Posts Tagged ‘ Amy Julia Becker ’

What Summer Camp Has to Do With Obama’s Tax Plan

Monday, July 16th, 2012

Over the next few months, the editors of Parents.com will report on hot-button election issues that American families face today, from healthcare to education. In the spirit of offering diverse perspectives on the election, we’ve chosen three moms from across the political spectrum to be guest bloggers on Parents News Now. Each one of them will offer a unique take on the topics that they–and you!–are most passionate about. (Read the entire blog series.)

By Amy Julia Becker

My memories of summer include bug bites, games of kick-the-can, swimming lessons, and countless hours curled up in a chair reading. My kids have finally reached the age where they experience summer the way I remember it. Penny, who is 6 ½, and William, almost 4, go to camp two days a week. They swim, do arts and crafts, play on the playground, and make new friends. The highlight of camp so far has been Penny receiving her “duck badge” when she swam from one side of the pool to the other and earned the right to swim in the deep end.

The other three weekdays vary. They’ve gone with their babysitter to the playground and the library. We’ve taken trips to the beach with plastic buckets and water shoes, and they’ve scraped their knees and thrown rocks and collected as many varieties of seaweed as they can find. We’ve created obstacle courses in the front yard. Most days they wander next door to visit their great-grandmother. They know the afternoons hold “quiet times” while their sister Marilee, who is 18 months old, takes a nap. Penny has learned how to read books out loud to herself. William has started writing in a journal. They’ve almost forgotten the TV exists.

This simple experience of play and learning and exploring and resting seems to me like a quintessential American summertime, and yet I was reminded recently that my children’s summer is a mark of privilege. As David Brooks wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times, “The children of the more affluent and less affluent are raised in starkly different ways and have different opportunities.” Using recent data from Harvard researcher Robert Putnam, Brooks outlines the distinctions in time, money, and experiences offered to children from different socio-economic backgrounds. Brooks notes that these differences have increased dramatically over the course of the past few decades. Income inequality has led to an ever-growing opportunity gap for children.

In 2010, David Van Drehle reported on the problem of lazy summers in a cover article for Time magazine called The Case Against Summer Vacation:

“. . . summer vacation is among the most pernicious, if least acknowledged, causes of achievement gaps in America’s schools. Children with access to high-quality experiences keep exercising their minds and bodies at sleepaway camp, on family vacations, in museums and libraries, and enrichment classes. Meanwhile, children without resources languish on street corners or in front of glowing screens.”

My kids’ experience of summer is not the norm, and for many poor children in America, summer is simply an opportunity to fall behind their more affluent peers.

Conservatives argue that the income gap, and thus the opportunity gap, can be largely attributed to individual choices. Work harder, earn more, reduce the gap. Liberals argue that societal forces create the disparities. Tax the wealthy, create programs for the poor, reduce the gap. Whether we blame individual parents or blame the social structures, however, no one is pointing a finger at the kids. And yet the kids suffer not only in their early years, but throughout their lives, as a result of this chasm.

Liberals and conservatives need to come together in support of America’s children, and therefore in support of America’s future. As Brooks writes, “Liberals are going to have to be willing to champion norms that say marriage should come before childrearing . . . Conservatives are going to have to be willing to accept tax increases or benefit cuts . . .”

Which brings me to President Obama’s new stump speech. Although the Bush-Era tax cuts do not expire until December, President Obama has begun to make the case for keeping these tax rates in place for 98 percent of the American public. Let’s pause for a moment. A Democratic President is trying to convince a Republican Congress to keep 98 percent of the tax cuts their leader instituted. For most people, 98 percent counts as an A+. But because Obama has also called for a return to a higher tax rate for those who make more than $250,000 per year, Republicans continue to resist this measure. Conservatives could call it a victory that 98 percent of their tax cuts survived a Democratic administration and view the tax hike as an opportunity to reduce the deficit. They could also use the tax hike to provide support for programs like Head Start already in place to give low-income children opportunities to learn.

As David Brooks notes, however, addressing the opportunity gap is not simply a matter of throwing money towards programs. It’s also a matter of supporting the health and well-being of children by advocating for stable families. In Richmond, Virginia, Dr. Donald Stern, the Director of Public Health, has declared fatherlessness a public health problem, and he is seeking to address it through the Richmond Family and Fatherhood Initiative. Programs like this one put public funds towards social values that impact the entire community for good.

Acknowledging the opportunity gap that leads to an achievement gap is critical in order to care for our nations’ children. If there is any area in which Republicans and Democrats should be able to come together, through changes in the tax code and in our rhetoric about families, it’s this one. Let’s hope Republicans keep their tax cuts for the vast majority of Americans while simultaneously reverting to the Clinton-Era tax rate for the very wealthiest among us. And let’s hope our kids will benefit.

