Dear Mr. President:
According to the most recent federal data, more than 13.2 million children — one in five — live in poverty; six million live in extreme poverty; 14.8 million children live in food-insecure households; more than one million homeless children are in our schools; 3.9 million children still lack health insurance; the majority of public school students of all races cannot read or compute at grade level; nearly 700,000 children are abused and/or neglected; nearly 50,000 children are in juvenile justice facilities or adult jails and prisons; and 3,128 children and teens were killed with a gun in 2016, enough to fill 156 classrooms of 20 children.
All these distressing outcomes disproportionately affect children of color who will be the majority of children in our country by 2020 and already are the majority of our children under five. Ensuring high quality foundations for them must be a top national priority.
These children will lead our nation forward if we ensure them a healthy, head, fair and safe start in life and successful transition to adulthood.
It is a national disgrace that children are the poorest Americans and that the younger they are the poorer they are. The Children’s Defense Fund’s new report, The State of America’s Children 2017, details the immoral, costly and preventable poverty, homelessness, hunger, health problems, poor education, and violence plaguing millions of children who deserve better.
We highlight that the United States, with the most billionaires and the highest gross domestic product among the 35 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, ranks a shameful 32nd among these countries for income inequality, meaning the U.S. has one of the largest gaps between rich and poor.
Your 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act rewarded wealthy individuals and corporations and it is now urgent for you to attend to “the least of these” — our children, our future workers, military personnel, and leadership pool. We urge you to reject policies that worsen hardships for struggling hungry and homeless children and families and stop cutting or adding restrictive eligibility requirements to programs of proven effectiveness that protect our poorest children and families.
They deserve help not cuts or bureaucratic barriers. They should be helped to move forward with hope not pushed deeper into deprivation and despair.
We need new investments in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to fight hunger no child deserves, in affordable housing to escape the overseers of cold and instability, in quality child care and Head Start to ensure children have a chance to start school ready to succeed, in quality education to ensure they are ready for college and work, in safe avoidance of the child welfare and juvenile justice systems whenever possible, and in family-like community care when placement becomes necessary.
Investments in each of these areas can help strengthen children’s futures and enable them to contribute to America’s future. I also urge you to commit to substantially increasing investments in the opioid crisis ravaging families and children’s futures that could set countless way of our vulnerable young back decades.
Finally, I urge you to recommit to supporting a bipartisan legislative fix for the futures of the nearly 800,000 Dreamers whose lives have been enriched by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program and are now threatened with deportation, and that extends to other Dreamers along with a path to citizenship.
The words of one Dreamer captures the sentiment of many. He learned at age 14 when he was denied a work permit that he was not a citizen because he came to our country with his parents at age five: “It was very hard dealing with,” he said, “because I always saw myself to be an American. It killed me inside.”
But when DACA was created, “I felt like I was finally accepted.” Now without DACA, “for me personally, my voice would be taken away. My dreams would be shattered.” We are a nation of immigrants and the DACA protections and other protections for Dreamers must be preserved.
A nation that does not stand for children does not stand for anything and will not stand blameless before God when asked to account for every sacred child entrusted to our care and protection.
Marian Wright Edelman is founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund.
For more information about the Children’s Defense Fund or see www.childrensdefense.org.