This post was written by HKI’s Vice President of Eye Health, Nick Kourgialis.
Last month, a $1.2 trillion omnibus spending bill containing direct funding support for thousands of projects suggested by lawmakers, known as earmarks, died in the U.S. Senate before a single vote was cast. Its fate was decided due to growing opposition to government spending, but the bill contained many worthwhile projects for education, health, defense, energy and infrastructure.
Many taxpayers associate earmarks with wasteful “pork barrel” spending and criticize them because lawmakers are allowed to direct funds to a specific project or recipient without any public hearing or review.
What’s lost among the (often justified) outcry against earmarks is the enormous number of worthwhile charitable efforts that were supported through this much-maligned funding mechanism.
While it is true that some earmarks can be considered excessive, many other earmarks benefit hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged individuals served by non-profits, including the 100,000 low-income children served each year by Helen Keller International’s ChildSight® program.
Through the earmark process, the U.S. Department of Education has played a significant role in the success and growth of HKI’s ChildSight® program, allowing us to screen over 1.3 million children and deliver free eyeglasses to more than 168,000 children since 1994.
As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan rightly noted last month on PBS’ NewsHour, if students can’t see the blackboard, they can’t learn properly. ChildSight® solves this problem and helps “bring education into focusTM.” Funding from the U.S. Department of Education supports HKI’s ChildSight® program in the seven states where we operate. The earmark provided HKI with vital resources to strengthen and expand our services, as it did for countless other non-profits throughout the country.
Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa and chairman of the Labor, Health and Education Appropriations Sub-committee, was quoted in a recent article in The New York Times describing the fallout that would be felt by other non-profits:
“When Republicans killed this omnibus appropriations bill last week,” Mr. Harkin said in a floor speech on Tuesday, “they chose to close Head Start classrooms that serve 65,000 low-income children.”
“They rejected the opportunity to provide life-saving drugs to people living with AIDS who are on waiting lists,” he added. “They passed on the chance to provide 4.5 million more meals to seniors in need.”
The earmark process could certainly benefit from reform, and one important step would be to distinguish earmarks used to bestow political favors or to benefit narrow business interests from those that serve the public good.
With this critical source of funding lost, we are more reliant than ever on individuals to support our efforts to provide students with free vision screenings and eyeglasses. Please Help us Bridge this Funding Gap and Donate Today!