We Need Real Action
The Gulf Coast storms of 2005 re-exposed the face of poverty to our nation.
While there was physical and economic devastation, the most tragic thing of all was seeing the human loss and feeling the sense of helplessness as we watched our stranded fellow citizens be torn from all that they had.
In response, the President stood in Jackson Square in New Orleans and made a commitment to rebuild the city. He pledged that he would do what it takes and would stay as long as it takes, to help people rebuild their communities and their lives. He went even further, saying that we had duty to confront poverty with bold action in America.
But it appears that the Administration and the Congressional Leadership are in real danger of abandoning the action behind the words.
Last week, the hometown paper of New Orleans called out for help. The Times-Picayune editors wrote that while some federal money has come into New Orleans, the future of their flood-protection system is still unknown, local government agencies are still broke, the recovery is stalled, and thousands of residents are still bound by mortgages on near-worthless homes.
Though the federal efforts are a helpful gesture in the right direction, the overall progress is being undercut by the misplaced funding priorities of the Congressional Leadership in Washington.
Just before the holidays, leaders in Congress forced a budget through the House that cut billions in education, job programs, and health care for working people, all to make room for tax breaks that mostly benefit people who make more than $1 million each year. The budget cut funding for student loans, training programs, and family farmer aid.
These are cuts that hurt middle and low income Americans. The people who are going to lose federal assistance under this bill also happen to be the same kind of people who have been displaced by the hurricanes and have lost everything. They are also Mainers who struggle to heat their homes in a cold winter, or any number of Americans who try to make ends meet for their families.
The government seems to be saying that they will give a helping hand with their right hand and take away with their left - cut taxes for the wealthiest and cut assistance for those in need.
The dirtiest part of this scheme is that it was called the "Deficit Reduction Act," and was justified by Congressional leaders as a plan to help pay for the cost of Gulf Coast recovery. Both are untrue.
Congressional Leaders are passing $50 billion in budget cuts along with $70 billion in tax cuts. That means a $20 billion increase in the federal deficit, not "deficit reduction." And the budget cuts are being made to pay for the tax cuts for the wealthiest, not for Katrina relief.
It is time for the spin and politics to end. In just the last few years, the number of Americans living in poverty rose by over 4 million. Many of these are working people who work a full time job or even double-shifts, but can't keep up with rising costs, and are falling further and further behind. This is not the American dream.
Addressing the growing poverty in America is either a priority for our nation, or it is not. If we are really serious about helping lift up the circumstances of working people and the poor, we need to get our priorities straight. We must get serious about investing in our people and our infrastructure, keeping jobs here, and growing our economy. We can't afford to be cutting very the programs that help the working poor in order to fund tax cuts for the wealthy. That is not only morally wrong; it makes a mockery of all that was promised to the people of the Gulf Coast.
The hurricanes showed us just how deep many of our issues with poverty are. We can see that there is a great challenge before us. This is a challenge that we can overcome, but only if we face up to the problem, not just give it lip service.