Note: AACF Executive Director Rich Huddleston released the following comments at our March 1 Voters’ Guide Press Conference at the Arkansas State Capitol. A full video of that event, which includes comments from the other speakers, can be seen here.
Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, the Arkansas Kids Count Coalition, and several of our partners call on voters, candidates, and the media to put Arkansas children first and make them a top priority this election season.
During the May primary elections and the November general elections, Arkansas voters will elect candidates to important elected offices in our state, including seats in the U.S. Congress, the Arkansas General Assembly, and the Governorship.
The winners of these elections will be in a unique position to make public policy on issues critical to the future of Arkansas’s children and families, issues such as access to quality early childhood education, health care, hunger, K-12 education, and family economic security, to name but a few. The elections will also help shape future state and federal budget and tax policies that will determine (1) which families will bear the tax burden and (2) how much funding will be available for services that promote success for all of Arkansas’s children and families, including the most vulnerable.
Making children our top priority during this year’s election season should be a no-brainer. According to the 2017 Kids Count Data Book released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Arkansas ranks 45th in overall child well-being. One in four Arkansas children lives in poverty, which we know can have long-lasting implications for a child’s development and ability to succeed.
But far too often the needs of our children are not at the top of the list, be it during election season or later after candidates assume elected office. This is not surprising. Children can’t vote, they don’t make campaign contributions, and they don’t host political fundraisers for candidates or political parties. Yet our children will be the ones most impacted by the votes we make at the polls and by the decisions elected officials make later when in office.
As advocates for kids, it’s up to all of us to make sure their voices are heard. It’s up to all of us to make sure voters and candidates are informed about the issues important to child well-being, to make sure these issues are addressed after the elections are over, and to hold elected officials accountable for the decisions they make.
The 2018 Arkansas elections are more important than ever given the hyper-partisan, chaotic political environment that currently permeates Washington, D.C. and Arkansas politics. State and federal programs critical to the well-being of children and families have either been under attack or, in some cases, largely ignored. The U.S. Congress, for example, recently dealt a major blow to the future funding base for many of the programs serving vulnerable children and families with its passage of the tax bill and a budget resolution that promises major cuts over the next decade. These decisions will pose major fiscal challenges for states like Arkansas, which must figure out how to respond to federal cuts.
Today we are asking candidates to step up and make all Arkansas children their top priority. We are asking candidates for state and federal office to ensure that all children across the state, regardless of their race and ethnicity or family income, are able to live up to their full potential. Children of color are two to three times more likely to live in poverty than their white peers. This is no accident, but the result of state and federal policies that continue to reinforce inequities that have existed throughout our state and nation’s history. But every child, regardless of their race or ethnicity, their family income, or where they live, should have the resources and opportunities they need to lead healthy and productive lives and realize their full potential.
I want to call attention to the release of our 2018 Arkansas Voters’ Guide. We hope voters will read this guide so they can ask important questions of our candidates during campaign season and when they make their decisions in the voting booth. We hope candidates will read this guide so they can be better informed of the issues facing children and families and make better decisions about which issues they should prioritize this campaign season and later when the winners assume office.
Many of the issues you have heard about today have a common theme. They will need a public commitment and public investment to ensure that all children have the resources and opportunities to thrive and succeed and realize their full potential. As candidates rush to promote more tax cuts, let’s make sure to ask them two questions: (1) What impact will the proposed tax cuts have on the state budget and initiatives we know are important to the well-being of our children and (2) who are the tax cuts going to benefit? Will they be targeted to low- and middle-income families who are working hard and struggling to make ends meet or will the tax cuts go to the wealthy who least need them?
Finally, I would like to remind folks that the issues you heard today are just some of the issues important to kids. There are other important issues we didn’t discuss, so I would encourage you to read our new Voters Guide and learn the basics about programs important to the well-being and future development of our children.