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18 posts categorized "Super Committee Blog Series"
Photo by Flickr user Veronique Debord
Way back in August, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, or Super Committee, was charged with developing a plan to reduce our federal deficit by $1.2 trillion over 10 years. Why were they called the “Super Committee?” Because their recommendations would be given “superpowers,” so as to slide through Congress and quickly become law. The Super Committee had until Thanksgiving to produce something, but when November 23 came, they couldn’t do it, leaving most of us scratching our heads wondering, what happened? You can read their statement here.
So, what happened? Well, this was a missed opportunity for moving ahead and putting our country on a fiscally sustainable path. But before turning away disheartened, let’s examine exactly why the Super Committee couldn’t produce a deal, and what this means for Congress’ 2012 agenda. More importantly, we need to understand what this means for our economy, prospects for the unemployed, and the millions of individuals relying on those federal assistance programs to help them put food on the table, provide for their families, and move out of poverty. The Interreligious Working Group on Domestic Human Needs (DHN) held a webinar last week on the outcome of the Super Committee and what it means for our priorities going forward. You can check it out here.
While relatively successful at keeping their internal discussions from leaking, it appears members of the Super Committee met an impasse when it came to taxes. The two sides just could not agree on a balanced plan that included both cuts and revenues. So is it bad that the Super Committee couldn’t reach a deal? The Super Committee presented an opportunity for Congress to come together around a bipartisan, balanced, comprehensive deficit reduction package that put the country on solid fiscal ground, created jobs and grew the economy, and followed those values we ascribe to as a country -- like protecting people in need and struggling with hunger. The fact that they didn’t is a missed opportunity.
A final proposal that would have severely cut programs for poor and hungry people would not have helped anything or anyone. In fact, such a plan would have caused more hardship in an already difficult economic climate. The Center on Budget analyzed some of those proposals. Read them here and here.
So, now what? Where do we go from here? Under the Budget Control Act, the absence of a deal means we will see automatic cuts for the next nine years. These cuts will total $1.2 trillion and begin in January 2013—over a year from now. The National Women’s Law Center wrote a piece explaining some of the myths and facts about what the lack of a deal means. There are some critical points to remember about the automatic cuts that have been triggered.
First, because of the great work by Bread for the World members and activists around the country, some really important programs for poor and hungry people are exempt from the automatic cuts—programs like SNAP (formerly food stamps), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit, and Medicaid are just a few examples. That being said, other vital programs have no protections -- programs like WIC, food aid, and international poverty-focused development assistance. And these programs are already facing cuts because of the ten-year budget caps Congress enacted in August.
But there’s another way. Congress can reduce our deficits, promote job creation, strengthen the economy, and protect programs for hungry and poor people -- those currently exempted from cuts and those targeted for cuts. Congress can do this all by doing what the Super Committee was unable to do—pass a balanced, comprehensive deficit reduction plan that reduces our deficits while protecting that small portion of the budget that funds programs for poor and hungry people. Congress has adhered to this principle to protect poor and vulnerable populations in all the major deficit reduction laws over the past thirty years. It must do so again. It will take new revenues. It will take some tough spending choices. But whether to fund programs for poor and hungry people should not be a choice. Congress has a year. I hope they will step up to the plate.
Congress can take a first step right now by extending unemployment benefits before they expire at the end of the year. If Congress fails to extend federal unemployment insurance, 2 million people will lose benefits in January alone. This assistance helps those who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own continue to put food on the table, provide for their families, and search for work. Cutting unemployment insurance is no way to address our deficits.
Screenshot from Rock Center with Brian Williams/NBC.
Wait. That is what nearly 15 percent of the U.S. population does every month as they anticipate their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) benefits to drop into their account after midnight on the first of every month. Last night, the NBC News program Rock Center with Brian Williams reported on families on SNAP waiting in the middle of the night to shop for desperately needed food at Wal-Mart.
With increased unemployment and underemployment, more and more families are depending on SNAP to meet their basic food needs. SNAP is doing its job and is expanding in times of greater need. As the economy stays stagnant, an increasing number of families depend on the government as a line of defense against poverty. Despite some of the highest rates of poverty on record, food insecurity rates have stayed fairly stable because of SNAP's effectiveness.
SNAP also acts as an economic stimulus in local economies. Just one SNAP dollar generates $1.74 in economic activity. As Bread for the World Institute's 2012 Hunger Report points out, “The SNAP benefits moving through communities save jobs, making it possible for state and local governments to avoid layoffs of teachers, police officers, and other public employees, and preventing layoffs in the private sector as well.”