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Why the Safely Insured Should Care About Universal Health Care

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

Over the next few months, the editors of Parents.com will report on hot-button election issues that American families face today, from healthcare to education. In the spirit of offering diverse perspectives on the election, we’ve chosen three moms from across the political spectrum to be guest bloggers on Parents News Now. Each one of them will offer a unique take on the topics that they–and you!–are most passionate about. (Read the entire blog series.)


By Amy Julia Becker

When our son William was 13-months old, he fell and split his ear open. It happened just before dinner, so my husband continued with the evening routine for our daughter Penny while I took William to the Emergency Room. The local pediatric ER serves most of Trenton, NJ, and when we arrived it was moderately full. One child had pink eye. Another vomited on the floor. None of them seemed to face what I would have deemed an “emergency.” No broken bones, no cases of severe dehydration (which had brought us to the same ER a few months earlier with Penny), no gaping wounds other than William’s. I suspected that theirs was simply the emergency of living without health insurance.

Access to health care has never been a personal issue for me. I grew up with enough affluence and stability to assume I would receive whatever medical care I needed. That assumption extended through my adult life, where the greatest problems I’ve faced in relation to health care have had to do with remembering to schedule routine appointments. Even though Penny was diagnosed with Trisomy 21, also known as Down syndrome, shortly after her birth, access to health care hasn’t been a problem for our growing family either. Penny has needed more medical care than most 6-year-olds, including a procedure to close a hole between her heart and her lungs, three sets of tubes in her ears, two minor eye surgeries, and plentiful routine checkups with specialists. We’ve paid our relatively minor share of the bills, and we’ve been grateful to my husband’s employer and our insurance company for covering the rest.

And so I have watched the national debate over health care unfold with some degree of detachment. I have no dog in this fight. I see merits in arguments on both sides, as “liberals” support the use of government to ensure the common good and “conservatives” volley in return about protecting individual (and institutional) liberties. It’s an essential and unending American tension between individual freedom and the collective consequences of such freedom. The Supreme Court has declared the Affordable Care Act (more commonly known as Obamacare) largely constitutional, and most of the provisions in the law will not impact our family in a direct or substantial way. And yet, despite some significant reservations with some of the law’s provisions and mandates, I believe that this step towards universal health care in America is good for our family because it is good for our nation.

I support the expansion of health coverage to include those with pre-existing conditions and those who number among the “working poor” for both compassionate and pragmatic reasons. I’m well aware that my position as a woman with health insurance comes in part because my husband and I have worked hard through the years, and in part because of the undeserved fact of growing up in an affluent home. I have always had a safety net based not upon my own merits but upon the circumstances of my birth. When a comparable safety net is extended to the 30 million or more Americans without access to affordable health care, I not only applaud the change out of compassion, but also out of a pragmatic belief that this newly-created access to affordable healthcare will be worth its attendant costs as it improves individual and collective well-being.

A study in Oregon recently demonstrated that health coverage for uninsured residents “substantially increases health care use, reduces financial strain, and improves self-reported health and well-being.” It cost more for Oregon to pay for health care for these individuals than it had when they were uninsured, at least in the short-term. But the personal impact on health and well-being suggests a substantial positive impact on society at large.

Access to health care for all Americans benefits all Americans, even those of us with stable coverage. The Supreme Court has upheld a law that enables government to provide for the common good.

And yet some of the provisions and language contained within the law demonstrate either ignorance of or disregard for personal liberties and personal responsibility. For instance, the law mandates access to prenatal testing for all pregnant women, and it does so under the heading of “preventative care.” The language here assumes that a prenatal diagnosis will lead to abortion (the only way to “prevent” a prenatal condition), and thus suggests that the government wants to make choices on behalf of pregnant women rather than ensure access to information that will allow them to make their own choices. Similarly, the provision for coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions ensures that such individuals will not be charged more than their peers, unless they use tobacco. This exception demonstrates an arbitrary instance of government overreach in deeming tobacco use so negative that it must be singled out for financial penalty, whereas other adverse personal choices related to health (diet, alcohol and drug use, and unprotected sexual activity, for instance) go unremarked. Health care legislation ought to regulate basic health services for individuals without presuming women’s choices about their pregnancies and while giving private health insurers reasonable latitude to award healthy behavior.

I look forward to a day when I can take my son to the Emergency Room and sit among other mothers who are there because their children need immediate care, not because they don’t have access to local pediatricians for their children’s infections and viruses and other routine complaints. I look forward to a day when I can number my own privileges as among those extended to all Americans. And I look forward to a day when a law that offers comprehensive good for our nation nevertheless upholds individual liberties and choices.

For additional views on the healthcare ruling, see Supreme Court Decision ObamaCare: We Should Rejoice and ObamaCare: A Tax By Another Other Name Is Still a Tax.

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