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Montana's future depends on a balanced approach


While our nation's capital is embroiled in the debate over the federal budget, new poverty data shows just how vulnerable our children and communities are in these tough economic times.

Three million more American children have joined the ranks of the impoverished in the last decade, according to the latest census data. More than one out of every five children now lives in poverty. Here in Montana, kids are among those losing ground in their standard of living, health care, and nutrition. Montana's child poverty rate rose from 17 percent in 2000 to 21 percent in 2009, while our infant mortality rate and low-birthweight baby rate increased at rates much higher than the national average.

Investing in the future of our children and our communities is part of our social fabric as a state and county. We have built quality public schools, made health care more accessible to low- and moderate-income kids and invested in support services so that families can meet their basic needs. We have spent decades building public structures that strive to keep all children safe, provide opportunity, and a give them a chance for a better future.

And when times get tough, as they are now, it is more important than ever to stand up and continue to prioritize these crucial investments we have made in our kids and fight for what we have built together. The choices President Obama and Congress make in the next few weeks will affect millions of children and families for decades to come.

To address the nation's debt crisis, Congress has already approved $1 trillion in budget cuts. Most of this will come in non-defense "discretionary" spending, which will likely disproportionately affect services for those who are lower-income. To find another $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction, Congress created a 12-member "Super Committee." In Montana, we are fortunate because our own Sen. Max Baucus has been appointed to that committee and has been committed to continuing our investment in the future of Montana's children.

Senator Baucus has been clear that in order to reach over $1 trillion in deficit reduction, revenue must be part of that package and those who can afford to pay more, should. "Putting the full load of deficit reduction on seniors, veterans and middle class families … when the wealthiest can afford to pay a little more, simply doesn't make sense … It does make sense to allow these lower tax rates for the wealthiest in our society to expire, rather than making major cuts to Social Security or Medicare."

However, other members of this committee are already drawing a line in the sand, saying that revenues cannot be part of the solution. Relying solely on budget cuts means that we preserve corporate tax loopholes and tax breaks for the rich at the expense of children and families.

Cutting services such as Medicaid, early childhood education, school lunches, K-12 education, Pell grants, hunger relief and child care — or reducing the impact of the Child Tax Credit or the Earned Income Tax Credit, will chip away at the crucial investments that we have made in the health, education, safety and future of our kids.

Cuts at the federal level will also lead to cuts here in Montana. The vital services supported by this funding are provided by hard-working Montanans, small businesses, and service providers that create jobs. These are the folks who work at the day care centers, community health clinics and senior centers in every community in the state.

Our nation's budget is a reflection of our values. Supporting family values means supporting children and families and the services that support them.

We ask Senator Baucus to continue his leadership on the "Super Committee" in advocating for a balanced approach that includes new revenue. We urge him to ensure every dollar in cuts is offset by at least one dollar in revenue. With so much at stake for the health, welfare, and future of our children and our communities, Senator Baucus must demand that if there is no revenue, then there is no deal.

(Olivia Riutta, State Outreach Director, Montana Women Vote, Alan Houseman, Chairman, Children's Leadership Council, and Kristina Davis, Montana State Director, Children's Defense Fund.)


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