As Congress continues to debate budget cuts, a program such as SNAP that prevents U.S. families from going hungry must not be weakened. As a means-tested program, SNAP is exempt from sequestration, but negotiations have accelerated discussions of the farm bill, which funds SNAP. The farm bill is set to expire in 2012 unless it is reauthorized by Congress. Nearly 46 million Americans now depend on SNAP to put food on their tables, and we must keep the program in place for all of these families.
It is easier to bounce back when the fall is short. Cutting or weakening SNAP may create a canyon that is impossible for struggling families to scale.
A group of activists, community leaders, and organizations directors in New York gathered in an interfaith human circle to pray that the Super Committee does not cut programs for poor and hungry people. Photo credit: John Gonzalez
Yesterday, one week before the Super Committee makes their recommendation on federal budget cuts to Congress, a group of New Yorkers gathered at noon to pray for their work and for all of Congress to form a circle of protection around the programs that serve the most vulnerable in our world. Alongside communities across the nation, we formed an interfaith human circle at a community agency that knows the reality of budget cuts, unemployment, and hunger all too well: Friendly Hands Ministries.
As the executive director of Friendly Hands, Rev. Domingo Vasquez, shared the history and future of their work in New York, we heard an all-too-common refrain from him: “Things are worse today than I have ever seen.”
In response to this reality and in response to actively waiting for the Super Committee’s recommendations, we prayed. It was a calling forth that both renewed my spirit and sense of urgency. Here is our prayer, excerpted from the prayers of Rev. Emma Jordan Simpson, Chaplain Nurah-Rosalie Amat’ullah D.Min., Andrew Rosenthal, M.Div. and MSW, and Rev. Dr. James Forbes):
We stand here today, wrapping our arms and our prayers around Friendly Hands Ministries here in East Harlem and around communities across our country – we are asking You to speak loudly to the Super Committee; speak to us all.
Divine Spirit, as we speak our truth clearly and loudly, may we not become complicit in or with the transactional policies that render those we serve faceless, voiceless and nameless. Remind us that the current policies could likely have us join the people we currently seek to serve because we too will find ourselves not able to meet our basic needs.
Hashem watch over all people without a voice, all people who are forgotten and all people ready to be empowered. El Shaddai, Shakhinah Eloheinu, we atone for our ignorance, our apathy, and our vanity. Bring us into an awareness of the strangers in our midst. Hashem grant us the strength to change our government, our policies, our ways and ourselves. Keep burning in our hearts the love of righteousness, truth, and justice. Build within us the dream of what could be in the midst of what is yet to come. O God, help us to recover our hope. Help us to recover our courage. Help us to recover our discipline. Help us to recover our ability to work together. Help us to recover our values. Help us to recover our faith in Thee. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
With the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, Bread for the World, the Poverty Initiative, Sojourners, and faith leaders, we were sent out with an ever renewed sense of call: now more than ever we need a circle of protection for the “least of these.”
On June 14, during Bread for the World's National Gathering 2011, lobby day participants met with Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA-31), a member of the congressional Super Committee. They urged the Congressman to provide a circle of protection around programs that affect low-income people in the U.S. and overseas during talks about budget cuts. From left to right are Rev. William Epps, Congressman Becerra, Walter Contreras and Bread staffer Ricardo Moreno. Photo credit: Jim Stipe.
Just as a household budget can become a complicated process of negotiating family members’ needs, wants, and priorities, the federal budget process in Washington, DC, can be taxing, with everyone vying for their piece of the pie.
Last August, President Obama and congressional leaders approved the Budget Control Act, which raised the debt ceiling but also mandated reducing the deficit by at least $2.1 trillion over 10 years. The bill was created to prevent the United States from defaulting on its debt, which would have had disastrous economic consequences. Now it’s up to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (or Super Committee)—a group of 12 members, three from each party in each house—to create a proposal that will cut trillions from the deficit.
Super Committee Deadlines Are Approaching
The committee includes Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT), John Kerry (D-MA), John Kyl (R-AZ), Patty Murray (D-WA), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Pat Toomey (R-PA); Reps. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Dave Camp (R-MI), Jim Clyburn (D-SC), Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), Fred Upton (R-MI), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). Sen. Murray and Rep. Hensarling are the committee’s co-chairs.
The Super Committee is directed to propose a set of recommendations that will reduce the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years. The committee can look at every part of the budget—including revenues, entitlement reforms, and defense spending, as well as entitlement programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), unemployment insurance, Medicaid, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and Child Tax Credit—to come up with ways to reduce the deficit. In essence, everything is at stake.
