Deficit Reduction on the Backs of the Most Vulnerable

Those Least Able to Sacrifice Are Asked to Give Up the Most

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The House GOP is boasting that their spending bill to fund the government for the remainder of fiscal year 2011 makes the largest cuts to domestic annual spending in history. But you don’t hear them boasting that these cuts will cut unemployed workers off of job training, force low-income veterans into homelessness, result in millions of low-income college students losing some or all of their education aid, or cause tens of thousands of vulnerable seniors to lose access to home-delivered food baskets.

And you certainly don’t hear them touting that allowing just one year’s worth of bonus tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans to lapse would reduce the deficit twice as much as the cuts to low-income programs outlined in the appendix.

Congress recently proposed a short-term bill to avoid a government shutdown. It contains smaller, more reasonable cuts to fund the government for two weeks while negotiations continue on a full-year funding bill. But the GOP position is reflected in the cuts below, which they proposed in their original continuing resolution for FY2011.

The timing for these cuts couldn’t be worse:

At a time when approximately 14 million Americans are out of work

Cuts in the GOP bill would:

house GOP budget proposal would reduce economic growth and increase unemployment

At a time when unemployment is still at 9 percent

Cuts in the GOP bill would:

At a time when 135,000 veterans are homeless

Cuts in the GOP bill would cut in half the number of veterans who would receive housing vouchers this year, preventing 10,000 low-income veterans from receiving assistance to avoid homelessness.

At a time when the United States is now 12th worldwide in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with a college degree

Cuts in the GOP bill would:

house GOP budget proposal would cut Pell grants for 9.4 million low-income students

At a time when nearly one in six Americans live in households struggling against hunger…

Cuts in the GOP bill would:

At a time when there is a shortage of 3.1 million affordable housing units for extremely low-income families….

Cuts in the GOP bill would:

house GOP budget proposal would deny rental assistance to 10,000 people with disabilities

At a time when the number of households requesting help for heating and cooling assistance is expected to reach record levels

  • Cuts in the GOP bill would essentially wipe out the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program Contingency Fund for the rest of 2011. The fund helps families cope with harsh weather conditions and spiking fuel costs.[1]

At a time when one in seven Americans and one in five children live in poverty…

Cuts in the GOP bill would:

house GOP budget proposal would close more than 16,000 Head Start and Early Head Start classrooms
  • Cut off 218,000 low-income children from early learning opportunities provided by Head Start and close more than 16,000 Head Start and Early Head Start classrooms. [2]
  • Affect the access of over 20 million low-income people who depend on community action agencies for a range of antipoverty services.

Sadly, not everyone is being asked to share in this sacrifice. The latest census data show that from 2008 to 2009 almost everyone’s income continued to fall in the Great Recession except for the top 5 percent of Americans.

At a time when the richest 5 percent of Americans claimed almost 22 percent of all income in 2009 and the top fifth took home fully half of the nation’s income…

We should be looking at both spending and revenue to address the deficit. Just one year of the tax cuts for those earning over $250,000 per year is worth more than twice as much as much in deficit reduction as the cuts inflicted on programs assisting low-income families combined (see appendix for sampling of programs).

We all agree that we need to tackle our long-term deficits. But the House GOP proposal apportions most of the sacrifice to low-income families, homeless vets, and disabled and elderly Americans, instead of taking a balanced approach and examining the entire budget for wasteful tax expenditures, unnecessary military spending, targeted spending cuts, or fair and efficient ways to raise revenue.

For more information on the impact of the cuts see the report by Half in Ten partner The Coalition on Human Needs, “A Better Budget for All: Saving Our Economy and Helping Those in Need.”

Melissa Boteach is the Half in Ten Manager at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

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[1]. The House slashed nearly $400 million from a $590 million fund. But because $150 million had already been spent only about $65 million would remain for the rest of the year to deal with heating or cooling needs.

[2]. This number includes 61,000 Head Start and Early Head Start slots slated to expire under the Recovery Act.