Elmo goes to the Legislature

If you wanted to sit in on the Nevada Legislature’s human resource budget hearings March 9, you needed only to follow the baby lobbyists. If you’re adept at recognizing the powdery scent of Baby Magic lotion, you could have found the hearing with your eyes closed.

About 10 babies—and their moms—were on hand to protest a funding cut to a new state service, the Family to Family Connection. These newborn baby centers provide support and instruction for parents of newborns through 12 months of age. They cost $2.2 million a year in state funds to operate. Gov. Guinn decided that funding should only continue for centers in at-risk areas. His budget proposal slashed about two-thirds of the program’s funding.

Moms and program administrators were bummed.

“We really believe that education starts with educating our parents,” lactation educator Laurean Meyer told me. We sat together goggling at a baby named J.J., who grinned and drooled and chomped on a red Elmo teething toy. “Parents are the No. 1 educators of children throughout their lives.”

The hearings began, and it seemed Family to Family funding wasn’t on the agenda. For about two hours, lawmakers queried public servants on the need for a state grants management unit and the status of the welfare department’s NOMAD computer system.

The babies weren’t rapt. Moms covertly breastfed infants or pulled out containers of Cheerios. Finally, the committee chair made room for public comment on the Family to Family centers by calling up the welfare budget associated with the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families money.

The moms, many from Incline Village, got a chance to talk. I was surprised to hear that at-risk populations don’t merely include impoverished single moms or low-income Latinos. They also include depressed new moms in Incline Village.

“Incline Village is a high-risk village,” new mom Gail Krolick, 32, treasurer of the Incline Village General Improvement District, said. “Not everyone in Incline Village has an income over $50-$60,000 or a million dollars.” That’s why, she said, Incline’s Family to Family center should remain funded.

And don’t leave out the rural parts of Nevada, argued a supporter from Elko: “Who can say who’s at risk? These people may not be low-income, but they need these services.”

Guinn has since defended the cut and his plan to “refocus” Family to Family with already existing Family Resource Centers in at-risk communities: “Providing child-rearing guidance at taxpayer expense to parents who have the means and access to other resources is a perfect example of a non-essential service.”

I felt conflicted. Gov. Guinn seemed to have a point. By subsidizing the desires of middle-income families, the truly needy might end up shortchanged.

Then again, is the state really in danger of spending too much money on women and children? Doubt it.

If pressed, I’d have to side with the moms. I’ve been there. Help is important no matter how much money you make— or how much you pay for a membership at the Incline Village gym.