“We need and support deficit reduction,” says Amelia Kegan, senior policy analyst at Bread. “But when the economy is so weak, we shouldn’t focus solely on budget cuts or changes to vital programs that serve people in need.”
Indeed, recent Census numbers reveal that in 2010 the U.S. poverty rate rose to 15.1 percent, up from 14.3 percent in 2009. An estimated 46 million people live in poverty in the United States, many of whom depend on programs such as SNAP and Medicaid to survive.
“These programs are running efficiently,” says Kegan. “SNAP is meeting increased need due to the economy and at the same time working at the lowest error rates on record. We shouldn’t cut these programs that serve the people most in need.”
So how will the Super Committee decide which programs to cut? First, each regular committee in the House and Senate can give its own suggestions on how to cut the deficit by October 14, 2011. The Super Committee must then vote on its own set of recommendations and send them to Congress by November 23, 2011. Congress must then vote on the Super Committee’s recommendations by December 23, 2011.
It’s possible that the Super Committee won’t come to an agreement. If that occurs, across-the-board cuts will be triggered, beginning 2013. While low-income entitlement programs would be exempt, discretionary spending programs will be vulnerable—including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Head Start, housing programs, job-training programs, international poverty-focused development assistance, and food aid.
A third possibility is that the Super Committee could agree on some deficit reduction, but not the full $1.2 trillion. If this occurs, across-the-board cuts would be smaller.
What Can We Do?
The stakes are high no matter how you slice the pie. But we can influence our members of Congress—particularly those who sit on the Super Committee—and ask them to form a circle of protection around domestic and international programs for hungry and poor people. As people of faith, we need to tell our members of Congress that the Super Committee must take a balanced and just approach to cutting the deficit.
Reach out to your member of Congress—through a personal visit, by personal letter or email, or by telephone. Urge them to protect funding for programs for hungry and poor people. Tell them deficit reduction should not be accomplished on the backs of the most vulnerable people in our nation and world.
You can also contact your regional organizer for help coordinating a visit or communicating with your member of Congress.
Use our toll-free number to call your members of Congress at 1-800-326-4941 today!
I believe that the mark of a civilized society is how it cares for its needy, its homeless, and its hungry people. I also believe that there's enough wealth in our society to foster culture, steward our environment, and strive for the ideal that all of our children — regardless of the economic class of their parents — are equally entitled to quality education and health care.
And I believe that while we are a compassionate and caring people, a false austerity is being imposed upon all of us, and we do not need to accept it.
In my travels I've learned that even if you're motivated only by greed, if you know what's good for you, you don't want to be filthy rich in a desperately poor society. It's just not a pretty picture.
As a caring citizen of the United States and as a Christian who believes it is Christ-like to stand up for poor people and pound swords into plowshares, I'll be joining my friends from Bread for the World tomorrow at noon to bring this message to Super Committee co-chair Patty Murray. Will you join me?
We'll be gathering outside Sen. Murray's offices in Seattle, Tacoma, and Vancouver simultaneously at noon (I'll be in Seattle).
If you don't live in Washington state, don't worry. Events like this are happening in cities and towns across America as part of a national day of action sponsored by Sojourners and Bread for the World. You can also call your members of Congress at 1-800-326-4941.
Thank you for all the good work you do, and I hope you will stand with us tomorrow.
Rick Steves (www.ricksteves.com) writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. Email him at email@example.com, or write to him c/o P.O. Box 2009, Edmonds, WA 98020.
Flickr, Keith Ramsey
Early this morning we were alerted that the next 48 hours are critical as the Super Committee finalizes its recommendations.
Please call your U.S. senators and representatives today at 1-800-326-4941, and ask them to urge the Super Committee to create a circle of protection around funding for programs for hungry and poor people in the United States and abroad.
Tell your members of Congress:
- Don’t sacrifice programs for hungry and poor people in order to reach a deal. Combating poverty and hunger is both a Christian and an American value. Congress should hold firm to this principle as it seeks ways to address our deficits.
- The Super Committee should protect programs for hungry and poor people from budget cuts. Programs such as SNAP and poverty-focused development assistance are effective and give people the tools they need to pull themselves out of poverty.
- The Super Committee’s recommendations for budget cuts must be balanced and include revenues. Poor people didn’t create the deficit, and the budget shouldn’t be balanced on their backs.
