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The Texas Vote On Children’s Issues BY JENNIFER WONG W RILE BABY kissing and kin dergarten visits seem to be stan dard campaign fare, the image can be deceptive. Take Senator Phil Gramm, for instance. The Children’s Defense Fund recently graded members of Congress on their commitment to children’s issues during the 1990 fiscal year. Gramm flunked. On seven bills affecting children, the Republican Senator voted contrary to the Children’s Defense Fund position in all but two instances one abstention and one vote to appropriate funds to children’s programs. In comparison, Senator Lloyd Bentsen had a flawless report card. Despite much rhetoric about family values, Republicans across the board look like grinches. In the House, where members’ votes were tallied on eight bills affecting children, half of the Republicans scored perfect zeros: Representatives Jack Fields of Humble, Larry Combest of Lubbock, Tom DeLay of Sugar Land, and Dick Armey of Copper Canyon. The others were just a vote away from zero. Representative Joe Barton of Ennis, with 25 percentage points out of 100, was the leader in his party’s delegation. In Children 1990: A Report Card, Briefing Book, and Action Primer, the Children’s Defense Fund used voting records to analyze the problems confronted by children in the United States. For the report card, it monitored votes on bills such as: Raising the minimum wage from $3.35 to $4.55 over three years, with a limited training wage for inexperienced workers. The Children’s Defense Fund supported this bill because the current minimum wage keeps many families below the poverty level. Adopting a budget resolution with priority funding for child care, Head Start, Medicaid, and other child health and welfare programs. Transferring any excess funds from the Strategic Defense Initiative “Star Wars” program to programs under the AntiDrug Abuse Act of 1988 a bill the Children’s Defense Fund supported. While none of the Texas Democrats received a score of zero, some conservative Democratic House Members were rated as Jennifer Wong is an Observer editorial intern. low as the Republicans most notably Representative Ralph Hall of Rockwall, who voted contrary to the Children’s Defense Fund position in all but one instance. Represent a tives Charles Stenholm of Avoca and J. Marvin Leath of Waco both scored 38. On the other end of the voting spectrum, the Children’s Defense Fund lauded Representatives Henry Gonzalez of San Antonio, las, and Jack Brooks of Beaumont for impeccable records. Newcomer Pete Geren of Fort Worth, who was not yet a member of Congress while most of the monitored votes were under consideration, received a score of 100 based on three votes. Representatives Albert Bustamante of San Antonio and Jim Chapman of Sulphur Springs were both just a vote away from perfect scores. Despite the pro-children voting records of a few members, Congress, according to the Children’s Defense Fund, fails to meet the needs of the country’s youth. The United States is the wealthiest country in the world, yet that is not evident in child health care, welfare, and education particularly among minority groups. According to Children’s Defense Fund statistics: The United States, with an infant mortality rate “of 10 per 1,000 children in 1988, ranked behind 18 other nations, including Singapore, Spain, and Ireland. In a 1979-1982 study on childhood poverty in eight industrialized countries, the United States was last, behind Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, West Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. The U.S. child poverty rate of 17.1 percent was two to three times higher than those of most of the countries studied. The United States student-to-teacher ratio tries, including Libya, East Germany, Lebanon, and Cuba. The Children’s Defense Fund argues that in a country that has already provided more than $164 billion to bail out the savings and loan industry, such shortcomings are not only unnecessary, but offensive. It estimated that, based on 1988 figures, eliminating poverty in the United States would cost $53.8 billion one percent of the gross national product. Yet the government failed to scrape together even $1.2 billion that had been requested for child care for fiscal year 1990. In a Washington Post article published last year, former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker noted that the United States can afford to meet its pressing domestic needs: “It’s a question of attitude, not of economics. You can afford what you think you really need within limits. And I don’t think we’ve reached those limits.” Even in economic terms, neglecting children’s issues is shortsighted. The Defense Fund listed 12 programs in which an investment now would reduce future expenses. For instance, the Chapter 1 Compensatory Education program provides remedial education in reading and mathematics for disadvantaged students -a boost that can keep a child from falling behind in school. Therefore, investing $600 to provide a child with a year of remedial education can save $4,000 in the cost of a single repeated grade. Also, the Children’s Defense Fund contends that every dollar spent on childhood immunization programs saves $10 in later medical costs. While the United States ranks below many other industrialized countries on issues of children’s health and welfare, Texas falls below even the low national standard, with a few exceptions. According to Children’s Defense Fund findings, Texas is adequately lowering its rates in infant mortality, teen pregnancy, and high school dropouts. In 1978, for instance, the Texas infant mortality rate was 14.3 per 1,000 live births in 1978. In 1987, it was 9.1. But Texas fails in more areas than it excels, including prenatal care, child poverty, housing affordability, and youth employment. Between 1979 and 1985, the percentage of children living in poverty actually increased by 25 percent, from 18.7 to 23.3. The Children’s Defense Fund judged that most of the Texas state programs aiding children are inadequate, from Medicaid and AFDC \(Aid fits, to child-support collection efforts. Leslie Lanham, associate director of the Texas office of the Children’s Defense Fund, says the state has made improvements during the past few years. But Texas, like the rest of the United States, still has a long way to go. “We know the programs that would make a difference, and do make a difference, but we’re not putting our resources into them,” she says. “In the long run, it’s going to hurt us.” 0 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11 9, ,99919 ate