When President George W. Bush released his $3.1 trillion Fiscal Year 2009 Federal Budget on Feb. 4, it was a clear statement that he has far less regard for our nation's children than for the richest most powerful Americans and far more interest in waging war than in waging peace. Permanent tax cuts for the richest Americans and increased war spending are the anchors of this White House budget.
The Federal Budget is not just a spending plan, it reflects our nation's deepest priorities. Even a cursory analysis of President Bush's spending proposal reveals a failure in many areas to construct a budget that protects the well-being of children in low- to middle-income families. Today 12.8 million children live in poverty, an increase of 1.2 million children since the president took office. If adopted by Congress, the Administration's budget threatens to increase the number of children in America who are poor, uninsured, and lack access to quality early childhood and education programs.
President Bush's plan would cut the budget for Medicaid, the frontline program that makes health care accessible to the nation's poorest children. And while the President did propose a larger but still woefully small five-year increase in the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) than he did last year, it is still not enough even to cover all currently enrolled children, much less make program improvements or enroll any of the more than 9.4 million uninsured children in America—whose numbers have increased by over one million in the past two years. President Bush proposes to eliminate the Emergency Medical Services for Children program, which supports the nation's nearly 60 independent children's teaching hospitals as well as the Children's Graduate Medical Education program, which trains 4,700 pediatricians and pediatric subspecialists according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
In addition to tens of billions of dollars in cuts to vital programs, the president's budget also calls for increased restrictions on state efforts to cover uninsured children. Last summer, without congressional approval, the Bush Administration changed the SCHIP and Medicaid rules for providing health coverage to children with family incomes that exceed 250 percent of the federal poverty level ($53,000 for a family of four). This was a backdoor effort to circumvent the congressional legislative process and reduce federal support for children's health coverage.
In his current budget proposal, Mr. Bush seeks to extend these harmful new rules to more children and prohibit states from providing health coverage to uninsured children in families with incomes that exceed 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($42,400 a year for a family of four) unless certain unrealistic conditions are met. Among these conditions is a requirement that states assure specific levels of employer-sponsored health coverage—something that state officials have no authority to regulate. States would also be required to impose a 12-month waiting period before enrolling a child in SCHIP, without any exceptions—even parental loss of employment or death. These changes would affect at least 26 states that already cover children above 200 percent of the poverty level.
The Bush budget assaults vital nutrition programs for children. This is the fourth year in a row President Bush has proposed changes that would eliminate Food Stamps for more than 300,000 people in low-income families with children, according to the Food Research and Action Center. His budget plan does not include enough funding to meet the expected needs of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). For the third year in a row, the President proposes to eliminate funding for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program that would halt the distribution in an average month of nutritious food packages to more than 473,000 low-income mothers, children under age six, and seniors.
The president's budget would cut funding for other basic needs such as the Section 8 housing voucher program, a rent subsidy for low-income families.
The president's proposed addition of $149 million for Head Start will not meet projected increased costs, let alone provide funding for the hundreds of thousands of children who are eligible for Head Start but are not in the program. And his raise for Pell Grants will not keep pace with the skyrocketing costs of a college education.
Taken as a whole, President Bush's budget plan is a profound rejection of our nation's most vulnerable children. When he requests $675 billion for overall military spending in fiscal year 2009, an 11 percent increase over this year, but can't ensure that children from low-income families have basic nutrition, health care and quality education, it's time for President Bush to rethink his budget priorities.
Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children's Defense Fund