We, the Hostages:  Disappointments in The Fiscal Responsibility Act — Statement on Behalf of the Coalition on Human Needs


May 30, 2023

House extremists have pushed severe cuts to human needs programs in exchange for lifting the debt limit in what amounts to bullying and hostage-taking.  The organizations making up the Coalition on Human Needs represent people all across the U.S.  We are among the many millions of hostages and serve millions more.  We are among the Americans who would stand to lose income, savings, health care and food, and some of us would join the millions losing employment if the federal government were to default on its debts. 

The House bill’s price for avoiding default was high.  Its extreme cuts across important domestic priorities would take us backwards in education, housing, nutrition, public health, job training, child care, and much more.  Its decade of caps would lead to nearly 60 percent reductions in spending in these areas.  Its bullying tactics were directed at people with low incomes who rely on Medicaid, SNAP, and TANF for access to health care, food, and help making ends meet.  Cynically claiming that the proposed restrictions would encourage work, the evidence across these programs shows no increase in work, but harmful losses in food, health care, and minimal income support.  Moody’s Analytics estimated that close to 800,000 jobs would be lost if this bill were enacted because of all its disinvestments.   

The Fiscal Responsibility Act now being considered by Congress makes some important improvements over H.R. 2811.  It does not cut domestic appropriations as deeply, and does not set binding caps for 10 years.  It does not subject Medicaid beneficiaries to red tape barriers supposedly about encouraging work but more intended to terminate assistance.  It does extend SNAP’s current time limits and bureaucratic barriers through age 54, but creates exemptions for SNAP participation for veterans, the unhoused, and young people aging out of foster care.  Additional restrictions are added to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, but they are less harsh than the original House bill. 

We the hostages appreciate the Biden Administration’s efforts to reduce the severity of these cuts and restrictions.  But it is still a great disappointment that the basic thrust of this agreement is still to deny assistance to some of our poorest people.  It will reduce investments that we badly need to overcome the worsening affordable housing crisis for low-income renters, to help students overcome the learning deficits that worsened during the pandemic, and to address mental health and substance use crises.  It allows increases in the Pentagon without examining the evidence of military contractor price-gouging.  It not only fails to secure new revenues from wealthy individuals and corporations, it undermines the IRS’ capacity to collect taxes already owed from those with high incomes. 

We hostages know we will not be freed from the threat of even further loss if this bill becomes law.  There are those in Congress who will seek to further restrict SNAP in farm bill negotiations; we pledge to fight any such harmful efforts and instead push to strengthen food assistance.  The agreement behind the Fiscal Responsibility Act calls for about $54 billion to be added to domestic/international appropriations from a variety of sources in order to get it approximately to the same amount as in FY 2023.  That nearly flat funding is really a cut, because it does not factor in inflation.  But the cut would be far worse if additional funds are not actually added to the domestic appropriations totals.  We hostages commit to work hard to ensure that these promises are kept.  We also know that there are plans in the House of Representatives to take up at least hundreds of billions and as much as multi-trillions of dollars in additional tax breaks in June.  These would more than wipe out any deficit reduction caused by the Fiscal Responsibility Act, leaving us with a wider gap between the rich and everyone else, and diminished resources to narrow that gap.  We commit also to oppose further tax breaks for wealthy individuals and corporations and instead fight to make our tax code more fair – building on the vision laid out by the President’s budget. 

Our sense of urgency is heightened by the hardships being experienced by many of us right now.  Some states are snarling people in red tape to deny them Medicaid, as redeterminations of eligibility resume.  The number of people reporting that in the previous 7 days that they sometimes/often did not have enough to eat has risen from 18.2 million people in 2021 to more than 25 million in just the last few weeks.  It is absolutely wrong to apply SNAP’s time limits so that more people go without food. 

We know that default will cause millions of people to see benefits and salaries delayed and potentially millions of jobs lost.  Those hit hardest will be those with the lowest incomes, disproportionately people of color. The competing hardships of default versus this bill should never have been the only choices before us.  We pledge to keep up the fight for something better.