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345 posts categorized "Poverty"
The 112th Congress (Jan. 3, 2011 – Jan. 3, 2013) could very well be the most unproductive in our nation's history. It was characterized by deficit reduction drama and political brinkmanship – often aimed at cutting programs vital to hungry and poor people.
In the end, persistent advocacy by Bread for the World members, our partner organizations, and other people of faith resulted in reducing our deficit by more than $2 trillion over the next ten years. The White House and the 112th Congress managed to do this without substantial cuts to programs vital to those whom Jesus called "the least of these."
A Circle of Protection Was Created in 2011 in Response to Threats to Vital Programs
It became clear toward the end of 2010 that we were in for a bruising battle during the 112th Congress. Thus, we spent most of our time in 2011 and 2012 defending programs vital to hungry and poor people from unprecedented attacks in Congress. Although our 2011 Offering of Letters focused on reforming foreign aid, we quickly expanded it to protect domestic and international programs vital to vulnerable people.
We worked with other faith organizations to create a Circle of Protection around these programs and to amplify the voice of the faith community in the deficit reduction discussions.
The extent of the attacks became evident when Congress passed a bill covering the FY 2011 budget, which cut poverty-focused development assistance programs and WIC. The budget was eventually enacted (Pub. L. 112-10, the Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011) with a few hours to spare before the government would have shut down in April 2011.
Deficit reduction negotiations continued as the country moved closer to reaching our credit limit, or debt ceiling, in August. Congress eventually passed the Budget Control Act of 2011 (Pub.L. 112-25). It established a super committee to deal with further deficit reductions. Should the committee fail, across-the-board cuts would be triggered. However, the cuts, or sequester, exempted the biggest anti-poverty programs — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), tax credits for the working poor, Medicaid, and child nutrition programs.
Deficit Reduction Plans in 2012 Propose Severe Cuts to Programs that Help Poor People
The super committee failed to reach an agreement and 2012 opened with Congress vowing to work toward deficit reduction and avoid the sequester.
Our 2012 Offering of Letters focused on expanding the circle of protection around such anti-poverty programs. By then, we also learned that in order to cope with these unprecedented attacks, we had to change the way we campaigned. Instead of focusing on a single issue, we worked on four different issues under a broad campaign theme.
In March, the Republican-led House passed its FY 2013 budget. Had this passed Congress, the proposed cuts would have been so severe that most of the government—aside from health care, Social Security, and defense—would cease to exist by 2050. In fact, 62 percent of the cuts in this budget are to programs vital to poor people.
Added to the mix during deficit reduction discussions was the reauthorization of the farm bill. Both the Senate and House proposed cuts, with the House version of the bill including $16.5 billion in cuts to SNAP over ten years—$12 billion more than the cuts proposed in the Senate version. As many as 3 million people would have been cut out of SNAP and 280,000 children would have lost school meals. Both bills would have reduced agriculture and nutrition spending over the next ten years.
A Few Signs of Hope in 2012
During the presidential elections of 2012 the Circle of Protection asked the Republican and Democratic candidates to issue video statements on how they would end hunger. In the fall, both President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney released statements committing to addressing hunger and poverty. We were able to use these statements to draw attention to the issues.
It is worth noting that before the year ended, outgoing House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-Calif.) introduced his rewrite of the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act, the Global Partnership Act. Also, the House unanimously consented to approve the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2012 to improve the efficiency of U.S. foreign aid. While these bills did not pass, we remain optimistic that similar bills will pass in the 113th Congress.
Congress and the President Avoided the Most Harmful Scenario at the Fiscal Cliff
All the issues that we persistently advocated for during the 112th Congress were dramatically resolved a few hours before we reached the fiscal cliff at the end of December 2012.
President Obama signed the American Taxpayer Relief Act to prevent the most economically harmful portions of the fiscal cliff from taking effect. The deal minimizes the negative impact of the fiscal cliff on hungry and poor people and generates about $620 billion towards deficit reduction over the next ten years.
