HARTFORD, Connecticut, U.S.A. – From an ancient professor testifying on welfare to a 4-year-old girl whose only comment was her name, a wide variety of people came out to testify Saturday before the state legislature’s Task Force on Children in the Recession.
Most of those who spoke were young, but not all.
It is time that “youth counted in on the discussion and partisan gridlock counted out,” said Calvin Brown, a 17-year-old junior at Bristol Eastern High School.
“The stories told today will mark a new” era “in the interaction between children and their government,” said Brown, a member of U.S. Rep. John Larson’s Congressional Youth Cabinet.
The lack of jobs was the most common complaint among those who testified, but State Rep. Frank Nicastro said the solution was, in part, obvious.
Luis Mercado, one man who testified, said that a “couple months ago, I lost my job, lost my place.”
Mercado sat with his wife and his four young girls during his testimony.
“We’ve got to stop paying out large sums of money to corporations who are shipping jobs overseas,” Nicastro said.
Teens are affected by the lack of jobs, too.
“It’s very hard for teens to find jobs during this recession. That’s why I’m encouraging teens to stay in school,” said Taurean Ellison, 19.
Other complaints mentioned often were a lack of health care, a dearth of housing, and the need for affordable, quality education.
“Sometimes I felt like no matter how many hours I work, I still can’t put enough food on the table,” said Ellison.
Isabelle Palumbo, from Southington High School, said, “The recession has taken its toll on children, especially teens.”
Samantha Iacobucci, a youth council member from Newington summed it up.
“There’s just no jobs,” Iacobucci said.
Larson hailed the Youth Cabinet’s role in expanding the chance to hear directly from youngsters.
“I think it’s extraordinary. It’s the first of its kind in the nation. I’m so proud,” said Larson. He called the group an “outstanding achievement.”
Larson said the recession could cause 35,000 Connecticut children to slip into poverty.
Larson said the most important thing the hearing did was provide “the ability for children to talk to children.”
Brown echoed the sentiment when he said “the action taken today will give a voice to the otherwise voiceless.”
State Rep. Frank Nicastro of Bristol, said, “We need to hear the youth of this state pouring it out.”
He said that government leaders need to listen to young people’s concerns “and then move forward and do what’s best.”
Larson said “this is a great concept, a great idea. There is much work to be done.”
Speaker of the House Christopher Donovan said, “I am wary that in our state, we’ll have an economically stunted generation.”
He talked about how important it is to address the economic issues that affect children directly, and criticized the governor’s plan to cut even more funding that currently goes to needy children.
A retired University of Connecticut social work professor, Archibald Stuart, said the budget cuts are dehumanizing children and depriving them of their basic human rights.
“These cuts in welfare are our Auschwitz,” Stuart said, comparing budget reductions to the infamous Nazi death camp.
Kiernan Majerus-Collins is a Senior Reporter for Youth Journalism International.
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