President Barack Obama and Gov. Sonny Perdue have outlined bold plans for economic stimuli that include large-scale spending on infrastructure. But how can we, as a country and state, make this long-term debt pay off for future generations rather than burdening our children and grandchildren with payments for years to come?
If a healthy portion of the spending is devoted to strategic investments in our children, we could set in motion an economic stimulus that may keep paying us a healthy return for decades to come. Let's take a look at what a stimulus package might look like in terms of priorities:
· Education - An economic stimulus package to build quality centers can help reduce the pre-K waiting list for thousands of children and operations can be supported without additional taxpayer or federal dollars by tapping existing lottery reserve funds.
· Child care - Thousands of working families are on waiting lists for Georgia child care subsidies. Research shows that just $1 invested in a high quality child care program resulted in a public benefit of $7.16. Based on current services, when we combine child care and pre-K in the state, we infuse $2.4 billion in gross receipts into the economy, and we support $13.6 billion in parental earnings.
· Child abuse - Fifty percent of Georgia's abuse and neglect cases, close to 20,000 cases in 2005, occur among 0-6 year olds. Home visitation and other family supports could greatly ameliorate this problem, save child welfare dollars down the road and strengthen family self sufficiency in the short and long run.
· Health care - Georgia's health coverage for children ranks in the bottom third of states in terms of access and quality, with about 300,000 of Georgia's children uninsured. Recent legislation passed in Washington is a positive step, but our "PeachCare for Kids" program that insures children in working families is at risk of losing its funding in March if congress or the state don't act quickly.
· Juvenile Justice - In 2006, 2,631 children in Georgia were in juvenile detention and correctional facilities on any given day, enough children for over 100 classrooms. Georgia's Juvenile Code for deprived and delinquent children is out-dated, disorganized and difficult to apply to contemporary situations. It should be updated in short order.
If government is committed to spending hundreds of billions of our tax dollars in the coming months on infrastructure as a means of economic stimulus, why don't we demand that they look beyond physical roads and bridges? After all, children make up the foundation - infrastructure, if you will - of our society's future prospects that can be the highway for global competitiveness and economic growth. Let's stimulate the economy and, at the same time, stimulate prospects for our kids with smart investment.
Pat Willis is the executive director of Voices for Georgia's Children.