The deal prevents most Americans from seeing an immediate tax rate increase and extends emergency unemployment insurance through 2013. It also extends the current Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) benefit levels for five years.
It postpones for two months the across-the-board cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011. Most provisions of the 2008 farm bill were extended through Sept. 30 2013, avoiding immediate cuts to SNAP benefit levels or changes in eligibility standards.
On the international side, the temporary extension of the 2008 farm bill authorizes funding for both the McGovern-Dole International Food Program, used for school feeding programs for poor children abroad, and the Food for Peace Program, which allows the United States to respond to disaster with needed food aid.
Ultimately, the American Taxpayer Relief Act raises revenues, helps reduce the deficit, and supports initiatives that lift people out of poverty.
Thank You for Your Advocacy and Prayers
Despite many challenges, 2012 ended on a positive note for us, with many important anti-poverty programs being protected from harmful and disproportionate cuts. Medicaid, SNAP, and WIC were not cut. Many tax credits that help people lift themselves out of poverty were extended. Most critically, the worst effects of the fiscal cliff were avoided.
And for all of this, we are thankful to you, our members, our activists, our donors, and our partners. As the 113th Congress begins its work we pray that it will be more productive than the 112th Congress in protecting programs vital to hungry and poor people, wherever they may be.
This article originally appeared in the Jan./Feb. edition of Bread for the World's e-newsletter.
From the soundproof room in our D.C. office, Bread experts update grassroots activists and answer questions. Pictured (l to r): LaVida Davis, director of organizing; Marion Jasin, organizing assistant; Eric Mitchell, director of government relations; Christine Melendez-Ashley, policy analyst. (Robin Stephenson)
By Robin Stephenson
"The fight is not over," said director of organizing LaVida Davis during the most recent Bread for the World national grassroots webinar and conference call. "The fiscal cliff is part of a longer conversation. [Members of Congress] still really need to hear from us.”
On the third Tuesday of each month, Davis and Bread's director of government relations, Eric Mitchell, along with other expert staff, gather around a phone to give you the most up-to-date information about our work and answer any questions you may have. The conference calls, which also have a webinar component, give our members direct access to our government relations staff. These are the members of Bread's staff who spend many of their afternoons in the offices of your members of Congress and know the ins and outs of the policy behind each of our campaign priorities.
At Bread, we know that every advocate accesses information differently, so we offer a variety of ways in which our grassroots can stay informed. When Congress is in session, we publish written legislative updates on this blog, we send out monthly newsletters, and, of course, our regional organizers are always available to help you plan local actions and answer your questions. The conference calls are yet another tool the you, as an advocate, can use to prepare for action.
During the most recent call, held on Tuesday, Jan. 15, one caller who identified herself as Joanne wanted to know how school lunches fared in the recent “fiscal cliff” bill passed by Congress on Jan. 1. Ready to answer her question on the other side of the phone was Bread’s domestic nutrition policy expert, Christine Melendez-Ashley. She told Joanne that the school lunch program was not affected and that the sequester (or automatic cuts) scheduled for March 1 would not impact the nutrition program either, because it is one of the programs exempt from these across the board cuts.
Melendez-Ashley said that if the sequester is not averted it will affect discretionary programs, including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and poverty-focused development assistance (PFDA). Both of those programs are part of our 2012 Offering of Letters Campaign and are critically important to hungry and poor people.
She emphasized during the call that funding for WIC and PFDA is especially vulnerable because they are categorized as discretionary, meaning Congress must appropriate funds to pay for the program each year. Mandatory programs are not subject to across the board cuts—the spending levels for these programs are determined each year by the number of eligible participants.
The August 2011 Budget Control Act put spending caps on discretionary programs over 10 years and Congress must decide which programs will see decreased funding as they work through the appropriations process each year. The fiscal cliff bill further lowered those spending caps for the next two years as a way to delay the sequester. Sending Congress a message that these programs need a circle of protection is as critical now as it ever was.
