(Promoted by Colorado Pols)
"From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." Luke 12:48
It's my Father's Day reflection. I look at my children who have become productive, caring adults and think of the many advantages they had growing up on our Yuma County farm: a stable household, a caring school and church community, access to a great public education and health care. Roots and wings. In agrarian terms they are the product of a well-tended seed whose bounty fills the proverbial 'granary'.
But the shifting demographics of the vast, 21-county landscape of Colorado's 4th Congressional District are setting the stage for a bitter harvest, reflecting a national trend of the vanishing middle class and growing inequality.
In the case of Colorado's Fourth Congressional District, the differences couldn't be more stark. I'll call it the "Lone Tree – Lamar Dilemma" And this description is not derogatory to those in the lower Arkansas River Valley. Quite the opposite. In my 2010 failed state senate race for SD-1 I had the honor of making a lot of new friends in the southeastern portion of Colorado. They are a very special community of souls. Stung over the last decade by the closing of NeoPlan, the closing of the regional pickle plant, the closure of Fort Lyon, and skyrocketing energy costs due to a decision by local authorities to re-purpose a local plant to coal power; the drying up of over 37,000 acres of productive farmland for a proposed coal plant by Tri-State and a record drought plaguing the region – you'd still find hints of optimism in the Lower Arkansas Valley. It's what prairie folk do: they survive. The 'dilemma' is the statistical, growing chasm in the lives of children across the state.
A drive from Pueblo to Lamar would convince anyone who grew up in an agrarian setting that this region – drowning in natural resources – has been ill-served by many. It's a living example of the Boiling Frog anecdote: this area, ripe for food and energy production – and rich in culture – is unnecessarily challenged. The entire valley could benefit from Strike Force, a USDA initiative to provide technical assistance to increase opportunity for rural communities that are challenged by pervasive economic challenges. This would be a great time for our Congressman to champion southeastern Colorado as a participant in the program.
In the past 10 years the rate of child poverty in Colorado has nearly doubled, from 10% to 18%. Only Nevada leads us in the rate of increase nationally. Douglas County has a rate of 4.9%; the Otero-Baca corridor in southeastern Colorado hovers at nearly twice the state average at 35%. Seventeen of the 21 counties that make up CD-4 rank above the state average. Nine of the 21 are at 125% of the state average.
We have very similar statistics regarding child health care. While Colorado ranks amongst the best in the nation in this category we still have upwards of 124,000 kids without insurance – enough to fill Mile High Stadium one and a half times over. And in this category once again we see the stark differences in the state divide: while only 3.2% of Douglas County residents rely on Medicaid, the Otero-Baca corridor averages 21.6%, nearly double the state average of 11.6%. Medicaid, like food assistance, is a lifeline to so many of the most challenged amongst us. Even so, that hasn't stopped the House from taking its 37th vote to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act.
Starting tomorrow our House of Representatives will begin debate on the 2013 Farm Bill after their failure in 2012 to bring it to the floor over caucus infighting. The week promises to be full of drama. Committee hearings gave us a glimpse of what's in store for the boxing match that awaits us, with biblical quotes and not-so-small doses of hypocrisy. The Club for Growth and Heritage Foundation have weighed in on their displeasure over Boehner's decision to bring it to the House floor for a vote. Their discontent is focused on the allocations to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP] – a lifeline to today's working poor.
SNAP is a societal 'safety-net equivalent' to our district's farmers ag subsidy program; a mechanism to assure a degree of stability to the most challenged amongst us; it is one of the most efficient and least abused federal programs. Our agricultural sector in CD-4 has benefited greatly from our own safety net: ag subsidies to the tune of $3.64 billion since 1995. The Congressman and I share a home county; our fellow agriculturalist have received $537 million in federal assistance in the same time frame.
A growing number of Colorado's families survive entirely on the food acquired through their SNAP benefits – which affords $31.92 per week to the average recipient in Colorado. That's $1.52/meal/per person/per week on the average.
Perhaps if the 109,326 children living in poverty in CD4 had a $5 bill to support a "HungerPAC" they might be given an equal opportunity to be heard as do the most popular of billionaires in the Republican caucus. Unfortunately, that $5 is the equivalent of their meal budget for an entire day – a commitment that would mean the difference between eating and not eating in a 24 hour period. Meanwhile, the monied interests at Americans for Prosperity [AFP], the Koch Brothers-funded organization that spent $40 million in the 2010 election cycle, works to keep their small hands and hearts out of reach of nearly any politician. To no one's surprise, AFP wants SNAP reform in the food assistance program, citing the $75 billion annual cost of the program.
For AFP, funded predominantly by treasures made in the fossil fuel industry, it's estimated their subsidies approach $52 billion annually – a number that is exclusive of the health and environmental costs to their resultant emissions. If those externalized costs were recognized, that number would grow by an estimated $120 billion to $172 billion. A recent vote in the House to end their subsidies failed.
Welcome, children, to your new world: "Citizens United". A world where only monied interests get to play – and set the public narrative.
This week Congressman Gardner will have the opportunity to stand with the 109,326 children in his district that live in child poverty and the 188,850 who depend on reduced lunch pricing. That's enough children living in poverty to populate 31 cities the size of his hometown of Yuma, Colorado. As the Congressman bows his head in thanksgiving this Fathers Day with his children beside him, I hope he will pause for a brief moment and reflect on the many tables across his district where food insecurity is a daily challenge. And then as he begins his debate in the House chambers this coming week that his leadership will be with one eye on the least amongst us. The vast majority of our working poor across the plains would rather have a job with a living wage and local opportunities that let them be a participant in the local marketplace of labor and ideas. But we aren't there yet. And until then they deserve your support and vote.
As a fellow-agrarian, the Congressman knows that the best way to produce a bumper crop is to tend to 'the seedlings'. A nurtured, well-fed seedling sets the stage to fill a granary; a stressed seedling never achieves its potential – regardless of the amount of resources you may shower upon it at a later stage.
Our children are no different. Let's tend to these seedlings in the manner of a prudent, eastern plains farmer.