Last month, a private task force of physicians and public health experts released the results of an intensive 10-month study on hunger in America. The finding was that an estimated 20 million people go hungry at least two days a month, either because they do not get food stamps or because they run out of them before the end of the month.
J. Larry Brown of the Harvard School of Public Health, who is chairman of the Physician Task Force on Hunger in America, said at the time that the task force believes "hunger in America is a public health epidemic" and that $5 billion to $7 billion in increased government funds could wipe out the problem. The task force, which visited hundreds of poor families, found numerous cases of empty shelves in kitchens and failure to thrive among babies. A Chicago area hospital official said that he sees 15 to 20 cases every year of severe nutritional diseases usually seen only in Third World countries.
Last week, the Children's Defense Fund, an advocacy group based here, released its analysis of President Reagan's fiscal year 1986 budget and outlined in detail the state of hunger, health and welfare among children and the effects past, current and projected budget cuts would have on their circumstances. It is not a pretty picture, although it is one that is getting conveniently lost in the great move to curb the federal deficit.
Citing the 1982 Maine Child Death Study, the CDF says poverty is the greatest child killer in America, claiming more than 10,000 lives compared with 8,000 deaths in traffic accidents, 3,000 from cancer, 1,800 from heart disease and 1,200 from suicide. It projects that 22,000 babies will die, primarily because of low birth weight, between 1985 and 1990, but one in eight of them could be saved through proper prenatal care. In 1982, nearly 200,000 babies were born to women who had late or no prenatal care, and they are three times more likely to suffer from low birth weight than babies whose mothers receive proper medical and nutritional attention during pregnancy.
Using data from the Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control, the Health Care Finance Administration and the Michigan Panel on Income Dynamics, the CDF reported that there are 13.3 million poor children in America, 3.3 million more than in 1979 which is a 33 percent increase. One in four children will be on welfare at some point in his or her life, with an average benefit of $3.67 per person per day, 53 percent below the poverty level. Nearly half of 12 million children growing up in female-headed households are poor; 300,000 fewer poor children are covered by Medicaid than six years ago and two out of every three poor children have no regular health insurance. Half of all black preschool children are not fully immunized against DPT and polio.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development found that 22 percent of the people in homeless shelters (not including runaway houses) are children under 18. HUD's lowest estimate is that 66,000 children are currently living without permanent housing.
The CDF estimates that poor children and their families will lose $5.2 billion in fiscal 1986, in addition to $10 million in cuts made each year since 1980. The cuts are proposed in state grants for child abuse prevention, maternal and child nutrition programs, food stamps, Medicaid, and Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Late last week, the Senate Budget Committee voted an estimated $700 million cut in child nutrition programs for fiscal 1986, a figure that will rise to $1 billion in subsequent years.
The Congressional Research Service projected that these cuts would result in 12 million children having to pay more for school lunches, and that 18,000 schools would be at risk of dropping out of the school lunch program, with 5 million children no longer able to receive the subsidized or free lunches as a result.
These grim statistics paint a scenario that is simply unconscionable, particularly if weighed against the waste and abuse of taxpayers' money by the Pentagon and defense contractors that have been going on for years.
The tradition on the high seas was women and children into the lifeboats first. Now, the lifeboats are literally being taken away, while the Pentagon and defense contractors sit at the captain's table. Taxpayers' money is going to finance political contributions from defense contractors and trips to the kennel for their dogs, and scams with surplus goods, while the deficit is being balanced at the expense of children who are being deprived of food, health care and shelter.