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President Obama Goes on Record on Child Poverty

Missing From This Election
Irwin Redlener, MD, Co-founder and President

With 22% of children in America living in poverty, millions regularly go hungry and struggle for access to medical care and early education programs.  And these adversities may interfere with optimal brain growth in early childhood and learning impediments during school years. That’s why I have been helping organize an effort involving six of the nation’s leading child advocates to give voice to this critical issue.

As part of this effort, we wrote President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney last month to ask what they intended to do from the White House – short-term and long-term – to address the extraordinary challenges of kids stuck in multiple adversities of persistent poverty.

While the Romney campaign has informed us that they would not respond in writing to our request, we recently received a reply from the Obama campaign delineating what the president has done and will continue to do in terms of the safety net programs and new initiatives.

In his response, President Obama cites his administration’s record on addressing poverty over the course of his first term, including:

  • The Recovery Act, which “kept nearly 7 million people out of poverty in 2010, including 2.5 million children, by expanding Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, enacting the Making Work Pay tax credit, and supporting unemployment insurance and supplemental nutrition assistance.”
  • Signing “legislation expanding the successful Children’s Health Insurance Program.”
  • The passage of Obamacare – the Affordable Care Act – which “will help all Americans not only obtain health care coverage but also become more secure in the coverage they have. Because of the law, 14 million children have seen their coverage for preventive care – like well-child visits and immunizations – expanded, and insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions. Starting in 2014, all Americans will have access to affordable coverage for their family, and 30 million Americans are expected to gain insurance as a result.”

Going forward, the Obama campaign indicates that, if reelected, the president will continue to invest in “high-quality early learning programs – including: Head Start, public and private pre-K, and child care” – and also encouraging “ states to raise their standards so all children have access to a quality education.”

In response to our question:  “What will you pledge to do in your first 100 days to address childhood poverty?” the president stated that he:

  • “is committed to reforming the tax code to prevent a tax increase on families making less than $250,000 a year, including an extension of the tax cuts for working families included in the Recovery Act.”
  • has “proposed steps in the American Jobs Act that will accelerate the recovery and create nearly 1 million jobs” as well as “help states keep up to 325,000 teachers.”
  • will “continue efforts to invest in early childhood education and to reform these programs to strengthen their quality.”

Finally, in response to our question about his long-term vision for how to permanently ensure that future generations of children will not have to face the specter of crushing poverty, President Obama replied that he “would reform our schools and invest more in them” and underscored the need to “transform high-poverty neighborhoods with distressed public housing and crumbling schools into communities that are sustainable for the growth of our children.”

Among the initiatives he cites for achieving these goals are:

  • “waiving the worst parts of No Child Left Behind for states and districts committed to reform.”
  • the Choice Neighborhoods programs to address housing, crime, and transportation in order to bring comprehensive neighborhood revitalization to blighted areas.”
  • “the Promise Neighborhoods program, modeled after the successful Harlem Children’s Zone, where 37 communities in 18 different states already have plans in place to put education at the center of combating poverty.”
  • “ Project Rebuild [which] will create 200,000 jobs by rehabilitating homes and stabilizing home prices in hard-hit neighborhoods.”

Given that children in poverty have not been on the agenda, in any visible way, during the long and intense campaign for the presidency, we are gratified as a group to have received this response.  But before this election has run its course, we – and all Americans – need to hear more from both candidates.

I’ll be in the audience for the second debate between Obama and Romney on Tuesday, October 16 at Hofstra University where I hope the candidates will be asked about their plans to combat child poverty. I know you’ll be watching closely as well.