Sen. Casey launches campaign for sweeping child welfare reforms

Pennsylvania senior Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, is making it clear he’s in it for the long run.

Two years into his third term, Casey, 59, is barnstorming the Keystone State to promote an ambitious package of child welfare proposals that even he concedes may take years to bring to fruition.

In a meeting at the Tribune-Review office in Greensburg on Tuesday, the senator who has focused on programs for disabled children and grandparents bringing up children orphaned by the opioid epidemic unveiled his plan called “Five Freedoms for America’s Children.” Casey plans to discuss the plan in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

The proposals, outlined in a 33-page document, call for Congress to adopt programs to ensure all children are guaranteed five freedoms:

— Freedom to be healthy through guaranteed to access to health care through enrollment in Medicaid at birth.

— Freedom to be economically secure through a program that would guarantee a government savings account with deposits of $500 a year for children born into families earning less than $100,000 a year. The account could be accessed at age 18 for education, job training or as seed money to start a business.

— Freedom to learn through access to quality, affordable child care and early learning programs.

— Freedom from hunger through enhanced access to free school lunches and breakfasts.

— Freedom to be safe from harm through enhanced support for programs to prevent child neglect and abuse and by providing money for prosecutors to tackle large abuse cases, such as the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State and the Catholic clergy abuse cases.

Casey conceded none of his proposals, which carry a total price tag of about $1.7 trillion, will happen overnight.

Indeed, it may take a sea change in Washington where President Trump is seeking re-election trumpeting a strong economy and the success of his 2017 tax reduction package, even as he weighs proposals to reduce social safety net programs.

“It’s a big plan. … Obviously, it will take a long time. The political climate right now isn’t in a posture where a number of these major items would pass readily,” Casey said. “I just thought it was important to put on paper a detailed plan for America’s children. We’ve never really had that, at least not in the recent past.”

Unlike some of Democrats bidding for a chance to unseat Trump, Casey has a plan to pay for his proposals.

Broadly speaking, he said change could be financed by increasing the corporate tax rate — which was reduced from 35% to 21% — back to 28%; taking steps to collect some $500 billion in taxes that go unpaid each year; establish a 15% minimum corporate tax; return the top marginal tax rate to 39.6%; and return the estate tax to its pre-2017 level.

As for the sweeping nature of his proposals, Casey said he wants to level the playing field and help families raise children who are ready to succeed in a world where other countries are making such investments.

Not all children enrolled in Medicaid, for instance, would remain in the government-funded health care program. Families could opt out for private insurance or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, also known as CHIP.

But having 4 million children without health care is not acceptable when evidence has shown the value of early intervention and diagnostic screening, Casey said. Quality child care has become increasingly unaffordable, forcing many parents to opt for less than good options, he said. Expanding the child tax credit and the earned income credit could go a long way toward helping families with those costs.

As for expanding access to free school lunches and breakfasts, Casey said children who are hungry can’t learn.

He said such investments will help the U.S. compete on a world stage against nations such as China and benefit multi-national corporations by creating a stronger workforce.

“It’s in everybody’s interest to invest in children early in life,” he said.

Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, speaks with reporters and editors at the Tribune-Review offices in Greensburg on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020.

Published at Tue, 18 Feb 2020 23:00:54 +0000

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