By Marian Wright Edelman
I hope you will speak up loudly and do whatever else is necessary to stop Congress’ hugely unjust Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that rewards billionaires at the expense of poor babies and corporations at the expense of vulnerable children. Millions of America’s children today are suffering from hunger, homelessness and hopelessness. Nearly 13.2 million children are poor – almost one in five. About 70 percent of them are children of color who will be a majority of our children by 2020. More than 1.2 million are homeless. About 14.8 million children struggle against hunger in food insecure households. Despite progress and coverage of 95 percent of all children thanks in large part to Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), 3.3 million children lack the health coverage they need to survive and thrive. Millions of young children need quality early childhood programs during their critical years of early brain development but only 5 percent of eligible infants and toddlers are enrolled in Early Head Start and Head Start serves only 46 percent of eligible 3- and 4-year-olds. The majority of all our public school fourth and eighth graders cannot read at grade level; over 70 percent of Latino and 80 percent of Black children cannot read at grade level in fourth or eighth grades. Every 47 seconds a child is abused or neglected and the number of children in foster care is increasing rapidly in some parts of our country from out-of-control opioid use.
And what are our callous and morally blind and money greedy political leaders doing to address grim child survival needs in our wealthy nation? Making it worse by seeking to enact tax cuts for billionaires and millionaires and powerful corporations, hugely increasing the national deficit, and imposing emasculating and deep cuts in essential lifegiving investments for children and families. Both the House and Senate are working hard to move millions and millions of low- and middle-income children and families backwards and to line the pockets and fill the coffers of powerful special interests.
The Republican Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R.1) approved by the House of Representatives and the version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that will be voted on in the Senate after Thanksgiving are massively expensive and morally indefensible new giveaways to the wealthiest households and most powerful corporations at the expense of vulnerable children and low- and middle-income families. Countless children will pay for these cruel tax cuts with cuts in their health care, nutrition, child care, education, housing and other survival needs.
Congressional Republican claims that these massive tax cuts will help the middle class are lies. The Joint Congressional Committee on Taxation says more than two thirds of the nearly $1.5 trillion cost of the House bill would go to the wealthiest families and businesses. Families with annual incomes under $75,000 would (on average) see a tax increase in ten years, while families making more than $1 million would see a tax cut.
Although the House and Senate bills include an increase in the maximum Child Tax Credit, both so-called improvements deny benefits for children in low-income working families. Under the House bill, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates one in three families would be excluded entirely or only partially benefit from the increase – ten million children in families that work for low pay would be excluded entirely and roughly 13 million more children in working families would receive only a portion of the increase. And more than three million low-income children, many U.S. citizens, in hard-working immigrant families currently benefitting from the tax credit will lose it entirely with the new requirement that all families file their income taxes with a Social Security Number rather than the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number many taxpaying immigrant families now use.
The House-approved bill also would eliminate a number of existing credits that currently help children and families at the bottom and in the middle of the income range. It ends tax credits or deductions for employers offering child care to working parents; high cost medical treatment for children and adults with severe medical needs; reimbursement for public school teachers who purchase supplies for their classrooms out of their own pockets; student loan interest and other higher education assistance; and help to find jobs. Charitable contributions that help service programs for vulnerable children and families will likely decrease as the percentage of taxpayers who itemize deductions is expected to decline because of changes in the House bill to eligibility for the standard deduction.
It gets worse. Senate Republicans announced last week that they will use their tax bill to continue their cruel efforts to destroy the Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s individual mandate requiring most Americans to purchase health care or pay a penalty as they file their tax returns. This will “save” $338 billion for the rich and leave millions of children and families without health insurance beginning in 2019 and 13 million children and adults without health insurance over the next ten years while raising premiums for millions more. Savings from the mandate’s repeal will threaten treatment and be used to pay for tax cuts of nearly $100,000 a year for the very top 0.1 percent of the income scale. A broad group of health care providers and insurance companies oppose the harms it will cause.
Finally, it is critical to understand that the massive and morally obscene tax cuts in the House and Senate bills will require huge budget cuts in safety net programs for vulnerable children and adults. The $1.5 trillion ten-year deficit both bills will allow will undermine the health and well-being of millions of children and is just Part I of theft from the minds and bodies and spirits and hopes of children. In Part II we will see additional huge cuts in Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, child care and Head Start, education, Pell grants, and other crucial child investments likely to be proposed to pay for welfare for non-needy billionaires and corporate tax cuts. The 2018 budgets proposed by President Trump and those approved by the Senate and the House provide a multilane highway roadmap to eviscerate the basic survival and development needs of millions of babies, children, and youths hungering for hope.
Although polls reflect public skepticism about these unjust tax cuts for the very non-needy rich, Congressional Republicans and the President are recklessly zooming full speed ahead. Every American who believes in fairness must stand up and stop their indefensible massive giveaways to the least needy and richest among us at the expense of the most needy and vulnerable young and old. A recent CBS poll showed 70 percent said Congress should address other issues before passing a tax bill. Over the Thanksgiving recess and for as long as it takes, make sure your voices are strongly heard by the morally bankrupt leaders who have lost any semblance of our nation’s purported commitment to just opportunity for all.
In his last Sunday sermon at Washington National Cathedral, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. retold the parable of the rich man Dives who ignored the poor and sick man Lazarus who came every day seeking crumbs from Dives’ table. Dives went to hell, Dr. King said, not because he was rich but because he did not realize his wealth was his opportunity to bridge the gulf separating him from his brother Lazarus and allowed him to become invisible. Calling for a Poor People's Campaign, Dr. King warned this could happen to America, the richest nation on earth. On the day he was assassinated, he called his mother to give her his next Sunday's sermon title: “Why America May Go to Hell.” He warned that “America is going to hell if we don't use her vast resources to end poverty and make it possible for all of God's children to have the basic necessities of life.” If this horrifically unjust tax bill passes we will be well on our way there!
Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.