Eric Mitchell cautioned that another perfect storm is brewing, and referred to the events coming down the pike as "March Madness." Between the debt ceiling (scheduled to hit between mid-February and March), the scheduled sequester (March 1), and the expiration of the 2013 continuing resolution (March 27), members of Congress have a lot of decisions to make in less than 60 days.
Mitchell said it is a good time to thank our members of Congress who voted for the fiscal cliff bill— if the bill had not been enacted, poor and hungry people would've suffered dire consequences. The bill extended refundable tax credits, including the Earned Income Tax Credit, for five years. Although the credits were not made permanent, this is a huge victory.
“Now through March 1 is critical," said Mitchell. “We urge you to also ask [members of Congress] not to politicize the debt ceiling debate. We want them to take a thoughtful, balanced approach that protects poor and hungry people.”To find out the next chapter of budget negotiations, ask tough questions of the experts, and hear how you can influence your policy makers to protect vital programs, call in to our next grassroots webinar and conference call on Feb 19. We will be waiting for you on the other side of the phone.
National grassroots conference calls and webinars are held on the third Tuesday of every month. These calls will take place at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. EST (Please adjust time zones accordingly). To register, visit www.bread.org/events.
Panelists speak about hunger at the Oregon Faith Roundtable Against Hunger "Hungry for Change" event. Panelists, from right to left: Robin Stephenson (standing), Bread for the World; Patty Whitney-Wise, Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon; Philip Kennedy-Wong, Oregon Food Bank; and Howard Kenyon, Northeast Emergency Food Program.
By Robin Stephenson
On a recent frosty, fog-filled day in Portland, some 65 Oregonians spent the morning learning about hunger in their state, with a focus on moving from awareness to action.
Through the local anti-hunger coalition Oregon Faith Roundtable Against Hunger (OFRAH), of which Bread for the World is a member, Bread staff and the regional Bread Team partnered with Catholic Charities and other Portland-area advocacy and service groups to put on the event "Hungry for Change." The OFRAH program examined the state of hunger in Oregon and highlighted legislative opportunities at both the state and federal level. Advocate voices are critically needed, especially in the coming year as fiscal belt-tightening will likely target programs for poor and hungry people.
In our work in the Portland area, we have benefited greatly by working in partnership. Although policy priorities of different organizations and groups may differ, the common thread of ending hunger creates fertile partnerships where coalitions can bring groups together to focus local energy and grow advocacy. Many of our Bread members are associated with multiple local anti-hunger groups and our working together, with a shared agenda, helps those members focus their advocacy. To our legislative delegations, partnered groups look big, and therefore may be perceived to have a stronger voice. And as each group has a special niche and particular talent, working together can often create a more complex and nuanced picture of hunger in a region.
One of the highlights of the day was a panel that painted a picture of hunger in Oregon that went beyond simple statistics, and showed how often the same issues require advocacy at both the state and federal level.
As a regional organizer for Bread for the World, I talked about critical federally-funded programs that keep people afloat as they struggle through tough economic times—programs that can be a crucial hand up for many escaping poverty. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) has long been a priority for Bread for the World and is an example of policy that pulls people out of poverty, especially children. Although the EITC was recently extended as part of the “fiscal cliff” bill, it faces several obstacles in the coming year. Our goal is to make this refundable credit permanent.
Patti Whitney-Wise, executive director at Partners for a Hunger Free Oregon, talked about how Oregon’s working poor and near-poor families pay some of the nation’s highest state income taxes. Whitney-Wise explained that the state EITC helps families bridge the gap by supplementing very low wages and allowing them to afford life’s basic necessities, including food and housing.
Oregon Food Bank’s state policy expert, Phillip Kennedy-Wong, discussed the increasing need in the state and pointed out that state and regional food bank networks have distributed over 1 million emergency boxes in the past year. He also said that cuts to The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) have depleted some of their resources.
