Will Widening the Circle of Opportunity Cost Poor and Hungry People?
Screenshot from CNN.com
On Monday, July 9, we attended a briefing at the White House, during which President Obama called for extending tax cuts for the middle class and small business owners. While we were overwhelmed by this amazing opportunity to listen to our president, we also wanted to take a critical look at some parts of his speech.
During his speech, President Obama noted that he has cut taxes for Americans by an average of $3,600 per year during his tenure. He urged Congress to extend tax cuts for the middle class and small-business owners who make less than $250,000 for another year. He also called on Congress to allow tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans to expire by the end of the year. President Obama emphasized that 97 percent of U.S. business are small businesses, and are the economic root of the nation.
In an ongoing effort to strengthen the middle class President Obama said that we need to “widen the circle of opportunity” for middle class Americans. We found the president’s use of this phrase interesting. Since early 2011, Bread for the World and other organizations have called on Congress and the Obama administration to create a circle of protection around programs vital to hungry and poor people in the United States and around the world.
Bread for the World has long supported tax policy that helps poor people. Bread for the World's 2010 Offering of Letters focused on the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC). Bread backed an $858 billion bill that not only extended these important credits, but also continued tax cuts for families at every income level, renewed jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed, and provided a one-year cut in Social Security taxes that benefitted almost every worker. This year, Bread for the World's 2012 Offering of Letters builds on that campaign to again support tax credits for working families.
This year, Bread’s 2012 Offering of Letters includes support for tax credits for working families. Unfortunately, these programs remain on the chopping block as lawmakers work to reduce the federal deficit. Yet, all the attention remains on the middle class. No one is speaking up for the need to protect low-income working families. With this in mind, focusing intently on strengthening the middle class could have dangerous implications for hungry and poor people if it comes at the expense of programs such as SNAP, WIC, and tax credits for the working poor.
While sitting in the East Wing of the White House, we were surrounded by dozens of middle-class taxpayers. It dawned on us that this was a disproportionate representation of the average American, considering the number of hungry and poor people in the United States. There are currently more than 46 million Americans living below the poverty line. Families rely on safety-net programs to make ends meet and get back on their feet during tough times. Unfortunately, these programs—and the people they impact—are often left out of the discussion when the focus is on extending middle class tax cuts versus tax cuts for the wealthy.
We’ll keep raising the issue. We hope you will as well. Hopefully, together we can lift issues of hunger and poverty to the very front of these discussions and to the front of the public consciousness.
Courtney Ryan and Sarah Dickey are Bread for the World’s summer 2012 media relations interns. Courtney is a rising senior at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, VA and Sarah is a recent graduate of Sewanee: the University of the South in Sewanee, TN.
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