By Rebecca Wagner and Bruce Lesley
7:00 AM CST, December 16, 2012
As the federal "fiscal cliff" approaches, an important group of Marylanders with a lot on the line has been largely ignored: children. The stakes are immense, because the recession has been hard on Maryland children, with one out of every seven living in poverty.
A recent analysis by the nonpartisan Urban Institute found that nearly 120,000 Maryland children live with an unemployed parent — about triple the population of Annapolis. Compared to 2007, that's a 180 percent increase, and when you look at kids living with a long-term unemployed parent, the increase is 320 percent.
Maryland's need for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) has increased more than 127 percent, with more than 340,000 families benefiting from the program in 2011. SNAP means fewer parents must make the heartbreaking choice between paying rent and putting food on the table. And with more than 119,000 kids receiving health care through the Maryland Children's Health Program last year, this too, is a critical lifeline.
In 2011, 395,000 hard-working Marylanders claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) on their federal returns. This credit, averaging about $2,200, helps parents buy the necessities from local businesses for the ever-changing needs of their growing children.
Maryland's children are at the edge of the fiscal cliff. Marylanders know it. So do the Maryland lawmakers who have stepped up to protect our children. For instance, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who chairs the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Children and Families, sent a letter to congressional leadership outlining the state of America's children and the need to avoid additional cuts to programs and services that benefit the nation's youngest residents.
The bottom line is this: If Congress fails to avert the fiscal cliff, important anti-poverty improvements to unemployment benefits, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit will automatically be repealed. Doing nothing also triggers automatic cuts to education, nutrition for pregnant women and babies, and other important investments.
But some of the "solutions" proposed to avoid the fiscal cliff would also harm kids. For example, the budget plan passed by the U.S. House of Representatives would restrict kids' access to the Child Tax Credit, make deep cuts to SNAP, and undermine the Maryland Children's Health Program.
That's why it's so important for every Maryland parent to send a clear message to Congress: Don't scapegoat kids. Yes, the federal government has serious budget problems, but kids didn't create them. And denying children an adequate education, health care and child care they need to grow and thrive, basic nutrition, and a way out of poverty — the basic building blocks of successful adult lives — is the wrong way to solve them.
Rebecca Wagner is executive director of Advocates for Children and Youth. Bruce Lesley is president of First Focus Campaign for Children.