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'Misguided' Federal Policies on Children Said Harmful, Costly

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Washington--A children's advocacy group charged last week that "misguided" federal policies are hurting poor children and increasing long-term public costs.

"In a time of recession, with millions of new women and children falling into poverty, the last place a humane, sensible, and fair Administration would cut are programs providing cost-effective preventive maternal and child health care to the poor," said the president of the Children's Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman, during a press conference here. "Yet, that is precisely what the Reagan Administration has done without concern for the consequences that are now appearing."

Prior to the press briefing, the group released an analysis of birth data from all 50 states from 1978 to 1982 indicating a nationwide shift away from early prenatal care for pregnant women. Between 1981 and 1982, overall infant-mortality rates rose in 11 states; for white infants, they were up in 9 states; for nonwhite infants, the rates rose in 13 states, the group found.

According to the cdf, mortality rates for nonwhite infants in the nation's capital exceed those in Cuba and Jamaica. In some portions of Baltimore, the group continued, the death rates for infants exceed those in Costa Rica and Guyana.

The group's report also examined other "disturbing trends which could have severe long-term consequences for children." They include:

Budget reductions in Chapter 1 aid for disadvantaged children and in student financial assistance. According to the group's analysis, a $440-million reduction in aid for the Chapter 1 program in 1981 eliminated services for 440,000 children. Furthermore, it said, the phasing out of Social Security benefits for college students and tightened eligibility requirements for other forms of student aid "have contributed to the erosion of higher-education opportunities for blacks."

Declining immunization rates for preschool children. Recent data indicate that fewer than half of all black preschoolers are immunized against diphtheria, whooping cough, and tetanus, and only 39 percent are immunized against polio.

Funding decreases for Aid to Families with Dependent Children. According to the group, between 1981 and 1982, one million children fell into poverty, while the number of children receiving afdc dropped by 550,000. Program revisions enacted in 1981 caused 24 states to drop or reduce assistance to first-time pregnant women and caused 30 states to drop or reduce coverage for children enrolled in school until age 21.

According to Ms. Edelman, even with a sharp and sustained economic recovery, "no more than one-third of the newly poor 3.1 million children will be rescued from poverty in the absence of targeted government and private-sector efforts."

"Programs serving poor children and families did not cause and will not cure growing federal deficits," she continued. "Economic recovery does not depend on hurting children and neglecting their needs."

Copies of the report, "American Children in Poverty," can be obtained for $9.95 from the Children's Defense Fund, 122 C St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001.--tm

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