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Flint’s disposable poor children

MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN | 3/28/2016, 9:55 a.m.
America’s political blame game continues while children continue to suffer life-impairing harm.

More than 40 percent of the 26 states and District of Columbia that reported childhood blood lead level results to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention national database have higher rates of lead poisoning among children than Flint. Nearly half of the states did not participate in this voluntary reporting preventing the true measure of the lead problem in America. Tick, tock, tick tock, tick tock.

Lead causes biological and neurological damage linked to brain damage, learning disabilities, behavioral problems, developmental delays, academic failure, juvenile delinquency, high blood pressure and death. Pregnant women, babies and young children are especially vulnerable because of developing child brains and nervous systems. Tick, tock, tick tock, tick tock.

For the Flint children exposed to lead including 9,000 preschoolers under 6 local, state and federal help are needed right now. While lead poisoning is irreversible, some steps can decrease its effects. Snyder failed horribly in his response to the crisis, but has now proposed funding for safe drinking water, food and nutrition, physical, social and educational enrichment programs, and water bill relief.

Earlier this month, the Department of Health and Human Services approved Snyder’s request for a Medicaid and CHIP waiver from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to raise income eligibility standards to enable 15,000 more pregnant women and children in Flint to receive program benefits. Approximately 30,000 current Medicaid beneficiaries in the area also are now eligible for expanded services under this new waiver agreement.

Thanks to a letter from Michigan Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow and Rep. Dan Kildee, HHS has also expanded funding to enable Flint’s Head Start and Early Head Start programs to serve every eligible child. These programs will now provide comprehensive early learning, health and family well-being services to 1,011 Head Start children and 166 Early Head Start children in the city of Flint.

Children and families everywhere would benefit immediately from stronger, clearer and consistent national standards for measuring, monitoring and reducing lead exposure that are enforced. The incalculable child harm from lead poisoning should be reason enough to act now with great urgency and persistence. And the nation’s bottom line would benefit too. Every dollar invested to decrease lead hazards yields an estimated return of $17:1 to $221:1. These cost benefits exceed the return on vaccines long considered one of the most cost-effective public health interventions.

Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund, whose mission is “Leave no child behind.” For more information go to http://www.childrensdefense.org.