While they differ on methods, Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., agreed Tuesday that children's health and welfare should become a top priority in Congress.
Kennedy, chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, launched hearings Tuesday he hopes will lead to increased funding and expansion for such programs as Headstart and Women, Infants and Children.He also is seeking to increase access to health insurance, drug treatment, employment training and services for the homeless and runaways to improve life for the young.
Hatch, the committee's ranking Republican, said that for Republicans, "There is common concern about the health, education and security of American children and youth."
An example of their differing methods, though, is Kennedy has proposed forcing employers to give workers health insurance. Hatch prefers allowing small businesses to buy low-cost coverage for workers through Medicare and has called for reform of the health-care system to cut costs and improve access.
Kennedy said as he opened hearings: "An American infant is less likely to be immunized against polio than a baby in Botswana. A black child born in Boston has less chance of living to his first birthday than a child born in Panama.
"Despite our desire to excel in areas of critical importance, the United States invests less in children's health and youth employment opportunities than any other industrialized nation.
"In our own back yard, one in five American children live in poverty - an increase of nearly 25 percent during the 1980s. Two million children go hungry each day, and 12 million lack health insurance."
Hatch said Utah's "Baby Your Baby" program is an example of the type of services he wants to see copied nationwide.
"This program provides `one-stop' shopping for low-income mothers in need of WIC benefits, food stamps or other assistance. Not only are more low-income families aware of the assistance that is available to them, but the user-friendly process makes it far more likely that a family will seek out such benefits for their children."
Kennedy also said he hopes to break down bureaucratic barriers to such "one-stop shopping" programs to make applying for services less humiliating and more efficient.
Kennedy presented other statistics he said show that American youths are in crisis. For example, he said statistics show that on Tuesday alone across the nation:
- 689 babies are born to women who have had inadequate prenatal care, 67 babies die before one month of life and 105 die before their first birthday.
- 27 children die because of poverty, 40 are killed or wounded by guns and six teens commit suicide.
- 1,849 children are abused, and 3,288 children run away from school.
- 1,512 teenagers drop out of school, 1,629 teenagers are in adult jails, and 135,000 children bring a gun to school.
- 7,742 teenagers become sexually active, 2,795 teenagers get pregnant, and 1,295 teenagers give birth.