Friday, October 28, 2005

[US Budget] Update: Human Needs Still at Risk

From Sojourners

by Yonce Shelton

As Congress aims to finish its work for the year in mid-November, a major goal is approval of the 2006 budget reconciliation bill (H. Con. Res. 95). Despite a victory last week in the Senate, the outlook for millions of low-income families remains dire. And tax cuts for the wealthy are still on the agenda.

The House leadership is still trying to increase from $35 billion to $50 billion the mandatory cuts in the budget. Some House members are also calling for across-the-board cuts to discretionary programs, including energy and nutrition assistance for low-income families. A vote to make these changes was scheduled for last week but was delayed, partly because of strong efforts from the advocacy community. However, efforts to make these cuts continue, and the most vulnerable are being targeted to save money.

Monday, the House Ways and Means Committee announced plans to increase its social cuts from $1 billion to $8 billion. Additional cuts will come from foster care, child support, and aid to disabled people. The House Energy and Commerce Committee still plans to cut $11 billion from Medicaid, despite the fact that the Senate Finance Committee has reduced its Medicaid cuts from $10 billion to $5 billion. Further, the House Agriculture Committee has failed to follow the Senate Agriculture Committee's example last week of deciding, after much pressure from advocates and individuals across the country, not to make any cuts to the Food Stamp Program. It was a positive step forward and a win for low-income people and advocates. But House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) is still asking his committee to cut as much as $1.5 billion from the Food Stamp Program.

Another concern is that the House Education and Workforce Committee has passed a Temporary Assistance for Needy Families reauthorization bill (H.R. 240), raising work requirements from 30 to 40 hours per week while only increasing child care funding by $1 billion. This legislation might be included in the final budget bill, meaning easier chances for passage. Again, the Senate's approach is much better. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has said he hopes to address TANF as a separate bill with a child care funding increase of $6 billion. The increase in work hours in the House bill effectively means mothers will work more with little additional support for child care and safety.

As many congressional leaders look for more cuts to critical human needs programs, misguided plans to cut $70 billion in taxes - mostly benefiting the wealthy - have yet to be questioned by those in power. Many in the Senate and House leadership are hoping it goes unnoticed that although the traditional purpose of a budget reconciliation bill is to reduce the deficit, the budget and tax proposals together would increase the national deficit by $35 billion. In effect, cuts to programs for poor people are financing more tax cuts for the rich.

Action Alert:

Several House committees are making key funding decisions this week that could hurt low-income families (see above). Call your member of the House of Representatives at (202) 224-3121 (Capitol switchboard) and ask them to:

* OPPOSE CUTS TO SOCIAL SUPPORTS SUCH AS MEDICAID, FOOD STAMPS, AND CHILD CARE
* OPPOSE TAX CUTS THAT BENEFIT THE RICH AND TAKE SUPPORT AWAY FROM THE POOR

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