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Two Films, Two Routes From Poverty, that’s the headline on an article written by A.O. Scott in the New York Times back in November. Yes, November. And yes, I know blogs are supposed to be timely. So why am I writing this now? Because I can’t seem to get that article out of my head.

As you can probably guess, the “two films” referenced are Precious and The Blindside and the NYTimes article’s author addresses a variety of tough topics from race to political ideology. The author generally argues that The Blindside represents a more conservative approach to poverty – one that is “individual, charitable and, at least implicitly faith-based;” while implying the approach seen in Precious is more liberal because it is “sanctioned and supported by the state.” I’m not sure that’s right. Yes, the players who help Precious are mostly state employees – teachers and social workers but in many ways they’re going beyond their state-sanctioned role. I think the key sentence in the entire article is

Both movies tell stories that suggest a way out of poverty, brutality and domestic calamity for certain lucky individuals while saying very little about how those conditions might be changed.

And that is the point I can’t get out of my head. Why don’t we do more to change conditions, not just individual lives? The story of Michael Oher, the young man who makes good in The Blindside is a great story. He’s a great hero and someone clearly worth cheering for. The Tuohys, the family who help him out and eventually become his legal guardians, are also clearly good people – people you’d want on your side and people who deserve a thank you for making the world a bit better place. That said, if our only approach to grinding poverty, child abuse and so many other social ills is on an individual level, then I fear there will always be another Michael Oher in desperate need of a helping hand.

I’m not okay with that. I don’t want there to be any more children in desperate need. I want to live in a state where everyone and every family has the ability to make it, has the resources they need, the roof over their head, the access to health care, to a high-quality education. I am an advocate and proud of that title because we need systems change. I am eternally grateful to those out there who “help one” but I also encourage you to speak for all. Keep following Voices’ blog, sign up for our action alerts and when the word goes out that your senator or representative needs to hear from you, take the time to act. Help us change the way things work so that all kids have a shot, not just the “lucky” ones.

As I write this post, the clock reads “1:09 am,” yet I can’t sleep, in part due the bad news for Georgia’s kids that keeps reverberating in my brain.

And, I wonder… which of our dreams for the future of Georgia’s children have been dashed by the current budget crisis?

I’ve emerged from a sobering three days spent listening to various heads of the state agencies presenting their proposed budgets for the remainder of the current fiscal year and FY 2011.

Just a few of the cuts to services that affect children throughout the state include:
• Cutting $800 million in the basic funding schools receive this year and in FY 2011;
• Reducing pre-adoption assistance contracts with organizations that assist DHS in recruiting and screening potential adoptive homes;
• Cutting $1.3 million in FY 10 for the Independent Living Program for youth aging out of foster care;
• Cutting $518,000 from family violence reduction programs in FY 10;
• Cutting food stamp eligibility worker positions;
• Reducing funding for Federally Qualified Health Centers;
• Cutting Medicaid provider rates; and
• Eliminating resource coordinators who work with Georgia pre-K families.

These cuts must be giving agency heads nightmares.

B.J. Walker, Commissioner of Human Services, called cuts to her agency “painful” and said that some cuts would result in the agency not being able to deliver the same standard of services. She said that the budget crisis has required her and her staff to take a hard look at “what are ‘must dos’ versus ‘should dos’ and ‘nice to dos’” for the kids in her agency’s care.

Secretary of Education, Kathy Cox, told legislators that the deep cuts to the Department of Education will mean than failing schools will not get the assistance they need to improve and ensure better outcomes for Georgia’s students.

And, Dr, Rhonda Medows who leads the Department of Community Health, told lawmakers that unless they approve proposals to generate new revenue by instituting hospital and Medicaid provider fees, they will have to either drastically cut rates to Medicaid providers or cut the entire Medicaid program upon which 1.6 million Georgians and an entire healthcare industry relies.

Despite the grim news, I know this: members of the legislative leadership do care about our youngest citizens and our strong community of child advocates will speak up for kids throughout the legislative session.

This gives me the courage to hope for peaceful slumber and not nightmares when I finally shut my eyes.


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January 2010
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