Thanksgiving Thoughts On Safety Nets

Let me be up front about this. I’m having a hard time getting into the holiday spirit.

I know I’ve got an enormous amount to be thankful for — my health, my loving and ever-patient husband, my home, which is now fully restored from the fire damage of two winters ago, friends, an extended family, including a wonderful second mother, an occupation and a nest egg that should keep us secure through our “golden years.”

But I can’t stop thinking about the millions of Americans who can’t count all these blessings — and who are now dependent on a tattered safety net that’s likely to be yanked out from under them. Surely will be if the Republicans in Congress stand fast on their pledge to drastically roll back federal spending.

I’m acutely anxious for those whose plight I know best — my fellow District of Columbia residents. So many unemployed or in jobs that don’t pay enough for them to afford the high cost of living here. A chronic problem made worse by the recession. For many of them, an upswing in the local job market won’t be enough.

Budget cuts have already damaged the local safety net. And now we’re told there have to be more cuts to get the budget back in balance. Councilmember Jack Evans is all for this. “Make as many cuts as possible,” he says, “so we can stay away from revenue hikes.”

I’m thankful not all Councilmembers share his view — especially thankful for my own Councilmember Tommy Wells’s outspoken support for a tax increase.

He’s of course concerned about the safety net programs under the jurisdiction of the Human Services Committee he chairs. But the argument he’s making for progressive reforms in our tax system reaches beyond his turf.

His recent response to a DC for Democracy questionnaire echoes remarks he made during the last budget cycle. The Council, he observes, made “steep cuts in services for the most vulnerable…. My wife and I were not asked to make any sacrifice.”

Nor were my husband and I. But we’d pick up our share of the burden in a heartbeat. Because we know first-hand what a strong safety net can mean.

Back when that fire broke out, our safety net was homeowners insurance.

We called our agent as soon as the smoke cleared enough for us to get back in the house — and discover that we had no heat and a bedroom open to the great outdoors.

Within an hour, someone was on the phone telling us about reservations they’d made for us in a comfortable, centrally-located hotel. Our agent showed up with a check for incidental expenses.

The next day, someone else called us to talk about what sort of apartment we’d like and where. And someone else to tell us about the company’s arrangements for storing our belongings, sending our smoke-reeking clothes for specialized cleaning, even lining up a restoration expert for our beloved “art collection.”

Without this safety net, we’d have been literally homeless. In our car for the night, I guess. Then in separate shelters for men and women until we somehow located something more stable and secure — and figured out how we’d liquidate assets to pay for it.

My wish for the District is a safety net that’s as broad, responsive and individualized as ours. I understand this is pie in the sky.

But I hope that next Thanksgiving we’ll have a budget that puts a higher priority on basic human needs than on the investment portfolios of the wealthiest residents.

If you hope so too, Save Our Safety has an editable letter you can send to the Council. Or use the text to leave a message for Chairman Vincent Gray at 202-724-8032.

UPDATE: The Save Our Safety Net letter is now addressed only to Council Chairman Gray.

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4 Responses to Thanksgiving Thoughts On Safety Nets

  1. teddyg says:

    the reality is that we spend 2/3 of our budget in 3 areas: public safety, human services, and education. all the tax increases in the world won’t balance this budget. we MUST cut expenditures.

    unless we want to go back to the barry days when trash wasnt picked up and libraries werent open, we will have to make cuts to these 3 areas.

    evans deserves credit for being realistic about our situation.

  2. Kathryn Baer says:

    No one I know is saying that the budget can be balanced without spending cuts. The issue is whether the budget should be balanced solely by spending cuts, as Councilmember Evans seems to advocate, or by a reasonable balance between spending cuts and revenue raisers.

    Beyond this, there’s an issue of what kind of revenue raisers. Those the Council used in the last budget cycle were disproportionately burdensome for low-income households. A new top tax bracket would be the opposite. The Council also has some other progressive options that could be included. One is eliminating the exemption for interest on out-of-state bonds. Another is an expansion of the sales tax to include more services.

  3. [...] Thanksgiving Thoughts on Safety Nets [...]

  4. [...] Providing front-end investments in prevention and intervention measures for youth and families is far less expensive than supporting individuals facing welfare assistance, unemployment, or incarceration. Unemployment benefits, TANF payments, and the high price of incarceration and homelessness stabilization cost the city over $400M. In stark comparison, safegaurding the already meager youth development and youth employment budgets would cost the city less than $40M. Budgeting should be cost-effective and balance spending cuts and revenue raisers. The current proposal is neither. I hope that next Thanksgiving we’ll have a budget that puts a higher priority on basic human needs than on the investment portfolios of the wealthiest residents. – Kathryn Bear, Poverty and Policy [...]

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