Pan-Methodist bishops take concern for children to capital
NOTE: Photographs are available with this report.
By Joretta Purdue*
Methodist Bishop Violet Fisher of the church’s New York West Area
raises concerns about the lack of programs to serve poor children in
rural settings. She was among a group of United Methodist and Christian
Methodist Episcopal bishops who visited Washington July 30 to learn
about and advocate for children’s issues. Mark Harrison, staff executive
with the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, helped
facilitate the meeting at the United Methodist Building in Washington.
Later, the bishops walked across the street to talk with the aides of
several senators. UMNS photo by Joretta Purdue. Photo number 03-265,
Accompanies UMNS story #389, 8/1/03
No Long Caption Available for this Story
George Bashore, Marshall Gilmore and Ronald Cunningham listen to
discussion about issues facing children in poverty during a July 30
visit to the United Methodist Building in Washington. Bashore, of
Pittsburgh, is United Methodist. Gilmore, of Dallas, and Cunningham, of
Memphis, Tenn., are Christian Methodist Episcopal. A UMNS photo by
Joretta Purdue. Photo number 03-266 Accompanies UMNS #389, 8/1/03
No Long Caption Available for this Story
WASHINGTON (UMNS) - Children's Defense Fund staff
have urged a group of Methodist bishops to speak out on several pieces
of legislation in Congress that would affect poor children.
is a "most dangerous time" for poor children in terms of legislation in
Congress, said Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the
Children's Defense Fund. "People are not aware of the systematic,
across-the-board war against children."
The bishops, representing
the Commission on Pan-Methodist Cooperation's Children in Poverty
initiative, met July 30 with children's fund officials. The commission
comprises representatives from the African Methodist Episcopal, African
Methodist Episcopal Zion, Christian Methodist Episcopal and United
Methodist churches. Members of the first two denominations were unable
to participate in the delegation.
Edelman and other children's
fund staff discussed concerns about legislation affecting the Head
Start, child tax credit and welfare-to-work programs.
previous week, the House of Representatives passed by one vote a bill
that would change the funding and management of Head Start, which helps
children from low-income families prepare for elementary school.
Water Boots of the children's fund noted that the bill originated from a
White House request that the whole program be funded by block grants to
the states. This, she said, would take away the federal standards. The
proposal was scaled down to include no more than eight states as a test,
but Boots said as many as half the children in Head Start could be
affected, depending on the states chosen. A waiver provision could also
increase the number of states beyond eight.
Block grants would
disrupt the decades-long federal-to-local funding pattern that has been
an important part of maintaining standards and accountability, Boots
said. It would also make the money vulnerable to other needs in
hard-pressed state budgets, she said.
New bills were introduced
in the Senate July 28 and 29 to offer alternatives, and senators are
trying to be bipartisan in order to avoid the contentiousness of the
House, Boots said.
Edelman, speaking by phone to the group,
accused the Republicans in the House of wanting "to end Head Start as we
know it" by using the block-grant approach.
The tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 will drain funds needed for children, Edelman continued.
America, we don't have a money problem; we have a values and priorities
problem," she declared. The dramatic increase in the federal deficit
puts all age groups at risk and is part of an attempt to starve
government programs, she said. The Bush administration is trying to take
the society not just to pre-Great Society status but to the days before
the New Deal, she said.
Taking aim at other legislation, Edelman
said that failure to include the working poor in the child tax credit
program unjustly excludes 12 million children. Democrats and some
Republican supporters are trying to expand the child tax credit program
to include low-income families, but the effort is stalled in the House
of Representatives. The first rebate checks for the child tax credit are
to be distributed Aug. 1.
"The people who need it the most will be getting nothing," Edelman lamented.
Brigham-Hill, a Children's Defense Fund lawyer, told the bishops that
her agency also favors reauthorizing the current welfare program, which
was extended because lawmakers could not agree on new legislation when
it came up last year. Brigham-Hill said that problems in a new bill
passed by the House include an increase in the number of work hours
required of parents, including those with children under age 6, coupled
with insufficient money to fund day care even for those children already
Any success of the welfare-to-work bill "has been overtaken by lack of job availability," she said.
have seen a rise in extreme poverty," she noted. Extreme poverty means
household cash income is less than half the amount of the federal
poverty line. For example, that would include a family of three with
less than $7,064 income in 2001.
She noted that in 2001, despite
the previously booming economy, the number of African-American children
in extreme poverty was at its highest level in 23 years - nearly 1
During their visit to Washington, the bishops met with
legislative aides of senators from their areas and together talked with
an aide of Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) about his committee work on
Head Start and issues related to Africa. Alexander introduced a bill
earlier in the week that would make 200 outstanding Head Start programs
"centers of excellence" with increased funding for additional tasks.
bishops later turned to the question of how they and other bishops
could further their initiative on Children in Poverty. Suggestions
included encouraging congregations to provide resources to help people
obtain the benefits for which they qualify. Edelman had said in her call
that if everyone received the benefits they were eligible for, poverty
would be reduced 20 percent, and 70 percent of the people would be
lifted out of extreme poverty.
United Methodist Bishop Don Ott
coordinated the group's visit to Washington. Others from the United
Methodist Church were Bishops Violet Fisher of the New York West Area
and George Bashore of Pittsburgh. Bishops Marshall Gilmore of Dallas and
Ronald Cunningham of Memphis, Tenn., represented the Christian
Methodist Episcopal Church. # # # *Purdue is a United Methodist News Service correspondent based in Washington.