But the panelist that made the stark reality of hunger most real was Howard Kenyon, program manager of the Northeast Emergency Food Program. They have felt the pinch of the reduction in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) commodities, but Howard also sees the effect of hunger on the faces that utilize the pantry daily. He made sure that everyone understood that poor people were not lazy when they often had to wait several hours for a food box in their overcrowded facility. He told stories of people he knew who struggled to find work and make it from month to month with meager resources.
The day also included breakout sessions on advocacy, story-telling, and in-depth federal policy. Each session gave participants a variety of ways to get involved and act toward change.
There is strength in numbers, and when our politicians and media have been silent on the needs of low-income Americans, we must come together and be loud enough for them to hear us amid all the competing voices.
If you would like to organize an event like this or join a local coalition but don’t know where to start, contact your regional organizer for ideas.
[Read the Catholic Sentinel article on the "Hungry for Change" event here.]
Robin Stephenson is Bread for the World's national social media lead/senior regional organizer, western hub.
To see photo captions, please view slideshow in full-screen mode.
We have avoided the fiscal cliff, but we still have mountains to scale. We continue to advocate for programs that help poor as Congress continues tough budget negotiations.
Bread members have been essential in protecting tax credits for low-income families, domestic nutrition programs, and poverty-focused development assistance. However, several key actions by Congress over the next couple of months will again place such vital programs at risk. We encourage you to continue contacting your members of Congress to let them know that you want them to create a circle of protection around these programs. Soon Congress will begin negotiations to replace the sequester (automatic, across-the-board cuts) by March 1 and raise the debt ceiling by at least $1 trillion. The continuing resolution that extended the fiscal year 2013 budget and kept the government funded expires March 27. These events could be accompanied by significant spending cuts. We need you to keep reminding our legislators that they must not balance the budget on the backs of poor and hungry people.
We continue to message members of Congress as part of the 2012 Offering of Letters. Below is an updated sample letter to use when contacting your senators and representative. We will launch Bread for the World's 2013 Offering of Letters, “A Place at the Table,” on March 1, and will keep you apprised of any changes or developments on the Bread Blog. We encourage you and members of your community or congregation to personalize your letters to Congress.
Dear Sen. ____________ or Rep. ____________,
Please prioritize hungry and poor people during the next round of budget negotiations. Over the next two months, your leadership is critical, especially as Congress looks to finalize the fiscal year 2013 budget, address sequestration, and raise the debt ceiling.
Specifically, I urge you to ensure adequate funding for programs that address hunger and help people move out of poverty. This will require additional revenues to address our deficits.
I appreciate Congress enacting the American Taxpayer Relief Act. The bill raises revenue for the first time in years, while also extending the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC), two of America’s most effective anti-poverty programs. This bill also largely protects important anti-poverty programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), Medicaid, and international food aid, from major cuts. But the work is not over. Although this fiscal cliff deal is a tremendous first step, more needs to be done to address our country’s long-term fiscal health and ensure funding for programs that fight hunger and lift people out of poverty. I am concerned about the across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to take place if Congress does not develop a more comprehensive deficit-reduction package. I encourage Congress to balance responsible spending cuts with new revenues in order to address the country's long-term deficits without jeopardizing our nation's commitment to alleviating hunger and poverty.
Allowing these across-the-board cuts will hurt programs such as international poverty-focused development assistance and WIC. Cuts to some international development programs would deny life-saving nutrition to some of the poorest nations, while cuts to WIC could hurt hundreds of thousands of poor mothers and young children in the United States.
Our budget choices must not hurt those Jesus called “the least of these.” I urge you to form a circle of protection around funding for programs vital to hungry and poor people. May God continue to bless you and your work.
[City, State ZIP]
Photo: A college group writes letters to Congress. (Bread for the World)
By Sarah Godfrey
One of the biggest feel-good stories of the year, so far, is that of Los Angeles-area entertainment lawyer Tony Tolbert, who is allowing a homeless family to live in his house for an entire year, rent-free. Tolbert has moved in with his mother while the recipient of his kindness, Felicia Dukes, is now living in his home with her four children.
