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Isabelle D’Arcy: The Precarious Position of Anti-Poverty Programs

Talk of debt ceiling and default continuously ignores the substantial impacts on the poor

By Isabelle D'Arcy |

There are a deluge of budget proposals and compromises that Congress is trying to quickly wade through as the Aug. 2 date for default on our federal debt draws near.

Isabelle D'Arcy
Isabelle D’Arcy

On one side, House Republicans refuse to raise the debt ceiling without a deal to cut spending, and have rhetorically reduced budget cuts to a dichotomy of prosperity or decline. They insist on no new revenues and social-program sacrifices to get our country back on track financially.

On other hand, there are a congeries of Democratic voices that suggest everything from cutting entitlement programs to agreeing to $1.2 trillion in cuts to discretionary spending. Combine the steadfastness of the House Republicans and the compromising approach of Democrats and add a touch of debt-ceiling pressure, and the result is a frustrated public and no deal to speak of.

But aside from the big numbers being talked about, from House Speaker John Boehner’s $1.8 trillion in savings from entitlement programs to House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan’s proposed cap on discretionary spending, there is a more human element of these debates that has been lost among big talk of an impending debt crisis and the country we will leave future generations. Indeed, the various rounds of debates and cuts have left anti-poverty programs woefully exposed and vulnerable.

In the past, programs such as Medicare and Social Security have been protected from cuts because so many Americans rely on these benefits. But so far every proposed budget besides that of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., cuts these programs in one way or another. For example, when talking about Medicaid, Ryan, R-Wis., repeatedly attacks what he terms the one-size-fits-all approach of the current system, and advocates turning Medicaid into block grants that allow the states more flexibility in providing service to those who need it most. Sounds good, right? State flexibility is great, and helping those in need is, after all, the goal of the program.

But the reality is that converting Medicaid into block grants would shift more of the cost to states, leading to restricted enrollments and benefits in times of economic downturn. According to a study conducted by the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, the proposed structural changes to Medicaid would result in at least 31 million people losing coverage over the next decade.

Medicaid is a program that provides health and medical services to low-income or disabled Americans. Somehow Ryan’s rhetoric of making sure that “patients are (not) left with fewer options and lower-quality care” is incompatible with the consequences of his proposal. The same goes for his proposal to turn the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) into block grants; it reduces the benefits available to Americans and fundamentally undermines the come-one-come-all nature of these programs.

Also troubling are the proposals to cut discretionary spending. President Barack Obama admitted in a speech he delivered in April that cutting discretionary spending will not solve the problem — it’s only a third of federal spending anyway. But that has not stopped him from suggesting around $600 billion in savings from nonsecurity discretionary spending (things like transportation, education, foreign assistance) . And it gets worse from there: Ryan wants to reduce nonsecurity discretionary spending to below 2008 levels, and both Boehner, R-Ohio, and Reid have proposed $1.2 trillion in discretionary savings.

Why is this bad?

Across-the-board cuts to nonsecurity discretionary spending seriously threaten community health centers, child care, Head Start, Pell grants and foreign aid, to name a few. Such cuts also affect many federal agencies that provide grants to our communities, for everything from highway construction to waterway maintenance to community development to crime prevention.

Let’s focus for a second on international affairs, which occupies a little over 1 percent of the federal budget, or 3 percent of discretionary spending. About a third of this small fraction of spending goes toward development aid (rather than military aid). House appropriators are currently working with the numbers in Ryan’s budget plan, allocating what program or agency gets how much, within each subcommittee. According to this budget blueprint, foreign aid has about half of what it had last year, which is bad news for the world’s poor. (Meanwhile, military spending is relatively stable in both Obama’s and Ryan’s plans.)

According to the amfAR Foundation for AIDS Research, if the House Budget Resolution funding levels are implemented, the impact from cuts to U.S. bilateral programs could include:

» 47,410 more infants infected with HIV

» 551,918 orphans and vulnerable children losing their food, education, and livelihood assistance through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)

» Funding for AIDS treatment for 654,254 people being eliminated

The human impact of potential cuts to the global fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria could include:

» 2.5 million fewer malaria treatments

» 174,000 people losing their antiretroviral medications to treat AIDS

The human impact of potential cuts to Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations (GAVI) could include:

» 2.07 million fewer pentavalent vaccines available for children globally (the vaccine protects against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, Haemophilus influenzae type B, and hepatitis B)

In other words, all cuts are not equal, and the impact of budget cuts can be huge and disproportionate if it isn’t carefully done. And with this race to a compromise (or race to cut more), there are some definite losers — like the poor, both domestic and international.

Although House Republicans appear to have formed an impenetrable block when it comes to their position on debt (evidence: All but four House Republicans and no Democrats voted for Ryan’s budget resolution), protecting anti-poverty programs ultimately is not a partisan thing. The rhetoric of both parties suggests that protecting Americans is important, and yet the frenzy of ideology on one side and try-anything-ness on the other that has permeated Washington has left the cry of “don’t balance the budget on the backs of the poor” out of the proposed budgets themselves.

Everyone is worried about the debt ceiling crisis causing a possible default brought on by the game of political chicken being played by the people we elected to run our country. But once it is resolved one way or another and this budget season winds down, we may see the mark of these big cuts on our communities.

The federal budget is, after all, a reflection of our national priorities. And with focus fixed on spending cuts (as a catch-all term, without looking at the ramifications of this), we may very well find that, as Marian Wright Edelman, president and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, recently remarked, “There are some cuts that do not heal.”

