War on the poor: Advocates express fury over Congressional debt ceiling, spending cuts proposal
Human needs advocates, including people of faith, rallied this week against a House measure that would severely cut spending for critical domestic programs in exchange for raising the nation’s debt ceiling. The bill passed narrowly (217-215), but it is strongly opposed in the Senate and by President Biden. The advocates at Wednesday’s event were well aware that their fight must continue.
Speaking at times fervently, speakers accused the bill’s supporters of crass political opportunism and turning their backs on the millions of Americans who need help with nutrition assistance, health care, housing, early childhood education and child care, and so many other key programs that would face historically deep cuts if conservatives in Congress have their way.
“The people trying to pass this bill don’t want you to know the people they’re hurting,” said Samuel M. Chu, representing Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger. “For decades we have blamed the poor to score political points. And this exercise that Speaker McCarthy has brought up has only one central focus: that is his personal political ambition and a pathway to stay in power. That is an epic failure of public leadership.”
Mary Novak, Executive Director of NETWORK: Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, said conservatives are engaging in misleading wordsmanship when linking the nation’s debt and deficit to spending on social services.
“One thing we need to make absolutely clear in addressing this extreme budget proposal is that we reject its premise,” Novak said. “And that premise is that it blames vital human needs programs for our deficit and subjects them to cruel cuts. The reality is, and you’ve been hearing this theme start to emerge, that deficit spending spikes are largely due to tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. The Bush and Trump tax cuts disproportionately benefited the wealthy and corporations and they are a major driving force for the national deficit.”
A number of speakers bemoaned the burdensome, bureaucratic requirements that would cause millions of Americans to be cut from programs such as SNAP and Medicaid.
“The Speaker’s bill would make SNAP time limits that are already in place, already in place, worse by adding older workers who are more at risk of going hungry,” said Luis Guardia, President, Food Research & Action Center. “And this would also include veterans, those re-entering the workforce after incarceration, many chronically unhoused individuals, as well as people with mental and physical disabilities who will probably be mistakenly left off. Many of these people who would be impacted by the time limits, they are actively in the labor market. But either they can’t find jobs or they have too few hours in the jobs they have.”
Bruce Lesley, President, First Focus on Children, called the legislation “nonsensical.”
“It is nonsensical to – in the name of the next generation – make 22 percent across-the-board cuts in funding for education, child health, including Medicaid, early childhood, child care, child nutrition, housing, child abuse prevention, and even kids in foster care,” Lesley said. “Kids need care, not cuts.”
Deborah Weinstein, Executive Director, Coalition on Human Needs, joined other speakers in staunchly criticizing the proposed cuts. But she added that the proposal is terrible for two other reasons.
First, in addition to cutting services and essential aid from millions, Weinstein said, “it would stop the IRS from collecting taxes that are owed by the rich and corporations.”
Second, because the legislation is considered dead on arrival in the Senate and President Biden already has promised a veto, it would leave the U.S. “precariously on the brink of default disaster,” which would almost instantly result in a recession that would cost millions of jobs and have other profound impacts on Americans’ finances.
Speaking at the rally was one woman who discussed her experience growing up on food stamps, the precursor to SNAP – and how her mom would have been denied aid under the rules proposed today. Lauren Reliford, a social worker and Political Director at Sojourners, accused Congress of waging a “war on the poor.”
“Let me tell you what it was like as a young child to watch her mother do everything in her power to raise two children on her own while going to school full time, while working a work-study job that only paid $75 a week,” Reliford said, casting her gaze towards the Capitol. “Let me tell you about that woman you are talking about, that woman you would have taken off the rolls because she didn’t work enough. But she was working two jobs and going to school. For what? So I could stand here right now.”
Also appearing at the rally was Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee and a key longtime defender of critical human needs programs.
“Preventing a default is an obligation that we have as members of Congress,” DeLauro said. “To say that they are going to hold the debt ceiling hostage if we don’t make these drastic cuts is irresponsible and it is shameless. It guarantees chaos in our country.”
Still, DeLauro said, backers of the proposal can be stopped – if human needs advocates continue to organize and to speak out.
“Congress is an institution that really responds to outside pressure,” she said. “You are that outside pressure, and I can’t tell you how much that’s important right now. We have an opportunity to create a national movement, an outcry against what they are doing.”