Tolbert has, deservedly, received heaps of praise for his amazing generosity. Read the comments section of any story about Tolbert's good deed and the remarks are overwhelmingly positive. Still, there are at least a few people wondering if he might've done more good with an act that would’ve helped more than one family—or addressed the larger issues surrounding poverty, hunger, and homelessness. Many questioned whether giving someone shelter, as noble and generous as it is, would really do anything to help the family beyond 2013.
"What happens after the year is up?" one commenter wrote. "Give a man fish and feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and he can eat for a lifetime. Charitable kindness is fine but true freedom come when a man can feed himself. President Obama, you need to stimulate the economy and put people back to work!"
"That's cool and all, but what happens at the end of the year?" wrote another commenter. "365 days fly by pretty fast especially when you are broke. I'm not trying to be negative I'm just asking are there steps being taken to help them get their own house and keep it?"
Some of my more cynical friends also voiced concerns about Tolbert's act and the media coverage of it. They told me they were discouraged by the prevalence of news stories about good Samaritan "superheroes," while stories of programs that prevent poverty, or help people lift themselves out of it, remain rare.
Those points are valid, and it's true that individual acts of charity often receive more attention than large-scale efforts to stamp out poverty. There are tons of stories about this one man's effect on one family, but little media coverage of the millions of families helped by tax credits, for example. Still, it's unfair to say that Tolbert's act can't have a huge impact.
He has done more than merely provide "fish" to the Dukes family—his act could well have lasting positive benefits for Felicia Dukes and her children. It's hard to overstate the importance of affordable (or free!), safe housing.
Beyond that, Tolbert's act has stimulated public conversation about poverty, and what can be done to address it. And sometimes an individual's selfless act can be an entry point to advocacy for that person—or for someone who is inspired by them. Let's say someone reads a story in their local paper about a family inviting a hungry person to their table for Thanksgiving. Maybe that person is so moved that they decide to serve dinner at their local soup kitchen. After that, they decide that they want to help beyond the holidays, and start volunteering for their local food bank. And maybe while doing that work, they realize how important it is to contact their members of Congress and tell them to protect federal nutrition programs, such as SNAP and WIC, that are vital to poor and hungry people. It's a pretty common path—that's how it worked for me.
Sarah Godfrey is Bread for the World's associate online editor.
Photo by Flickr user 401(k) 2013
When Alexandria, Va., resident Ayana Edwards first learned that the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) could be in jeopardy during fiscal cliff negotiations in Congress, she prepared to face chaos.
Edwards, who works in human resources, knew that if those refundable tax
credits were reduced, the employees at her company who count on getting larger
tax refunds thanks to the EITC and CTC would flood her office, hoping she might
know of a way to offset the blow to their finances. She also kept close watch
on the negotiations because she is one of the roughly 27
million Americans who receives the EITC.
“I actually had a sit-down with a tax preparer who told me what the changes would be, and then, because I'm in HR, I’m familiar with any tax changes that could affect my employer and our employees, so I was watching it from both sides,” Edwards says.
The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, better known as the deal that helped the country avoid the fiscal cliff, extended current benefit levels for both the EITC and CTC for five years. The extension preserved improvements made to the EITC and CTC over the last decade, including marriage penalty relief and expansion of income thresholds, which allows low-wage workers to count more of their earnings toward the credits. The EITC, which has been shown to encourage work and improve children's school performance, is a powerful tool in helping to lift families out of poverty—it is our nation’s largest anti-poverty program, in fact.
Edwards says the affect the EITC has had on her family has been tremendous.
She once utilized several federal safety net programs, but over the years she
has increased her earnings, through a series of progressively better-paying
jobs. She no longer qualifies for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
(TANF) or SNAP (formerly food stamps)—EITC is one of the last benefits she
receives. If she continues on her current career trajectory, soon she’ll no
longer qualify for EITC, either. But, as it is now, the tax credit provides her
and her family with a very important hand-up.
