Paul Ronningen, Bismarck, column: Stop construction of 'pipeline to prison'
By Paul Ronningen BISMARCK -- Studies show there are three basic elements necessary to build a pipeline -- not a pipeline for oil, but a pipeline to prison. Typically, if children are raised in poverty, have fewer educational opportunities than t...
By Paul Ronningen
BISMARCK -- Studies show there are three basic elements necessary to build a pipeline -- not a pipeline for oil, but a pipeline to prison.
Typically, if children are raised in poverty, have fewer educational opportunities than their peers and lack health care, they not only will grow up to be underachieving adults, but also will have a higher rate of incarceration. That is the pipeline to prison.
Bills before the Legislature that help alleviate childhood poverty, give children the educational tools and good health necessary to succeed as adults and avoid the consequences that accompany a lack of investment in children would directly impact the future of children in our state.
A State Earned Income Tax Credit would help 44,000 low and middle income working families struggling to make ends meet in North Dakota. Like the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit, which is the most successful anti-poverty program in the nation, a state EITC would help offset inequities in our state's tax system.
Currently, low-income working families pay a much higher percent of their income in taxes (9.4 percent) than do upper-income families (who pay 4.3 percent of their income in taxes).
Also being considered is the expansion of Head Start in North Dakota. Head Start is a remarkable program that helps low- and moderate-income children begin school better prepared and better able to keep up with their peers.
At this time, about 806 eligible children are unable to access Head Start due to the lack of openings.
Last but not least, the state is considering letting more children access the Children's Health Insurance Program by increasing income eligibility for families up to 200 percent of poverty. It's a reasonable increase because the national and regional average for CHIP is 245 percent, and North Dakota's eligibility cut-off is the lowest in the nation at 160 percent.
That means the state with the greatest fiscal health also is the worst at providing health care coverage for children.
According to a 2009 Johns Hopkins study, children without health care coverage are 60 percent more likely to die if they end up in the hospital. Conversely, children who are diagnosed earlier have better outcomes and cost less over time.
Collectively, these three programs provide powerful results for children in low-income, working homes: The effects of poverty are lessened, educational outcomes are improved, and health concerns are identified and treated earlier.
As taxpayers, we have a choice. We can either pay now by investing in tried-and-true methods of setting children on the right course. Or, we can pay later when a young adult enters our prison system at a cost far greater than the investment we could have made when they were a child.
This is a win-win for North Dakota. With more than 300 references to the poor in the bible, the moral implications for a state with considerable wealth are clear. And by living up to our moral obligation to do the right thing, we also produce outcomes that make economic sense.
When your legislators are home, please ask them to oppose the pipeline to prison, and invest in our children.
Ronningen is director of the Children's Defense Fund-North Dakota and chairman of the North Dakota Economic Security & Prosperity Alliance.