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Editorial: State’s 'heartbeat' bill will require more people with hearts to help children, parents

When the state passed the “heartbeat” bill March 29 prohibiting most abortions after 6 weeks, Gov. Brian Kemp said something we might all be able to agree on: protecting life does not end here. Whether you define life as beginning at conception, 6 weeks, 20 weeks, birth or some other time in between, society shouldn’t abandon that child once it arrives in the world.

During debate about the law, anti-abortion advocates were often challenged by their opponents to be as passionate about children after birth as during gestation. Kemp's comments make it clear that is a mission in which we all must be involved on an ongoing basis.

“We must work to ease the adoption process, find loving homes for those in our foster care system, and protect the aging and vulnerable,” Kemp said after passage of the bill, which bans most abortions after a heartbeat is detected, typically about six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant

Supporting the mother should be added to the governor’s list of goals.

The Times editorial board

Staff members

  • Norman Baggs, general manager
  • Shannon Casas, editor in chief

Community members

  • Cheryl Brown
  • David George
  • Mandy Harris
  • Brent Hoffman
  • J.C. Smith
  • Tom Vivelo

Of births in Georgia in 2017, 44.9% were to unmarried mothers, according to the CDC, making Georgia the 11th highest state in the country for births out of wedlock.

A support system is crucial for any family with a newborn. There are sleepless nights and frequent feedings along with follow-up medical care. This can all be difficult in the best of circumstances. For a single mother without support, it can quickly become overwhelming.

Welfare services are often frowned upon in favor of personal responsibility, but when it comes to children, circumstances out of their control can quickly disadvantage them. 

The hard truth of the matter is we can preach abstinence, birth control and personal responsibility, but if a child needs food, housing and medical care, none of those things are going to help.

And the alternatives to funding welfare services that provide food and day care services can be more costly to society.

Those on low incomes can qualify for assistance such as the federally funded Women, Infants, and Children nutrition services, which serves, women during and after pregnancy and their children up to age 5. Applicants must have income at or below 185% of the U.S. Poverty Income Guidelines or be qualified for another program such as Medicaid. A family of two — for example a mother and child, with an annual income of $31,283 or less would qualify.

Mothers receive paper vouchers, which then cover specific types of formula and food deemed nutritious by the government. This program helps ensure the child does not go hungry. It served 237,224 people in Georgia in fiscal year 2017

It should be managed carefully to avoid fraud and unnecessary expenditures, but it’s an important program that should be supported to ensure children get the nutrition they need to grow and be healthy. 

Access should be readily available for women who need it, and they shouldn’t have to suffer the judgmental glares they sometimes receive at the grocery store when they pull out their vouchers. 

By Oct. 1, 2020, the program will require electronic cards nationwide instead of paper vouchers. This should be implemented carefully but could make the program easier to use. 

Another important welfare service some families can qualify for is the Childcare and Parent Services, which helps parents pay for day care services. 

Funding for this program comes from the federal Child Care Development Fund and matching state funds. The funding is often limited, and only priority groups such as children in foster care, with disabilities or those who are homeless are able to obtain assistance.

Weekly day care rates at affordable centers in our area can run $140 a week. That’s $7,280 a year. 

Raising a child is expensive, and day care services are an almost immediate expense that is difficult to work into a budget even for those with modest incomes.

For a single parent working a full-time job making $9 an hour, day care costs would eat up almost 40% of their before tax income of $18,720. 

CAPS is currently only available to those at 100 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. So a single mother with one child would need to make no more than $16,910 to qualify for assistance.

A single parent often can’t work without day care services. Of course it’s ideal that a better paying job can be obtained, but if it can’t, this puts the parent in the position of looking for a job that pays less so she can qualify for day care assistance.

Early learning is crucial for brain development, and if Georgia wants its children to grow up to be informed citizens, it must place more emphasis on making child care affordable as well as providing quality care. 

Welfare services cost taxpayers, but there are also costs to not providing this support. 

Kemp notes that the state needs loving homes for those in foster care. Placing a child in foster care is extremely expensive to the taxpayer. A daily rate is paid to the foster parents for each child, caseworkers and their supervisors must be paid, day care is provided for via CAPS and court-related services must be funded. 

That’s not to mention that Kemp’s goal of more loving families cannot be easily reached. As of earlier this year, Hall County had almost 400 children in foster care and just 63 homes. Per diem rates and caseworker salaries were increased under Gov. Nathan Deal, but the system is still greatly overburdened.

The adoption code also received a needed overhaul under Deal, streamlining the process. 

Still, as of this month there almost 200 children seeking adoptive parents through the Department of Human Services.

Women who give birth to children because they cannot obtain an abortion may love their child, but the statistics are not good for those children who end up bouncing through the foster system. For those aging out of the system, there is less than a 3% chance they will earn a college degree, according to the National Foster Youth Institute. That institute also reports that 7 in 10 girls aging out of the system will become pregnant before they turn 21, which often leads to the cycle being repeated.

Children need loving, stable homes. If the state makes the decision for a woman to give birth, it should be prepared to help that child grow into a healthy, well-adjusted adult.

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