— Isabelle D’Arcy is a junior at Amherst College and a Dos Pueblos High School graduate. This commentary was first published by the National Priorities Project and is republished with permission.

comments powered by Disqus

» on 08.01.11 @ 12:41 AM

Ah, yes, those uncaring and uncompromising Republicans vs. the “compromising” Democrats. Are you talking about the same Democrats who haven’t even brought a budget to the Senate floor in two years? And the president who did absolutely nothing for two years when his party controlled both houses of Congress?

What part of “spend less than you take in” do you not understand, Miss D’Arcy?

» on 08.01.11 @ 12:34 PM

Isabelle, you can have all the feel good crap you want, when you demonstrate the ability to pay for it. You live in a country that is well over $50 trillion in debt. Where do you think the money for your favorite welfare programs will come from, the bank of China? We owe them a trillion dollars now and we are still shipping half a trillion dollars offshore every year not making the things we love to consume. How do you propose to pay for welfare when you cannot pay for what you do now?

I know, you are confused. Like most liberal/progressives you see a fat rich wealthy class here in the states and a big middleclass with lots of TV’s and Ipads so you think we have plenty, surely we can afford to get the poor that third or fourth TV and a newer smart phone, right? Nope.

All that affluence you see is on borrowed money, girly girl. A lot of that wealthy middleclass was only there on speculative wealth, which, as we have seen, is worthless now. If you took the top 2% of the wage earners in our country (that have 70% of the wealth) and reamed them for 100% of there income, it would not even put a dent in the interest we owe on the federal debt, let alone our entire debt.

You see Ms. D’Arcy, money does not grow on a tree or in a stock portfolio, its not made on the treasury printing press or on the commodities market. Wealth, real wealth, not paper or gambling wealth comes from work, real work, the kind that adds stuff to our economy’s asset column. It does not come from taxes or out of the wallet of some rich guy. Wealth comes from digging up minerals and fuels, growing stuff on a farm or turning dirt into products. It comes from the sweat of Rosy the Riveter down at the steel mill or Peter the Programmer at the software company. Somebody, Isabelle, has to earn that wealth to make it available for you phony compassion types to steal and give to someone who did not earn it. It’s not magic.

But here is the rub. The same people who champion taking my hard earned money to give to somebody who did not earn it, are the same people making it real tough for that factory I work at to make the wealth you want to steal. Now I’m unemployed, no longer able to produce and sucking tax payer benefits to boot. How long Isabelle do you think the great wealth of America will last doing that? Remember we already owe the world more than $50 trillion and your people are responsible for killing our ability to pay that back, so how long, sweetie before we are thoroughly bankrupt?

I listen to politicians in Washington, not arguing how best to spend the wealth we earned, but how much more our pathetic nation can sponge off the world to fund crap it cannot afford. This is the legacy of 40 years of liberalism in America. We went from the greatest economy on earth able to help nations around the world and the world’s greatest supplier to the biggest loser on the planet begging our suppliers for more drug money. And you are worried we won’t have enough dependency enabling welfare to keep the wealthiest poor on earth in comfort?

I know your young and mush filled head is full of all that stupid class warfare crap your idiot tenured professor taught you in the indoctrination camp (formerly known as higher education), but clear that out and get a real job earning real wealth. Do something that is not only good for you but our country as a whole. We did that once and made the greatest place on earth, something your loser professor always despised, and we can do it again. You just need to realize that compassion does not come from a government program like you were taught; it comes from your own heart. When you give of your self with no expectation of a return then you are practicing compassion. When you steal from someone to give to others that is not compassion its theft, and calling it taxes and welfare doesn’t change what it is.

» on 08.01.11 @ 11:04 PM

Bishop ANchove, you have become a nasty piece of work. The young lady merely stated facts regarding our alms for the poor, and you practically come unglued.
Amazingly, you certainly voted for St. George, who with unflappable determination, cut our national revenues while starting an unnecessary war.
I have stood by and defended your drunken tirades too long; you are a cad, sir. I won’t be surprised if even Pope Bogus now seeks distance from your ordure.

» on 08.02.11 @ 01:21 PM

I’m sure your expansive experience and education give you excellent insights on how to fix the world.  One small suggestion ... how about we focus on getting our country out of trouble first.  That way we can continue to be the bastion of hope for millions around the world.  My fear is that energetic yet misguided minds like yourself will see our country ground up and in the dirt before they realize the folly of their ways.

Rambler, how wrong you are.  It is with growing frustration that I read the ramblings of those who want to create a better world on the backs of others.  National priorities should be just that, and right now we’re in big trouble.  And please, stop jumping on the “beat up Bush” train.  It’s gotten really old.

» on 08.02.11 @ 07:35 PM

BS, Rambo. Some of us have to be the adults as you liberals are to busy trying to be juvenile delinquents most of the time. She was preaching the old and tired lie of liberal compassion, if you really care then you will vote to steal other people’s money to help others. I was raised differently. I was raised to help other people myself and never expect anything in return. The thought of taking from those that have to give to those that don’t is abhorrent to me, not because I don’t care but because that kind of action is not caring either. It is simply vacuuming your conscience on the backs of others. When I see that conservatives as a whole contribute far more toward charities than their wealthy liberal counterparts that bit of insight becomes crystal clear. Little missy needs to know she was sold a bill of goods by her lunatic college professors. I care enough about her to tell her the truth while you sit back and try to play mister cool. So typical of an aging hippie liberal, for you it’s about others thinking your cool rather than others thinking your right. And what is with the alcohol crap? You say it enough now that I believe it is a personal reflection. It would certainly explain your non-sequitur comments and your moniker.

» on 08.05.11 @ 12:42 AM

I was just pointing out your unique combination of ignorance and rudeness.

» on 08.09.11 @ 04:07 PM

Right, the kettle calling the pot black I presume.

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