“The EITC has been a huge help," Edwards says. "It’s practical and allows me to get money in one lump sum—money that I can use to catch up on bills, or make a major purchase, if I need to. I can get things like coats for the kids, if they’ve outgrown something. I have a larger family, so I’m not always able to replace all of the winter coats that no longer fit all at once. When I get my tax refund, which includes the EITC, that’s something I can do.”
This year, Edwards says she will likely use her EITC money to buy a used
car, since the vehicle she uses for her commute to work, 60 miles round-trip
each day, is old and she's nervous that it may soon break down beyond
repair. Edwards can see how, without the tax credit, she could easily
fall back into the poverty that she has escaped. Without a working
car, how would she get to work? Without a job, how would she pay her rent or
feed her family? She thinks that those who diminish the importance of the
credit, and think it should be reduced or eliminated altogether, just don't
understand it's role in helping millions of families secure food, clothing, and
“The only people who could say something against [EITC] are those who aren't in a position to need it, or don't care about those of us who really do need it," Edwards says.
The Why Poverty? films (which were commissioned by the international non-profit STEPS, the same group behind the Why Democracy? project) are all themed around poverty, wealth, and inequality. The films, originally broadcast around the world in November and December, include "Poor Us: An Animated History," a myth-busting look at the history of poverty, and "Land Rush," (above), a look at how a proposed commercial sugar cane operation in Mali threatens small-scale rice farmers—and their ability to feed their communities.
The Why Poverty? films aren't pushing for any single, specific solution to global poverty, but the filmmakers do hope that the documentaries will inspire those who watch them to ask questions about hunger and poverty and why it persists. Learn more about the origins of the project at whypoverty.net.
[UPDATE, 11 p.m. The fiscal cliff bill has passed the House by a vote of 257 to 167 and is expected to be signed by the president soon. Thanks to all those who prayed and advocated for programs that help hungry people. While this is not a perfect deal, and does not fully address our long term fiscal outlook, it is an important first step. We believe that the revenues raised will help reduce the deficit and support initiatives that lift people out of poverty.]
By Eric MitchellYour calls over the past few weeks have been working. Senate leadership and the administration produced a deal that reduces the economic risk of the fiscal cliff and largely protects hungry and poor people.
The Senate overwhelmingly passed the deal 89-8, but its fate in the House is uncertain.
Specifically, the bill accomplishes the following:
- Extends the current Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit benefit levels for five years, including the 2009 improvements. This is something Bread for the World has been pushing for over the past three years and represents an enormous victory.
- Extends emergency unemployment benefits for one year, preventing 2 million people from losing unemployment benefits just one week after Christmas.
The deal postpones for two months the "sequester" (across-the-board cuts) that was mandated by the Budget Control Act last year. The sequester would cut some anti-poverty programs. Cuts to some international development programs would literally cost lives. But some of the biggest anti-poverty programs—including SNAP ( formerly food stamps), child nutrition programs, tax credits for poor working families, and Medicaid—are exempted from sequestration. Bread for the World will be working in the coming months on a more thoughtful approach to spending cuts and protecting poverty-focused international development assistance and WIC.
While this deal isn’t perfect, it will reduce the risk of recession and higher unemployment. It also includes important benefits to hungry and poor people.
Use our toll-free number (1-800-826-3688) to urge your members of Congress to pass the deal.
In these critical times, we also ask that you pray for the president and Congress. Pray that God will give them wisdom, a spirit of concord, and a shared sense of responsibility for hungry and poor people here and abroad.
Eric Mitchell is Bread for the World's director of government relations.
[While all eyes are focused on the fiscal cliff, we are pleased to inform you that the House has passed the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2012. This bill helps to ensure that our foreign assistance efforts are more efficient and more effective in reaching our brothers and sisters abroad. The Senate also seems likely to pass it this week. We have been pushing for foreign assistance reform legislation for the past three years.]
