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United Methodist Women send child care message to Congress


23 code NOTE: A photograph is available with this report. *Purdue is news director in United Methodist News Service's Washington office.

WASHINGTON (UMNS) - The officers of United Methodist Women came to the nation's Capitol on May 15 to fulfill a mission for children.

They delivered messages from more than 6,750 church women who had written concerns about child care on oversize postcards during a recent assembly in Philadelphia. In their messages, the women expressed their care for children and the need for providing day care that working parents can afford.

Most of the cards were delivered to Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who has agreed to have some read into the Congressional Record. Miller introduced the Leave No Child Behind legislation to Congress last year, and although it did not become law, some of its points were incorporated into other bills.

The delegation of six officers also left cards at the offices of key senators, including United Methodists Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Debbie A. Stabenow (D-Mich.), as well as Blanche L. Lincoln (D-Ark.) and John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W. Va.). The women visited with representatives as the House prepared to vote on a new version of the 1996 welfare bill, which has implications for child care.

The writing project at the 2002 Assembly of United Methodist Women on April 26 built on information provided by Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund. Only one of seven eligible children receives federal child care assistance, she said at the assembly.

"We've got to make these invisible children visible," Edelman told the UMW officers before they went to Capitol Hill with their message and postcards. "The church can't be silent today."

Helen Blank and Debbie Weinstein with the Children's Defense Fund briefed the women on the legislation that expires this year and will be rewritten by Congress. Blank explained that the main sources of federal money for child care are contained in two bills: one, the Child Care and Development Block Grant, and the other, the welfare bill known as Temporary Aid to Needy Families. Both are due for renewal.

The Children's Defense Fund has worked with United Methodist Women since 1988 on issues related to children. It is urging Congress to add $20 billion over five years to federal child care spending to serve more children and improve programs.

Fund executives warned that President Bush's welfare bill would increase the weekly work requirement for mothers from 30 to 40 hours, or from 20 to 40 hours in the cases of mothers with children under the age of 6, without adding money for child care. Bush promoted the bill in Chicago on May 13.

Children's Defense Fund staff also spoke about long waiting lists for day care in a country where only 23 percent of families with children younger than 6 have both a working parent and a stay-at-home parent, and where 59 percent of infants have working mothers.

Currently, 69 percent of mothers with children under 6 years old and 78 percent of mothers with children 6 to 13 years old are in the work force, according to the Children's Defense Fund.

In 1975, United Methodist Women adopted a statement encouraging legislation to fund quality child care and provide supportive services to children and families. The following year, the organization adopted a document calling for the nurture and protection of children. "Budget cuts that affect children made as a result of recession and budget deficits are inhuman and shortsighted," it said.

Members of United Methodist Women expressed similar concerns in their postcards.

"Children are the future of our nation," wrote Shirley Kennedy of Bella Vista, Ark. "They must receive quality care during the early years of their lives so they can reach their full potential."

Dorothy Watson Tatem of Philadelphia said, "We endanger the future of our country when we neglect our children through dismissal of children. Do we wish to invite devastation of our national future because we are not cognizant today of the need to nurture the child who could lead us in a beneficial manner tomorrow? Please pass/vote for the Child Care Development Block Grant."

"Child care is imperative in this great nation," stressed Ethel R. Arrowsmith, who did not give her hometown. "We are not a Third World country. We are rich in resources, talent and vision. But we need to act."

"Too many children 'fall through the cracks' and have no adequate, safe child care on a regular basis," Fannie Lou Wilhite of Huntsville, Mo., stated. "It is more 'cost effective' to provide safe, structured child care than to bear the later costs of more expensive health/social problems. As a dedicated child advocate, (I believe) continued child care for those additional 2 million children is a priority not only for our own individual communities but for children nationwide."

LaVersa Barto of Cottonwood, Ariz., wrote, "American children are our future. We must provide for their education and care. They are the most important asset we have. If we can spend millions for war, we can invest in our children. It is most important."

Some of the women commented on specific situations they knew about.

"There are children in our area who are not ready for kindergarten because they did not have an opportunity to go to child care programs prior to entering kindergarten," noted Juanita D. Staples of South Mills, N.C. "I believe all children should have this opportunity."

Frances Helen Guest said, "I live in New York City, where thousands of children sleep in a different homeless shelter each night and their parents have to find a new way and transportation to try to get them back to their school each morning. The parents both work and still can't afford housing."

Debriefing after a busy afternoon on Capitol Hill, several of the women expressed concern at the lack of optimism they had encountered for funding child care and services to children. Legislators and aides had said they would be lucky to keep most of the money and provisions from the 1996 bills for another five years, with no additional money for other children or extra hours of care, no money for enrichments and harsher work requirements. Afterward, the women strategized about getting the word out in the church and lobbying Congress on the issues.

President Genie Bank of Lexington, Mich., led the group. Others included Vice President Brenda Brown, Spring Lake, N.C.; Recording Secretary Mee Sue Park, Van Nuys, Calif.; Vice President for Finance Myrtle Clingenteel, Bethany, Okla.; Vice President for Christian Social Responsibility Judy Nutter, St. Marys, W.Va.; and Vice President for Membership Diane Vogler, North Little Rock, Ark. They were accompanied by Response magazine Editor Dana Jones; Julie Taylor of the Washington office of the Women's Division, Board of Global Ministries; and staff with the Children's Defense Fund. The Women's Division administers the United Methodist Women.

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