This post was originally published in The Sojourner’s Truth on November 5, 2015.
… Poverty in the world is a scandal. In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children, that there are so many children without an education, so many poor persons.
– Pope Francis
I want to commend Congress for stepping away from its chronic dysfunction in order to pass a bipartisan budget deal last week. The agreement was a small, but positive step in addressing the needs of low-income individuals and families, including our Ohio brothers and sisters.
It was the right thing to do.
Prior to the deal, Congress was looking at cutting as many as 1,500 existing housing vouchers in Ohio alone, as a means to reduce the deficit. In addition, compared to President Obama’s budget, Congress’s original budget plan would have meant that nearly 97,000 fewer workers in Ohio would have access to job training and employment services; nearly 32,000 fewer children in Ohio would have access to full day, full year Head Start; and our state would have lost as much as $36.8 million in federal funding for K-12 education in low-income schools.
Of more than 150 existing human needs programs affecting low-income people, only 14 programs had more funding than in 2010, all the rest were cut. In addition, “about one-third of the programs (50) were cut by 15 percent or more. Thirty-nine programs were slashed by at least one-third,” according to the Coalition on Human Needs.
Without last week’s decisive action, the previous restrictive spending caps and harmful sequester cuts would have continued to hurt impactful programs from the Departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services that lift families out of poverty and provide help to our neighbors who need it most.
The good news is that, the budget deal passed last week stops the hemorrhaging and eliminates the majority of these cuts, sparing many programs that serve low-income Ohioans from suffering further. The deal also contains positive news for those with disabilities who receive Social Security Disability Insurance and many others who receive Medicare Part B, as it includes much-needed fixes for both of these programs.
However, this current budget deal is only a FIRST and temporary step.
Members of Congress must now go back to the drawing board and determine how the new budget spending caps will be divided up amongst federal agencies and programs. How much money will go to housing vouchers, education, mental health services, and other critical programs? Our community and friends must make sure the additional funds go to the programs that help people the most. We must also let Congress know that we will not allow partisan fighting to stop them from passing a spending bill that represents the needs of the poor before the current funding runs out on Dec. 11.
Further, while the budget deal provides relief from most of the cuts that would otherwise have taken effect, it doesn’t include any additional investments to help decrease poverty, which remains too high, both in Ohio, and throughout our nation.
Nearly 16 percent of Ohioans live in poverty, and nearly 23 percent of Ohio’s children are poor, roughly the same levels in 2014 as they were in 2013.
Poverty affects communities of color disproportionately. Almost 35 percent of African Americans and 28 percent of Latinos in our state are poor. The statistics are worse still for children of color – nearly one in two African-American children and more than one in three Latino children in Ohio live in poverty.
If we are real when we say that we want to help more Ohioans climb the ladder out of poverty, then much more must be done. Even with stopping the cuts this year, spending on programs that help low-income communities is down historically, and many of these programs have suffered from years of cuts, as alluded to earlier. More investments are needed.
Also, the budget deal failed to address the fact that corporations and the wealthy can afford to pay their fair share to ensure a shared prosperity – one that lifts up all. While Congress took a good first step towards helping the economic, social, and politically “least of these” when they passed the budget legislation last week, they must continue this work over the next few months. And, we must continue to lift our voices to our members of Congress and other elected officials to make sure they do.
For, to reside in or govern the richest economy in the world, to have so many poor and not address the issue of poverty – is a scandal.