Fighting for children in 2014Published 12:00am Saturday, January 4, 2014
By JOHN MERRILL
The Children First Trust Fund (CFTF) has and continues to provide services to hundreds of thousands of children through 12 state agencies since its creation 13 years ago. These are not taxpayer dollars, the annual resources in the CFTF come from Alabama’s National Tobacco Lawsuit Settlement. Let me stress again that these are not taxpayer dollars. The amount the fund receives each year fluctuates based upon tobacco sales in Alabama but is usually around $40 to $50 million.
Alabama Children First is a non-profit organization that drafted and advocated for the creation of the CFTF in 1998 and has served as a watchdog over it every year. Children First Board President John Hall states, “It has been estimated that for every $1 dollar spent on prevention programs for children, the state saves $6 dollars in long-term costs, not to mention the human cost if we fail to do what is right by our children.”
In part, due to this funding, Alabama has experienced historically lower infant mortality rates; increased funding for foster children; 100 percent enrollment in the children’s health insurance program (ALL Kids); the lowest rate of tobacco sales to minors in the state’s history; and more juveniles have been able to participate in community diversion programs instead of being sent to detention, which has resulted in a downward trend in crimes committed by teens.
It is no secret that the CFTF helps thousands of children every year. However, there are still those who wish to redistribute these funds to other areas that would not benefit our children. This would be detrimental to the many programs that are funded by the CFTF and Alabama would be taking a step backwards in its efforts to raise the overall well-being of our state’s children.
Any cuts to the CFTF would affect: the nationally recognized ALL Kids children’s health insurance program, which provides health and dental care for children; child advocacy centers that provide safety and counseling for child victims of severe sexual and physical abuse; care and therapy for foster children; mental health care services for children in crisis; and many other crucial services provided to over 150,000 of Alabama’s children.
As always, a top priority in our state should be the children – our most precious natural resource. Children are not partisan and they cannot vote. All they need is someone to stand-up for them when it matters most. Alabama Children First continues to be the voice at the State House for our smallest citizens and we, as legislators, must listen to their counsel as we make budgetary decisions that could have far reaching consequences for our state’s children and families.
This year my most significant New Year’s resolution is very simple: to help the children of our great state become healthy happy productive future citizens by protecting the Children First Trust Fund. What’s yours?
John H. Merrill (R – Tuscaloosa) represents the 62nd District of Alabama (Southern and Eastern Tuscaloosa County) in the House of Representatives. He also sits on the Alabama Children First Board of Directors. He can be reached at JMerrill@1stfed.com or on his cell at (205) 887-2787.