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Public Statements

Congress Budget for the United States Government for Fiscal Year 2009--Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC




Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I strongly support the amendment offered by Senator Sanders. Budgets are vital documents that reflect our national priorities, and few things are more important than ensuring the health and well-being of all our Nation's children. Yet for the past 7 years, we have been moving in the wrong direction.

Thirteen million American children now live in poverty, an increase of 12 percent since the year 2000. Democrats have worked hard to support struggling families, especially in these difficult economic times, but we have not done enough. This amendment helps to fill the gap.

Federal investments in early childhood education and care are especially important in reducing the effects of poverty. The facts are clear. Early education unquestionably helps children achieve at higher levels when they enter school. Children from low-income families who participate in high-quality early childhood education have to repeat fewer grades. They are less likely to require special education, less likely to commit crimes, and less likely to be dependent on public assistance.

Despite these compelling facts, the United States ranks 9th among 14 developed countries in public investments in early education. Only 14 percent of eligible American families have access to quality child care for their children, and half of our neediest children still lack access to Head Start.

The Sanders amendment brings greater opportunities for high-quality early education for the children who need it most. It provides an additional $5 billion for Head Start to carry out the reforms enacted last year. It supports programs offering needed transportation services to children and families, provides cost of living increases to program staff, enables programs to offer full-day, full year services, and provides other essential support as well--such as mental health services for young children and their families.

The Sanders amendment also provides an additional $4 billion for the Child Care Development Block Grant, to reduce the shortfall in child care assistance across the nation and improve the quality of such care. With these additional funds, overwhelmed parents will be better able to balance their child care obligations with their jobs, and make sure that their children have a safe place to go after school. The funds will also mean better training and support for child care workers, and strengthen coordination among federal, state and local programs.

We also need to do more to see that children have a safe and satisfactory environment to learn. Many schools across the country today are crumbling from disrepair, which creates a discouraging, inadequate environment for learning. The backlog on repairs is now estimated at $100 billion, and we can't afford to ignore it. This amendment makes a down payment on rebuilding the schools by authorizing $3 billion to begin the most urgently needed repairs.

Another key issue is the home heating crisis, which is also putting countless children across the country at unacceptable risk. They can't grow and develop normally if their homes are too cold, and their families can't even afford the fuel to cook their food. LIHEAP--the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program--was intended to help families in need pay their energy bills, but it has never been fully funded. Too many families are left out of the program, and left in the cold. The funds in this amendment will support millions of additional households, and bring vital assistance to those in need.

Finally, the amendment provides funds to expand the Food Stamp Program. In these difficult economic times, more and more Americans are struggling to put food on their table. Thirty-five million Americans live in hunger or on the verge of hunger, an increase of nearly 2 million under the Bush administration. One in every six children struggle with hunger in the United States each year. How can we let that happen in the richest country in the world?

The Food Stamp Program has long provided vital support for low-income families. It improves their children's diet, their children's health, and their children's performance in school. The Sanders amendment will bring millions of additional families into the program, and give millions more children the chance for a brighter future.

Investing in our Nation's children is the best money we can spend. The Sanders amendment provides the funds we need to truly start fulfilling our commitment to America's children.

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