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Mayor Rudolph Giuliani may be trying to airbrush himself a softer election-year image, but he is still seeking to end the city’s longtime practice of picking up the tab for uninsured children at neighborhood health clinics.

In the FY1998 executive budget, released earlier this month, the Giuliani administration has called for $10.1 million in cuts from the city Health and Hospitals Corporation budget paying for the operation of 41 child clinics around the city. The clinics, which have been in operation since the late 1800s, provide well care, inoculations and dental services for kids along with pre-natal care for mothers.

Although the federal government pays for Medicaid-insured children at the clinics, the city contribution–matched by $4 million in state funds–pays for children with no private or public coverage, many of them immigrants.

“This is a kissing-babies kind of an issue, so I don’t understand why the hell the mayor would want to cut it,” says Leon Ransom, legislative aide to Brooklyn Democrat Enoch Williams, who chairs the City Council’s health committee.

“He just doesn’t care about children’s health, especially the health of poor children,” added Judy Wessler, a long-time health advocate.

Ransom said that the council will attempt to find the money to restore the funding, as it has done each of the past three years. “This is a priority of ours,” he says. “We’re not going to allow him to do this.”

In addition, sources say that HHC chairman Luis Marcos, concerned with negative election-year publicity, might announce restoration of the clinic money on Tuesday, when he is due to testify before Williams’ committee.

But even if full funding is restored, many clinics are housed in buildings that are in a state of advanced disrepair and the city has not slated any money for much-needed renovations, notes Suri Duitch, staff associate with the Citizens Committee for Children of New York.

“These are some of the best programs in the city with some of the best professionals and they are forced to work in crumbling building,” she said. Calls to the HHC press office were not returned.

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