by Odysseas Kostas
No one denies the importance of our nation's children, but in light of recent legislation running through Washington, namely the Contract with America, one wonders whether Congress agrees. Of course, closest to home are the cuts to financial aid for higher education, including proposed cuts to such programs as Stafford Loan interest exemption and school interest subsidies. Such cuts would increase student loan indebtedness 20-50% and would result in an estimated $20 billion increase in loan and interest costs over the next five years for US families. But other budget cuts will make it even more difficult for children to grow up, let alone reach a level of higher education. Studies indicate, not unexpectedly, that better academic performance is directly related to a student's nutrition; yet, the House proposes cutting money to school lunches and then giving the remaining money to the states in the form of block grants, 20% of which could be used on things other than school lunches. Such cuts would eliminate a national nutrition standard and would in effect kill school lunches in many states, especially during times of recession, as the block grants do not adjust for recessions, etc., when need is greatest. The national school lunch program is a successful federal program presently feeding about 25 million school children daily. In addition, the Contract with America, which had proposed to cut food stamps entirely, currently proposes legislation that cuts 11% or $16.5 billion. But forty percent of all families below the poverty line work full time, and food stamps are their last resource, the safety net. Presently, of the 27 million people who are on food stamps, slightly more than half are children. Congress punishes these families while the children suffer. Such cuts to welfare would not be so drastic if reasonable alternatives werer put in place to replace the cuts, but there are no real plans to do so. Of course, there are other programs being cut by the House that I have neglected to address, including cuts to Americorps (national public service corps) and to subsidized housing and heating, important especially in the harsh winters of northern states. Also, the public schools must grapple with some of the largest cuts in years. Along with $1.4 billion in cuts of Federal aid to public education, programs including supplemental lessons in math and science, bilingual programs and programs designed to eliminate violence and drugs in schools are on the chopping block. With all these cuts to social programs, the House has proposed to increase defense spending and to implement a series of tax cuts, many for the wealthiest Americans. The poor's pain is balancing the subsidy to the rich presented by cuts in the capital gains tax, lower estate and gift taxes, and more favorable depreciation rules for businesses. The cuts are justified by members of Congress as necessary to trim government spending and reduce the federal debt, but look at their actions and not their words. The latest $17.1 billion dollars recisions are marked to pay for tax cuts, not the deficit, and the House presently plans to pass an additional $200 billion tax cut over the next five years, making it that much harder to balance the budget. There is no shared sacrifice; all the burden falls on the poor.