Speak Out For The True Conservative Position On Deficit Reduction

June 29, 2011

It’s time for those of us who care about the needs of low-income people to advocate a conservative position.

As you probably know, programs that serve these needs are at high risk as the President seeks to forge a compromise that will avert a default on the federal debt.

The Republicans are demanding at least $2 trillion in spending cuts, along with “reforms” in Medicare — maybe other so-called entitlements too.

They’ve said they won’t accept tax increases of any sort, betting that the President and other Democrats at the table will cave to avert an unprecedented economic crisis — even if it means throwing poor people under the bus.

It’s hard to imagine a spending-cut-only plan in the trillions that wouldn’t.

There’s nothing conservative about this. It’s a radical departure from a long-standing consensus that deficit reduction plans should, at the very least, protect programs for low-income people.

All the deficit reduction plans passed in the last 25 years did. Several of them actually strengthened anti-poverty measures, e.g., by expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit. The Children’s Health Insurance Program came into being as part of the Clinton era Balanced Budget Act.

Even President Obama’s deficit hawkish fiscal commission adopted, as a guiding principle, “protect the truly disadvantaged.”

The true conservative position is thus to conserve programs that mitigate poverty and offer low-income people opportunities for a better life.

The programs need to be protected from specific near-term budget cuts and also from any automatic cuts that would be triggered if Congress fails to achieve some as-yet undetermined deficit or debt reduction targets in the future.

Leaders of major national faith-based, civil rights, charitable, economic research and advocacy organizations have written the President, the Vice President and the Congressional leaders of both parties urging them to “honor the precedent set by previous deficit reduction negotiations.”

The Coalition on Human Needs tells us that we need to join our voices to theirs. The stakes are alarmingly high and the clock is ticking.

Here are two quick, easy ways to let the President know that we want him to stand firm for the conservative principles of past deficit reduction plans — protection for programs that serve low-income people and revenue raisers that will help make the total package balanced and fair.

We can leave a message on the White House comment line. The toll-free number is 888-245-0215.

We can also use this editable e-mail provided by the Half in Ten campaign.

How We Can Join The Fight Against Radical Spending Cuts

February 12, 2011

Enough — at least for the time being — about radical spending-cut plans in Congress. Here’s some good news.

The Coalition on Human Needs and allies have launched what promises to be a massive campaign against the cuts. It’s called SAVE (Strengthening America’s Values and Economy) for All.

SAVE for All is a large and growing coalition of faith-based, labor, civil rights, direct service and policy analysis organizations committed to a balanced approach to deficit reduction — and one that will foster opportunity and economic security for all Americans.

They’ve developed a statement of principles, formed working groups, initiated meetings with members of Congress and laid the groundwork for a broad-based grassroots effort.

All this in an amazingly short-period of time. I’ve been around long enough to have witnessed lots of coalition campaigns on similar issues. I’ve never seen one with as much cohesion, energy and strategic expertise.

But what can we do? At least one thing right now — maybe more depending on where we live and the type of organization we work for.

1. Put a human face on the issues.

We can all share stories about how federal programs have improved our lives and/or the lives of people we know.

It’s one thing — and an important thing — to say that, according to the latest Census figures, food stamps kept 4.8 million people from falling below the federal poverty line.

Quite another, more personally-compelling thing to tell members of Congress, the media and, through them, the public how food stamps kept you and your children from going hungry. Or if you work for a service provider, how food stamps have supported your efforts to help your clients.

Half in Ten is partnering with CHN to collect brief stories, written and video. It plans to put some of them into an online interactive map so that members of Congress can learn directly how federally-funded programs have made a positive difference in the lives of their constituents.

These stories will also be enormously helpful to advocates at state and local levels, as well as those in the halls of Congress. Just think what you could do with a good story or two in an op-ed or letter to the editor.

Stories won’t take long to write, since they shouldn’t be more than 250 words. Videos need not be professional quality. Check out the additional guidance here. Then look at the suggested topic areas, draft or record and go back to the same page to send your story for the collection.

2. Help the coalition grow.

If you work for an organization that falls into any of the categories above, sign the statement of principles on its behalf. Or share the principles and the opportunity with someone who has the authority to sign.

CHN will be collecting signatures from national organizations for the indefinite future. The initial deadline for state and local organizations is February 16. But that doesn’t mean that later endorsements won’t be added.

3. Tell your Senators to stand up for the interests of low-income people.

Those of you who have Senators can urge them to protect the programs low-income people depend on when the continuing resolution comes over to their side of the Hill — and in the challenging days beyond. Half in Ten has an editable form letter you can use.

Best we who live in the District can do is pass the word along our fully-enfranchised friends and relatives. Our community needs the at-risk funding as much as any. So I think it’s well worth our time.

More Doubling Up In Housing, Especially By Families

June 17, 2010

I recently wrote that we’ve no idea how many people are living doubled up with friends or relatives. Still true for the District of Columbia, but not for the nation as a whole.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness has issued a brief on doubling up during the 2005-8 period. Doubling up here means “living in a housing unit with extended family, friends or other non-relatives due to economic hardship,” which NAEH defines as “earning no more than 125% of the federal poverty level.” In 2008, that meant a maximum of $13,000 for a single individual and $22,000 for a family of three.

We learn some interesting things. For example, in 2008:

  • More than 4.8 million low-income people were living doubled up–5% more than in 2005.
  • Nearly three-quarters of them had incomes below the federal poverty line.
  • A third of them were in deep poverty, i.e., living at least 50% below the FPL.
  • The percent of doubled-up people who were in families had increased by 8.5%, to somewhat over 2.1 million.
  • Yet the percent of families doubled-up had increased by 3.5%–to just under 800,000. So it would seem that more family members were living together doubled up.
  • While more single individuals than families were living doubled up, the percent increase for individuals was much smaller–less than 2%.

Doubling up is certainly preferable to living on the street or in an emergency shelter. But, as NAEH says, it’s often a prelude to literal homelessness.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Annual Homelessness Assessment Report for 2008, 25.8% of single individuals and 42.3% of families who weren’t homeless before they entered a shelter or transitional housing had stayed the night before with family or friends.

Perhaps the family member or friend had agreed to house them for only a night or two. Perhaps accommodating them had become too inconvenient. Perhaps frictions arose, as they can among any people living together. Perhaps everybody got evicted.

We see some of these risks of homelessness in other NAEH figures.

  • In 2008, more than 1.7 million doubled-up people (34.6%) were in households with severe housing burdens, i.e. paying 50% or more of their income for rent.
  • Of these people, 22%–somewhat over 1.3 million–were living in over-crowded conditions.
  • Both the number with severe housing burdens and the number in over-crowded conditions were higher in 2008 than in 2005.

What I would guess these figures reflect are the combined impacts of the onset of the recession and the accelerating shortage of affordable rental housing for low-income people. If so, then we would expect more recent figures to be worse.

Last year’s HEARTH Act, which reauthorized homeless programs administered by HUD, expanded the definition of “homeless” to some doubled-up families. The NAEH brief says that communities “will now serve them through their homeless assistance programs.”

Don’t we wish. Here in the District, the homeless services program seems unable to cope even with all the families who’ve got no place to live at all. And with budget-slashing across the country, I doubt many other programs are ready to take on more.