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A test of values: the choices governors, state legislators, and Congress make to close huge budget gaps tell you what their priorities are. (Where We Stand).

What are we saying as a nation when a six-year-old child will lose healthcare coverage because she lives in a state that has slashed funding for Medicaid?

Across our country, state budget gaps are threatening programs that America's children, families, and the elderly depend on. This fiscal crisis has led state officials to severely cut funding for education and crucial social services and all but eliminate healthcare programs for those who need them most. Here are some alarming examples:

* Budget cuts threaten to wipe out Medicaid healthcare coverage for millions of low-income Americans.

* The impact of state budget cuts, combined with President Bush's proposed federal budget, will leave more than 570,000 children without after-school programs.

* California--saddled with a $30 billion budget shortfall-has sent layoff notices to more than 25,000 teachers.

* Funding cuts for poor and working-poor families will deny more than 100,000 children the opportunity to attend preschool, putting them at a severe disadvantage when they enter kindergarten.

* Across the nation, thousands of public employees, including social workers and child-protection specialists, have been laid off. More cuts loom.

Unlike the federal government, states are required by law to have balanced budgets every year, but even in the current crisis, governors and legislators have choices about how they deal with deficits. By closing tax loopholes and taking a fair and more balanced approach to spending cuts, they can preserve crucial programs and services.

In addition, Congress must act quickly to provide much-needed support to help states close their budget gaps.

Tough times reveal much about the values and courage of our elected officials. We need political leaders who are willing to reject simple, shortsighted cuts.

It's time for all of us to let governors, legislators and Congress know that we won't accept budget choices that could do real harm to our children, the disadvantaged, the elderly, and working families.

Sandra Feldman, President, American Federation of Teachers

To learn more about states' budget crises, Visit our web site at www.aft.org
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Publication:State Legislatures
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2003
Words:333
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