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The Most Vulnerable Should Not Be Pushed Over the Cliff

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A woman visits  the Washington state Department of Health and Social Services in Seattle to apply for SNAP benefits. SNAP is one of the programs that could be cut as part of a federal budget deal. (Photo by Flickr user Wonderlane, under Creative Commons license)

By Jaylynn Farr Munson

With roughly three weeks remaining until the end of the year, the fiscal cliff is undoubtedly upon us.

Whether or not the president and Congress will reach some type of compromise before the deadline—and exactly what such a deal would look like—remains unclear. President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are still in negotiations over their respective proposed plans, both of which could involve a combination of revenues and cuts that could impact millions of Americans.

When I visited the White House a month ago to hear President Obama’s first post-election speech on jobs and the economy, I left the East Room with an incomplete understanding of how he planned to balance the nation’s budget. During his speech, the president discussed the importance of a bipartisan approach to solving the nation’s fiscal issues and stated, “As I’ve said before, we can’t just cut our way to prosperity. If we’re serious about reducing the deficit, we have to combine spending cuts with revenue—and that means asking the wealthiest Americans to pay a little more in taxes.”

While the president outlined how to raise more revenue, he did not give specifics or provide further clarification as to how his plan would reduce the deficit without harming the poor. He also did not mention the critical importance of protecting the poorest Americans even in the face of proposed deficit reductions. 

Now, both President Obama and Speaker Boehner have their plans on the table, yet neither party leader has clearly identified how these plans will keep the poor from growing poorer. Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, recently said, “President Obama’s proposal appears to protect poor people, while Speaker Boehner’s would cause a lot of hurt. But neither proposal explicitly commits to a circle of protection around programs focused on poor and hungry people.”

Without a clear explanation of how their plans will ensure a circle of protection around poor and hungry people, the possibility of devastating cuts to essential programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), is a very real threat in the new year. The time to urge our leaders for a defined plan to reduce the deficit without cutting programs essential for the survival of the poorest Americans is now. The most vulnerable among us should not be the first pushed over the cliff.

Jaylynn Farr Munson is a media relations intern at Bread for the World. She is a senior at the University of Maryland, majoring in both English and communications. 

 

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