Security for America's Children: A Report from the Annual Conference of the National Academy of Social Insurance

Article excerpt

The health and economic security of children and their families were discussed by an array of experts at a January meeting of the National Academy of Social Insurance. The Washington-based, nonprofit Academy promotes research and education concerning Social Security and other public and private programs that help to meet the Nation's economic and health care needs.

Its fourth annual conference addressed issues including:

* The social and political framework of current income and health care policy and its relationship to future policy development

* Alternative income security and health care policies

* The consequences of poverty for child development

* Maternal and child health experts' concerns with the various national health care reform proposals

The Social Security Bulletin is publishing summaries of the five major presentations in this issue and next. This issue features the dinner speech by Social Security Commissioner Social Security Commissioner Gwendolyn S. King and a paper presented by Sarah Brown, Senior Study Director for the National Forum on the Future of Children and Families (a joint research project of the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council.

SOCIAL SECURITY AND AMERICA'S CHILDREN

Social Security Commissioner Gwendolyn S. King presented the dinner speech, "How Does Social Security Protect America's Children?" Excerpts from her speech follow.

"The time has come to speak loudly and bluntly about the plight of the Nation's underprivileged children. The country's nonprofit organizations are devoting more of their energies and resources to children's issues. Within the government, HHS (Health and Human Services) Secretary Sullivan has created a panel that will has created a panel that will explore exclusively public sector options for aiding America's youth. This Nation has the know-how and the resourcefulness to improve our children's well being. It is time for us to show that we have the will, the genuine desire, to put the health and welfare of our children first.

"I want to share some thoughts with you about Social Security's current and future role in the effort to help children in need, about the course of our national debate on government spending priorities, and about the challenges and needs that Social Security and other Federal programs cannot address in assembling an effective, comprehensive policy for America's children.

"But, most of all, I want to stress again the need for a widespread, intense national resolve to address these issues. In Social Security, we've got a strong foundation from which to build. Social Security is thought of by many, if not most, Americans as the institution that provides a measure of financial security to people when they reach retirement age. That is, of course, a job that Social Security has done very well for over half a century.

"But my agency has another responsibility as well, a responsibility to millions of children who are eligible for the benefits we provide--children who are underprivileged and afflicted with illness or disability, children who have a parent with a disability, children who have lost a parent and are now facing financial despair.

"When I think about my responsibility to these children, I am always deeply troubled by the statistics on poverty among the young. One in every five children under the age of 18 is poor. Among those 6 and under, the ratio increases to one in every four. Among children in families headed by adults under the age of 30--America's young families--one in every three children is in poverty. And among black children, the figures are truly despairing: one in every two is poor. Social Security's programs have kept those numbers from becoming worse. I am working to implement our programs more aggressively to make those numbers better.

"What people don't know about Social Security is the full extent of what it does for children and families. …