U.S. urged to put gulf war-like effort into saving children from poverty


WASHINGTON -- The Children's Defense Fund called on White House and congressional leaders yesterday to put the same effort into rescuing the 12.6 million U.S. children living in poverty that they put into liberating Kuwait.

"We sent hundreds of thousands of American troops to the Persian Gulf in order, according to Secretary of State James Baker, to protect our lifestyle and standard of living and the rights of the Kuwaiti people," said Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Washington-based children's advocacy group, in releasing the group's annual State of America's Children report. "No deficit or recession was allowed to stand in the way.

"How, then, can we reconcile failing to engage equally the enemies of poverty and violence and family disintegration within our own nation? When are we going to mobilize and send troops to fight for the 'lifestyle' of the 100,000 American children who are homeless each night?"

About one in five American children lives in poverty, according to "The State of America's Children 1991," the organization's annual report. Also, the report said, 18 nations have lower infant-mortality rates than the United States.

Black children are especially at risk, with more than 17 deaths per 1,000 live births, the report said.

Compared with hundreds of millions of dollars a day spent on Operation Desert Storm, Ms. Edelman said, the defense fund's legislative agenda is a bargain.

"Our very modest agenda requires less than $6 billion in investment this year to help children -- a tiny fraction of the spending required for some of the initiatives proposed by President Bush's budget," she said.

As part of its effort to boost graduation rates to 90 percent by the year 2000, the group wants Congress to increase funding for Head Start programs for preschoolers by $2.3 billion to fully implement the programs by 1994.

But President Bush, the news release said, has proposed an increase of only $100 million -- a rate of funding that would delay the completion of the project for more than a century.

The organization's report cited statistics showing that U.S. eighth-graders placed 12th in an international mathematics test and that about 29 percent of the students who entered the ninth grade in 1984 failed to graduate from high school four years later.

The group also wants Congress to provide an additional $93 million for the Child Care and Development Block Grant, which provides families with money to pay for child care.

Mr. Bush proposes no increase in the child-care program, the news release said, and no increase for an initiative designed to improve educational opportunities for homeless children, for which the organization is asking an additional $43 million.

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