|The City of Rochester, the heart of Monroe County, N.Y. ranks 11th nationally|
for children living in poverty. (photo provided)
Rochester, N.Y.—One could argue that Monroe County offers some of the best pediatric health care resources in the country. Yet a recent report from The Children’s Agenda revealed some disturbing results – in 2009, children in Monroe County had worse outcomes in a number of important areas of health, development and success than they did in 1999.
When the Voice Reporter began looking into the details of this report titled, “A Decade of Decline,” we felt as if someone punched us in the gut. (See our recent video on Youtube.)
We read with horror and disgust that our kids are worse off than they were just 10 years ago. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Rochester, New York is the 11th worst city in the United States for child poverty. 38 percent of children under the age of 12 live in poverty in our community. Any way you slice it, we are failing our children.
The author of the new report, Dr. Jeffery Kaczorowski, M.D., says that unfortunately, children and families across Monroe County are struggling with many serious but preventable problems, including an alarmingly high infant mortality rate, an increase in reports of child abuse and neglect and an unacceptably low percentage of third-graders meeting grade-level expectations. This is totally unacceptable.
Complex problems need complex solutions
Obviously, complex community problems need complex community solutions and everyone is on notice. That especially includes the Brooks administration, our school districts, faith leaders, City Hall, the County Legislature, our nonprofits, foundations and most of all, the parents and caregivers of our children.
That being said, we could not overlook the fact that we have a county government that has been systematically and consciously pursuing an anti-poor, anti-worker agenda blaming the elderly, poor and disabled for “mandates” and making budget policy decisions that disproportionately hurt the most vulnerable citizens in our community.
Looking for examples? Glad you asked. The Brooks administration has also tried, illegally, to take money from children in our school districts. Remember the FAIR plan debacle? Court-required repayment has been extremely expensive for Monroe County taxpayers. And who can forget Brooks’ attack on our disabled community, pulling the funding out from underneath The Center For Disability Rights?
Under Brooks’ three-term reign, we have endured a net loss of more than 22,000 jobs, according to recent New York State Labor Department statistics. County tax levies have risen seven times in seven years. She even tried to cut day care programs and lead poisoning prevention funding, which hurts children, families and taxpayers. And, at the same time, her handpicked salaried protégés have all received hefty pay raises over the years while thousands of Monroe County’s working poor have endured more out of pocket expenses in fees and services while county employees have languished with no contract and no cost of living increases for several years.
And, just recently, Brooks signed on to Gov. Cuomo’s middle-class attack to reduce pension benefits for public workers. We are talking about working poor folks—the low wage earners that pick up your garbage, clean public buildings, drive your kids to school and keep our streets safe. These are your neighbors who struggle to make ends meet, and often have to additionally turn to public assistance to get from one pay period to the next.
And, we are still waiting to hear developments from the NYS Attorney General’s subpoena and final details to the State Comptroller’s audit with respect to questionable ethics violations by top officials in County government concerning the shady LDC’s they have created.
Is it not the job and responsibility of each citizen to hold those we elect accountable for the policy decisions they make? For god sakes, when will our community leaders and elected officials start taking responsibility for our most precious resource, our children?
Nelson Mandela once said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children. If that’s the case, we should all be very ashamed of ourselves.We wonder how some in county government sleep at night. In a county well-governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a county badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.
Make no mistake, The Voice Reporter will be out there in the community rededicated to making sure our children succeed. However, we are not convinced that some of our community partners have the same conviction as most of us.
When it’s all said and done, history will be the final judge of the Brooks administration. And as far as we can tell, the Brooks legacy will go down in history as one that afforded opportunities to those who are financially insulated from any harm while the middle-class, poor and working poor were left with higher fees, limited services and a lower standard of living. If you cannot make the connection between GOP policies and child poverty rates in Rochester, you are living in a fantasy world.
This op-ed is the opinion of the Voice Reporter and does not reflect the views of CSEA as an organization.