Youth Deplore U.S. Budget Cuts

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The budget fight is not over.  As the summer winds down, the next few weeks are critical.  In April, Congress passed a budget resolution that will cut critical services for vulnerable children while giving extravagant tax benefits to the wealthiest Americans.  Over the past four years Congress has bestowed $5.1 trillion in tax cuts that benefit the most affluent among us most.  Now Congress wants to provide another $106 billion in tax cuts that will go overwhelmingly to the wealthy.  At the same time that the rich are getting more huge tax breaks, the federal deficit is at an all time high as is the gap between rich and poor and child poverty and infant mortality have increased.  And the same leaders who want to give more government welfare to billionaires and millionaires are proposing budget cuts and freezes to crucial children and family health care, food stamps, child care, and housing programs. We only have until mid-September to convince Congress that this is the wrong choice for our children and for our nation and I hope you will let them hear from you.

Some of the best experts on how these budget cuts would affect children and youths are youths themselves.  At a New York City Youth Speak Out and Hearing sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund-New York, two New York City Council Members, and twenty co-sponsoring groups, young people from across the city spoke about how the proposed budget cuts could affect them—especially cuts to after-school programs that help many of them gain leadership skills and stay out of trouble.  These programs are so critical to keeping children out of the cradle-to-prison pipeline, and the youths’ oral and written testimonies make clear how much these supports meant to them.  Here are just a few of their statements:
Eighteen-year-old senior Dominice said the after-school program she had been attending for almost eleven years had given her crucial stability: “After-school programs are our homes away from homes…a place where children can better themselves and help find out who they are…This program has helped me through my changes in life.  I was in the 9th and 10th grade when I started cutting and going through many family issues, but thanks to the social workers I changed my ways for the best.  I am now a B student and receiving many honors for my leadership skills.â€?

Sixteen-year-old Bronx sophomore Andre told the audience that since he began attending an after-school program, “a lot has changed for me. I am coming from a neighborhood where a lot of youth are either in a gang or selling or even using drugs.  I feel that these programs make it possible for kids like us to stay out of trouble and keep our minds focused on what counts, school.  These programs have a lot to offer.  They have teachers, great understanding faculty…all in all, who wouldn’t want to go them and why would you want to take them away?â€?   

Charles, a freshman from Harlem, explained that positive programs could make the difference in giving his friends the opportunity he had. “I’m here because I’m getting tired of seeing my cousins and friends on my block doing nothing but selling weed and any other type of drug they could get their hands on.  If there were more summer jobs, after-school [programs], and other inspiring organizations, most of the people would be in safe environments doing what they have to do to be a successful person.  But I’m a lucky one.  My whole block is looking at me and saying, that young man is doing what he has to do to bust his grades out.â€?

“We are the future—that’s what I hear every day,â€? said 16-year-old Kyasia, “and then I hear how they are cutting the budget for us.  My mom does not have that much money to pay for my health insurance and things like that.  And where will I go after school?  I don’t want to be like the rest of the girls I know…having babies without even finishing school.â€?

Brooklyn’s 20 year old Jasbir gave one of the most forceful testimonies of the day:  “I was a prime example of what happens when the government stops investing in our future. If you saw how I was brought up you would probably hate the government funders for pulling the programs that occupy after-school hours.  By having no place to go, I resorted to the street.  Thank God that one of the few programs the government still funds was [the after-school program he eventually attended] because without them I would have been dead…We deserve to keep programs alive in communities that are at risk.  I feel as though the cause of youths being incarcerated and being re-incarcerated is the lack of after-school funding.  Please, help save your future, because by saving the next generation, you save the world.â€?

Is Jasbir right?  To add your voice to his and the other youths’ here, call your Members of Congress toll-free today at 1 (888) 233-1221 and tell them, “STOP providing tax breaks for the rich at the expense of funding for programs that serve vulnerable children and youth!â€? 

United, the young people who testified at the Speak Out and hearing prompted one of the sponsoring City Council members, Gale A. Brewer, to introduce a resolution that "condemns the federal budget resolution...for failing to protect essential interests of families and children, and calls on Congress to take the actions necessary to ensure the survival of critical programs that preserve the well-being of New York's children and their families.â€?   United, we can still stop Congress from making the wrong choice!  Call or e-mail your Senators today.

Marian Wright Edelman is CEO and Founder of the Children's Defense Fund

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