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"It's an Accounting Issue!"

Balancing the Budget by Starving the Students

by CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI

Republicans have begun describing how the United States of America at the state and national level can become a better place by spending a lot less money and not raising taxes. Congress took the first step at the end of 2010 when it dealt with the tax law. It decided to extend income tax rates in effect in 2010 for another 24 months, a benefit for rich and poor alike, although in absolute dollars the rich benefitted somewhat more than the poor. Those earning $10 million who file joint returns will pay approximately $368,794 less than if the existing law had not been extended and those earning $1 million will save approximately $29,962. Those earning $60,000 will pay $1118.40 less and those earning $20,000 save $51.60. An incidental benefit of the legislation went to the unemployed who were given an additional thirteen months of unemployment benefits. Lower taxes for the rich were extended beyond the time benefits were paid the unemployed because the rich became rich because of hard work and many members of Congress must think if the unemployed worked as hard at seeking employment as the rich did at becoming rich they’d be employed within 13 months. Other ways money is saved are becoming apparent at the state and national level.

Colorado, a state with a large budget shortfall, has given low-income students the opportunity to participate in helping the state ameliorate its financial crisis by foregoing free breakfasts. As a result these students will, (unless the entire legislature overrules the actions of its Joint Budget Committee), forego free breakfast and begin paying $.30 each day for it, thus participating in a meaningful way in helping the state out of its financial bind. The Joint Budget Committee acted even though there was $253,547 available from previous years when the program, known as the Smart Nutrition Program, came in under budget. One of the Republican lawmakers objected to the fact that Democrats were saying Republicans didn’t care about children. She said: “We care about the children. It’s not a moral issue, it’s an accounting issue.” That explanation will help relieve hunger pangs felt by the young who are no longer getting free breakfasts.

The Colorado decision was made during the same week that Sargent Shriver died. It was a bit ironic. Among Mr. Shriver’s many accomplishments was the creation of the Headstart Programs. As Bob Herbert observed in a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times commenting on Mr. Shriver’s many accomplishments: “In 1964, as leader of the Office of Economic Opportunity in the Johnson administration, Mr. Shriver came across studies that showed connections between poor nutrition, lower I.Q. scores and arrested social and emotional development. He wondered whether early childhood intervention ‘could have a beneficial effect on the children of poor people.’ Head Start followed in incredibly short order.” The Colorado Joint Budget Committee’s action was not the only irony in the week that Sargent Shriver died. The report of house conservatives in the U.S. Congress was another.

The Republican Study Committee wants to bring domestic agency budgets down to 2006 levels which is about a $175 billion cut from current levels. The White House said that if cuts of that magnitude were imposed by Congress, 400,000 children would be forced from Head Start programs. One of Headstart’s concerns is for nutrition for young children. Children in a part-day center based setting must receive meals and snacks that provide at least 1/3 of their daily nutritional needs and those in full-day programs must receive ½ to 2/3 of their daily nutritional needs, depending on the length of the program. Children in morning based centers who arrive not having eaten breakfast must be given a nourishing breakfast. That is only a brief description of the requirements pertaining to nutritional services that Head Start programs must address. If the Committee’s recommendations are adopted, 400,000 small children will participate in democracy in just the same way that Colorado children are participating.

It is not only young children who are given the opportunity to participate in democracy in action. Post secondary education students are given a similar opportunity. The committee’s recommendation would reduce Pell Grants for low-income college students by an average of $1,000.

A suggestion that Pell Grants be reduced comes at a time when tuition for students throughout the country is rising. According to a report in the New York Times, tuition at the University of South Carolina has doubled in the last ten years. California has raised tuition by 30 percent in the last two years. Texas legislators have proposed eliminating financial aid for freshmen. The net effect of those changes will be to deprive many of the less fortunate students the opportunity to get an education.

It is a strange Congress and legislature that protects a country’s future by taking money from programs that nourish undernourished children and makes it more difficult for its older children to receive an education.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a lawyer living in Boulder, Colorado. He can be e-mailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu.