Children's Advocates Put Forward a Contract of Their Own

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To help keep Congress's budget-cutting ax from falling hardest on programs that aid children, a coalition is urging lawmakers to sign a "Contract with America's Children."

The contract was unveiled last month by Children Now, a national policy and advocacy group based in California, and the Coalition for America's Children, an umbrella group of 300 organizations that has tried to hold political candidates accountable for their positions on issues affecting children.

About 170 diverse groups have already signed the contract, which urges the new Republican-controlled Congress to "put children first" in weighing proposals like those outlined in the House G.O.P.'s "Contract with America."

The coalition includes child-advocacy, health, welfare, religious, and philanthropic groups, including the National PTA. The Washington-based Benton Foundation is helping support the campaign and is sponsoring advertisements.

The contract includes 10 pledges to support children in the areas of health, safety, parenting, family unity, and education.

Following a news conference and signing ceremony at the Capitol last month, about 250 children delivered copies to every Congressional office.

Children Now and the Child Welfare League of America also released a separate blueprint for welfare reform that lays out criteria to insure children's needs are met while reinforcing parents' responsibilities.

"Our children are too important to try untested social-engineering experiments that could bring serious harm to millions of kids," said David Liederman, the executive director of the league.

Anticipating that the new Congress will slash funding for the arts and humanities, welfare, and other social programs, philanthropic leaders took the offensive last week at a news conference here. They warned that the capacity of the private sector to absorb responsibility for such programs is limited.

Individual giving represents the overwhelming majority of private contributions, said Virginia Hodgkinson, the vice president of research at Independent Sector, an alliance of nonprofits and foundations. But since 1989, the average household contribution to charity has declined 8 percent.

One of the nation's largest charities, the United Cerebral Palsy Associations, has been able to fill the gap by turning to special marketing efforts, such as procuring a portion of the proceeds from every frozen-yogurt cone sold at The Country's Best Yogurt, a popular chain. Yet the group's executive director, John Kemp, said some of its affiliates still "walk on the edge every day."

And foundation dollars remain small relative to public resources, added James Joseph, the president of the Council on Foundations. Even if the endowments of all the nation's foundations were added to the federal budget for one year, he said, it would represent only a 9 percent boost in revenues.

Foundations' impact has stemmed from their long-term approach of providing risk capital for social investment, Mr. Joseph argued, and expecting them to respond to immediate needs "runs the same risk as a business that takes its R&D money and puts it into operations."

Following the lead of Ross Perot and his 1992 campaign book United We Stand, the House Republicans are offering their Contract With America in book form.

The 196-page book includes position papers and background materials on the 10 items that make up the contract. It sells for $10 and is published by Times Books, a division of Random House. It has been in bookstores since last month, but can also be ordered by calling (800) 733-3000.

The credited authors--Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., the new Speaker of the House, and Rep. Dick Armey, R-Tex., the new House majority leader--will not profit from the venture. Rather, royalties will go to the Republican National Committee, which has pledged to use the money for nonpolitical purposes.

Mr. Gingrich recently turned down a $4.5 million advance he was to receive for two books to be published by HarperCollins after both Democrats and Republicans raised questions about whether he was using his new position for personal financial gain.

Rep. W.J. (Billy) Tauzin, D-La., said last month that he will not join the Republican Party for at least a year, but that in the meantime he plans to form a coalition of conservative Democrats in an effort to move his party to the right.

A spokesman for Mr. Tauzin said last week that the lawmaker will formally launch the coalition within a few weeks. Speaking with reporters last month, Mr. Tauzin estimated that up to 20 House Democrats would join up.

Mr. Tauzin noted news reports that these Democrats had been considering a mass defection to the G.O.P.--speculation that his announcement helped defuse.

Republicans hold a relatively thin majority in the House, with 230 seats to the 204 held by the Democrats. There is also one independent member.

Deborah L. Cohen, Meg Sommerfeld & Mark Pitsch

Vol. 14, Issue 16, Page 22

Published in Print: January 11, 1995, as Children's Advocates Put Forward a Contract of Their Own
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