I wonder what children are thinking about the Presidential race between Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale. Not much, you may say. But the ten and eleven year olds who interviewed politicians at the Democratic and Republican Conventions this summer for their newspaper, “Children’s Express,” told me that maybe grown-ups should start asking.
It would be nice to have the treatment of children by government and corporations become an issue. After all, national politicians talk about the future, which is what their promises are about. But they rarely talk about the federal government’s inactions or actions which directly affect millions of the little one’s health, safety and education.
Up in New Jersey recently, I found parents up in arms about asbestos exposure in their children’s schools. Then in late September, a federal official told a Congressional Committee that there was no intention to spend any money to help school districts around the country remove or contain the asbestos. This same government forgave $12 billion in deferred taxes to the likes of General Electric and Boeing earlier this summer. However, two or three hundred million dollars a year to prevent cancer later in children’s lives (and create some important jobs) was not deemed prudent.
Down in Texas, I came across findings by a state Senate subcommittee that the demand for emergency food assistance has increased 300 percent in Texas since 1980-81. Hunger, nearly licked during the Seventies by federal food programs, is coming back in the U.S.A. Children are major victims. Not coincidentally, school lunch, breakfast and infant nutrition programs have been cut hurtfully for those eligible families.
“Our children come first,” asserted Ronald Reagan in his 1984 State of the Union message. Really? In wealthy, food-rich, advanced America, 13 million children are living in poverty, three million of them added since 1979. Children make up 40 percent of those who are poor. One in two black children lives below the poverty line. About 2.4 million children are in families with incomes under $3,000 a year. Nine million children have no regular source of health care and 18 million youngsters have never seen a dentist.
Certainly, the federal government bears a little responsibility for not alleviating some of these abysmal conditions. Since 1981, Mr. Reagan has proposed cutting over $26 billion from child and family support programs. He even asked Congress to delete $6 million from the tiny inoculation program for children.
Though Congress has resisted some of these callous proposals, it was not able to stop the White House from delaying for nearly two years the infant formula quality control requirements, or from bowing to the aspirin manufacturers who opposed a warning on the aspirin bottle that children with flu or chicken pox are susceptible to a risk of Reyes Syndrome if they are given aspirin.
In 1981, Mr. Reagan’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wanted to weaken the lead standard while knowing full well about the devastating impact lead poisoning has on young children’s minds and bodies. A few weeks ago, in an election year, EPA changed its mind to propose tightening the standard.
Mr. Reagan wanted to eliminate the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which recalls dangerous products and sets standards for household products to further child safety. He has recommended abolishing or reducing funding for 11 federal programs for neglected, abused, homeless and emotionally disturbed children. Yet he still funds, with huge payouts, reckless, mismanaged or corrupt defense contractors and giant banks, as part of his diverse aid program to dependent corporations.
Mr. Reagan is said to be a nice, friendly fellow, but his government wants to repeal the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. Congress said no, but cuts have resulted in over 4 million handicapped children receiving delayed or reduced services.
Mr. Reagan is said to be a nice, friendly fellow, but child care support for working parents has been reduced by 21 percent and nutrition programs for child care centers were cut by 30 percent.
One wonders what Mr. Reagan would do if he were not such a nice, friendly fellow.