Invest in Kids released a report Wednesday charging that projected cuts to children's programs and law enforcement in the federal budget will lead to increased crime and greater social costs in the long run. The group, which is made up of police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, other law enforcement leaders and survivors of violent crime, advocates for social policies shown to prevent crime.
Titled "Congress Proposes Deep Cuts in Programs that Keep Oregon Kids From Becoming Criminals," the report argues that the current budget proposal before the House of Representatives should be rejected.
"This act is a real crime," said Martha Brooks, state director of Fight Crime Invest in Kids. "Quality pre-kindergarten programs, like Head Start, quality child care and after-school programs help kids get the right start in life and become responsible adults instead of criminals."
The report details how the cuts will hurt Oregon programs such as Head Start, funding for community policing, child care support for low-income working families, after-school programs and payments to relatives who take in foster children. It also offers research evidence showing that these programs help prevent children from becoming criminals.
"Economically it makes no sense," Brooks said. "We know that for every dollar spent on these proven programs, we save $3 to $17. But if we don't get to kids early on and prevent them getting into crime, we're going to have more kids sitting in jail.
"If we don't set wise priorities now and pay for smart investments that steer children away from crime, we will pay dearly later in crime costs and in victims' lives."
Republican House leaders have had trouble passing the budget reconciliation bill, which aims to save $50 billion by cutting a range of social programs, because many Republicans have opposed it. Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith, for example, at first refused to support the budget bill, but voted in favor after Senate Republican leaders removed some of the most controversial provisions — including drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and certain cuts to the food stamp and Medicaid programs.
However, the House version of the bill included the cuts to food stamp and other safety net programs. Now, as the Thanksgiving recess approaches, House leaders plan to hold the bill until Saturday, Nov. 19.
"The bill is still very much on the table," said John Sciamanna, senior governmental affairs associate for the Child Welfare League of America. "They are trying to get the votes to pass these cuts."
One of the main areas of concern in the Fight Crime Invest in Kids report is a proposed $600 million cut to federal foster care programs. The cut reverses a California court decision that guaranteed foster care benefits to grandparents and other relatives who take in abused and neglected children. Under the proposed change, if a child's parents were not living in poverty when he was removed from the home, relatives who want to foster the child will not qualify for the benefit — even if they have low incomes themselves.
"This very definitely will affect relatives with foster kids," Sciamanna said. "States will have to make a decision whether or not to support these families — and kinship families don't get enough support as it is. It basically will undercut efforts to increase kinship care."
Nationally child welfare agencies have been trying to increase the number of foster children who go to relatives — or kinship care, as it is known. Kinship care is considered one of the best permanent options for children and a crucial factor in improving outcomes, particularly for Black and Native American children, who are overrepresented in the child welfare system.
"What reason have we to keep the child with grandparents when the money is not there to support them," Brooks said. "Imagine being 5 years old or 4 years old and being sent to somebody you don't even know."
View the full report at fightcrime.org/or/index.php.
Call your U.S. Representative or talk to them over the Veterans Day weekend when they may be back at home. You can contact your representative in Washington, D.C. by calling the U.S. Capitol switchboard, 202-225-3121.
Sen. Gordon Smith's D.C. number: 202-224-3753
Sen. Ron Wyden's D.C. number: 202-224-5244