Thursday, September 18, 2008

Which Children's Needs Are Most Important?

Here's a perspective I haven't seen yet, and it's a question worth considering: Are children with what we call "special needs" more deserving of government support than children living in poverty? In an op-ed in the Philadelphia City Paper, New York University professor Jonathan Zimmerman asks "How Special Are Your Needs? What Separates One Needy Child From Another?"

Zimmerman notes: "We now have a strong bipartisan consensus on a simple principle: Children with special needs deserve special help. Through no fault of their own, they begin life with a set of challenges. So it's the duty of all of us -- through our government -- to lend them a hand. Somehow, though, poor kids don't elicit the same sympathy. Remember that 8.1 million children in our country still lack health insurance. But Republican lawmakers — including Sen. John McCain, Sarah Palin's running mate — blocked last year's reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which would halve the number of uninsured children by 2013.

"Think about it: The same people who cheered for Trig Palin -- and for his mom's pledge -- have blocked public health insurance for America's poorest kids. If you're born with a physical disability, the government is required to assist you. But if you're born into poverty, you're often on your own. Why? To many Americans poor people are responsible for their own fate. But even if you grant this premise, how can you fault the children of the poor? Shall the sins of the parents simply be visited on the young? The more you blame their parents, indeed, the more poor kids would seem to merit help."

He concludes: "Rather than asking Sarah Palin about abortion or stem cells, then, let's ask her about the larger role of government in the lives of children. Who should get help, and why? I'll be eager to hear her answer."
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