By David Beckmann
This weekend, as faithful congregants across our nation gather for their final service of 2012, we are mindful of the great significance of the budget discussions taking place among our political leaders. Whatever the outcome of these discussions—whether that means striking a deal or going over the fiscal cliff—hungry people in the United States and around the world will feel the effects the most.
We urge Bread members, Bread churches, and every concerned citizen to pray that our leaders choose a wise and just course. Please pass this prayer along or compose your own:
"Almighty and loving God, we pray for our nation. We are divided by ideology and interest groups. Our leaders find it difficult to make decisions together. We face pressing problems. Our economy is still fragile. But urgent questions go unresolved.
"We pray for the president and Congress as they continue to negotiate taxes and government spending. Give them wisdom, a spirit of concord, and a shared sense of responsibility for hungry and poor people. Open doors to a solution that will serve the common good. Amen."
Plan B would hurt families like Heather Rude-Turner's. Rude-Turner credits the Earned Income Tax Credit with helping her get back on her feet and allowing her family stay out of poverty. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)
[UPDATE, 8:30 p.m. The House did not take up the "Plan B" measure this evening as planned. The House adjourned and will return after Christmas.]
By Amelia Kegan
Are you frantically making final preparations for Christmas? So is the House of Representatives. The House is trying to take some action—any action—so its members can say they have done something in response to the impending fiscal cliff. But when we’re dealing with issues this important and this big, we shouldn’t be content with a half-baked proposal—especially one that would hurt low-income working families.
This evening, the House will vote on H. Res. 66, also known as “Plan B.” This bill would extend many of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for the first $1 million of income. But Plan B fails to address the real problem: the long-term deficit problem and the approaching fiscal cliff. The bill raises only $300 billion over ten years. That is a far cry from the $2 trillion in deficit reduction needed to put the country on a fiscally sustainable path. The resulting spending cuts required would devastate our country’s ability to address hunger and help people, both in the United States and abroad, move out of poverty. Under Plan B, even multi-millionaires would receive a tax cut. Only income earned above and beyond the first $1 million would be taxed at the 2000 tax rate of 39.6 percent. The Tax Policy Center estimates that Plan B would allow millionaires an average tax cut of over $100,000, compared to current law.
But the most disappointing part of this bill is what it would do to poor working families. Plan B ends the 2009 improvements to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit. These tax credits help more Americans escape poverty than any other anti-poverty program in the country. In 2011, the EITC and Child Tax Credit lifted 8.3 million people out of poverty. These credits reward work, promote economic mobility, and help struggling working parents put food on the table. A majority of EITC recipients only receive the credit for one or two years before moving to higher income levels. That is exactly what we want our anti-poverty programs to be doing. Why would we want to cut programs that are doing so much to help low-income working families move out of poverty and into the middle class?
But that is exactly what Plan B does. If enacted
- Over 13 million families, including 25 million children, would see their EITC and Child Tax Credit benefits reduced or eliminated.
- Nearly 3.75 million families, including almost 6 million children, would lose access to the Child Tax Credit entirely.
And this is just one of the bills the House will be voting on in response to the fiscal cliff. The other (H.R. 6684) includes drastic cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), cuts the Child Tax Credit further, and eliminates the Social Services Block Grant, which helps fund Meals on Wheels, services for seniors and children who are victims of abuse or neglect, and child care for low-income families.
Plan B isn’t an answer. It would harm millions of low-income families. Congress should stick with Plan A. They’ve been debating deficit reduction for the past two years at the expense of many other necessary priorities.
Christmas is a time of hope, promise, and togetherness. This is a moment when members of Congress should seek common ground and work together to solve our nation’s fiscal challenges while remembering that we have a responsibility to our most poor and vulnerable brothers and sisters. It’s time for Congress to set aside politics. Rather than voting on a proposal merely to say they’ve voted on something, Congress should do the work to negotiate a comprehensive, balanced, bipartisan plan that addresses our long-term deficits and prioritizes a commitment to ending hunger in the U.S. and around the world.
Amelia Kegan is Bread for the World's senior policy analyst.