Out of the Mouths of Babes

By Eileen McNamara | Boston Magazine |

The Great Recession that caused this shortfall in tax revenue was the result of those in government inviting risky speculation, first by deregulating the financial sector and then through tax cuts that, Princeton economist Paul Krugman estimates, have added roughly $2 trillion to the national debt in the past 10 years. Democrats in DC, now limited by borrowing still more money, don’t have the will to raise corporate tax rates. They have discussed cutting deeper into social programs.

That approach in Massachusetts has led us to a wholesale assault on crucial social services like the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program for low-income pregnant and postpartum women and preschoolers. Patrick and Democratic lawmakers propose slashing one out of every five dollars WIC gets, which would come on the heels of a 9 percent reduction in state and federal spending on the program in the past three years.   

Since the federal government launched WIC in 1972, research has consistently linked the program to dramatic reductions in preterm births and low birth weights, two key predictors of infant mortality, as well as to decreases in the incidence of iron-deficiency anemia, the cause of long-term cognitive development problems. WIC’s emphasis on nutrition education has also increased the rate of breastfeeding, which bolsters infants’ immunity to disease. The program works so well that even the Romney administration kept its mitts off it.

What makes the assault on WIC all the more confounding is that the program actually saves the state bundles of money. Patrick’s own Health and Human Services secretary, JudyAnn Bigby, estimates that for every dollar spent on WIC, Massachusetts saves three dollars on Medicaid, the publicly funded health insurance program for the poor. Given that Medicaid is one of the state’s biggest budget busters, doesn’t it make sense to protect a program like WIC that helps lower its cost?

Even worse is that the proposed budget doesn’t just deprive poor kids of food; it also keeps them out of subsidized nursery schools and, for those with developmental delays, out of early intervention programs. The $7.5 million earmarked for the Universal Pre-Kindergarten Program is a 40 percent reduction from 2009 levels, according to an analysis by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center. And the $21.5 million budgeted for early intervention services is $8 million less than last year. According to the policy center, these cuts reduce or eliminate services for something like half of the 30,000 infants and toddlers now receiving occupational, physical, speech, or other therapies.