Arizona Tosses Its Children Overboard

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Things have changed quite a bit since the Titanic went down. Back then, the men loading the lifeboats on the listing deck of the ship cried: “Women and children first.”

These days, when the Arizona Legislature hollers: “Women and children first,” they’re generally heaving overboard a program intended to help children.

The Payson Town Council last week declared April 22-28 the “Week of the Young Child,” as a way to support groups like First Things First, which uses a voter-approved tobacco tax to provide early childhood services.

That’s nice. Touching even.

Except the Legislature continues to dismantle the state’s already threadbare system for protecting the most vulnerable among us.

A wealth of research suggests that $1 spent on early childhood services yields $4 to $16 in later savings on special education, welfare and juvenile justice costs, according to First Things First.

Yet for another year, Gov. Jan Brewer has proposed deep cuts in children’s services — with the Legislature likely to redouble those cuts.

As perhaps the most glaring example, neither the governor or the Legislature want to provide Child Protective Services with enough money to even investigate all the reports of child abuse and neglect it receives. The Legislature actually wants to cut an additional $45 million out of Brewer’s proposal, despite soaring caseloads.

Moreover, even Brewer’s budget would cut payments to foster parents by 20 percent and eliminate the already pathetic $75 monthly support for grandparents who take on the task of caring for their grandchildren.

The budget adds to sweeping reductions subsidies that have eliminated childcare so working-poor parents can afford to keep their jobs and medical care to keep their children healthy.

The budget also includes additional deep reductions in the state’s welfare program, which gets about 60 percent of its funding from the federal government. Reforms in the 1990s that imposed strict time limits on the mostly single mothers with children who rely on welfare payments dramatically reduced the number of people eligible. The onset of the recession raised warning flags about the impact of those reforms. As unemployment and poverty rates soared, the number of Arizona women and children eligible for welfare actually declined. Now the governor’s budget has proposed eliminating welfare benefits for 20,000 children and cutting payments nearly in half for those who remain, according to an analysis released by the Arizona Association of Food Banks.

Mind you, the Legislature did approve between 2005 and 2011 corporate tax cuts totaling $609 million — enough money to restore all-day kindergarten, all the reductions in children’s health care, all the cuts in child care subsidies and all the money for maintenance, new buildings and supplies cut from the K-12 budget, according to an analysis by the Children’s Action Alliance.

So the next time you attend a candidate’s forum — you might want to ask the lawmaker in question how they would define the phrase: “Women and children first.”

Whatever it takes

The world’s full of big problems, complicated issues, easy excuses. Everything’s all messed up. What’s one little town supposed to do?

Payson could have come up with all kinds of reasons it couldn’t do anything about the cynical way in which pushers have rushed to exploit loopholes in the drug laws.

But we’re not that kind of town.

Consider the way people here dealt with the threat to their children posed by designer drugs like spice.

Clever pushers manufactured the potentially toxic little packets of compounds including synthetic marijuana to evade the lumbering, content-based drug laws. With a cynical sneer, they slapped a “not for human consumption” label on a product that had no other purpose. Then they raked in the profits.

People who care about the kids in this community — even the kids of others — made their hand-lettered protest signs and picketed the stores selling these designer drugs.

Meanwhile, Payson came up with a novel legal approach that bans the sale of any “intentionally misused product.” This will allow Payson Police to act against retailers who sell the packets knowing the kids will use them to get high.

Hopefully, the three remaining retailers will quietly clear their shelves rather than alienate the community on which they rely by staging a legal challenge.

But in the meantime, the people who manned the picket line and the council members who had the courage to act all deserve our gratitude.

No doubt: It is a big mess out there.

What can one town do?

Whatever it takes.

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