worked. But now, with clear evidence that the needs of the nation’s children are too often just another political negotiation point, resources for kids are in increasing danger.
The time is now to be partisan — kid partisan. And, with the election just 27 days away, we have our chance to choose leaders who will call a halt to the harm being done to kids today and invest in their healthy development. Whichever party a candidate may choose, they should be held fully accountable for their stance on supporting the policies and providing the resources to ensure that the nation’s children have what they need to grow up healthy, well-educated, and ready for the future. The time is now to act, and here are some resources to get you started today.
This move by the EPA is only the latest episode in the Trump Administration’s using children as bargaining chips for their own political gain. The election is our chance to put children ahead of politics. As Nelson Mandela said as succinctly as anyone has: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”