To come up with $1.2 trillion in cuts over 10 years, everything – EVERYTHING – is on the table. Funding for programs for hungry and poor people in the United States and abroad is at serious risk. You must tell your members of Congress not to let the Super Committee sacrifice these programs to reach a budget deal.
Programs such as SNAP (formerly food stamps), the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Child Tax Credit are working to keep hunger and poverty at bay for millions of Americans in this recession. Emergency food aid and development assistance provide sustainable and lifesaving support for children and mothers, including in the famine-stricken Horn of Africa. These and many other programs are on the chopping block. The budget must not be balanced on the backs of poor people.
Use our toll-free number to call your members of Congress at 1-800-326-4941, no later than Nov. 17.
Ask them to urge the Super Committee to create a circle of protection around funding for programs for hungry and poor people in the United States and abroad.
Remember, the next 48 hours are critical. Thank you for your support.
[Editors’ note: For the last few weeks we have been running a series of posts on the Bread Blog about each member of the Super Committee. If you live in South Carolina’s 6th district and are represented by Rep. Jim Clyburn, please share this blog post with your local family and friends, and message Rep. Clyburn on his Web page or through Twitter.]
Even though the recession is over, too many families in South Carolina’s 6th district remain in need. “We are seeing levels of hunger across 20 counties of South Carolina such as never seen in our 30-year history as a hunger-relief organization,” says Denise Holland, CEO of Harvest Hope Food Bank which serves poor and hungry people throughout South Carolina.
Indeed, 22 out of every 100 households in South Carolina’s 6th congressional district—represented by Congressman Jim Clyburn (D-SC)—struggled to put food on the table in 2010 and nearly 29 children out of every 100 children in the area were at risk of hunger in 2009 (compared to 16.6 percent of children nationwide). For Holland, these rates of poverty and food insecurity are putting people who have never experienced such hardships in new situations.
“We see the toll of hunger and food hardship on the faces of people who never thought they would find themselves in a position of need, who struggle daily to cope with circumstances outside of their control. Some of our former donors now have to turn to us for food,” Holland says.
A contributing factor to South Carolina’s economic instability is the lack of jobs. With the state’s unemployment rate up to 11.1 percent in August (compared to 9.1 percent nationwide), those living without work are finding it increasingly difficult to pay the rent and provide adequate food for their families. What’s worse, however, is that even those with jobs are unable to make ends meet. “We are seeing more and more people who work hard and still do not have enough money left over after paying all their bills to put adequate food on their tables,” says Holland.
In fact, nationwide 22.3 percent of participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) live in households with two or more workers.
It is impossible, then, to think that the Join Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (or Super Committee) is now considering cuts to programs such as SNAP, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Child Tax Credit—all programs the people of South Carolina, and throughout the country, are depending on to survive this tough economic climate. And yet, as Rep. Jim Clyburn and the other members of the Super Committee consider how to trim a minimum of $1.2 trillion from the federal budget over the next 10 years, all of these programs face steep cuts to their funding.
Join Bread for the World as we raise our collective voices to urge Rep. Jim Clyburn and his colleagues on the Super Committee to save these valuable programs that help those struggling with poverty and hunger in South Carolina and throughout the nation.
+Call Jim Clyburn today at 1-800-826-3688!
Official photo of Jim Clyburn.
[Editors’ note: For the next few days, we’ll be running a series of posts on the Bread Blog about each member of the Super Committee. If you live in California’s 31st district in Los Angeles and are represented by Rep. Xavier Becerra, please share this blog post with your local family and friends, and message Rep. Becerra on his Facebook page or through Twitter.]
In California’s 31st district, represented by Congressman Xavier Becerra, the unemployment rate was 12.1 percent in August. Frank Tamborello, executive director of Hunger Action LA, a nonprofit working on hunger and nutrition issues, often interacts with many hungry and poor Californians who can’t find work in a difficult job market. “At a job fair, I met a man who had job experience and potential employers saw that he was making $19 an hour at his previous job so they would brush over him and go with someone else,” Tamborello says. “But in that same room, a young lady was looking for her first job, but everywhere she went, they wanted somebody with experience.”
While the conundrum of having too much experience vs. not enough experience is a perpetual problem in the job market, the current economic slump makes the difficulty of finding a job an acute obstacle in the fight against hunger. “People who have never had to get food assistance before are signing up, and it’s introducing a lot of people who never thought about these things before to the whole social safety net as we have it,” Tamborello says.
While programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Child Tax Credit are becoming increasingly important for people, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (or Super Committee) is meeting to discuss possibly cutting these programs. They need to cut $1.2 trillion from the federal budget over a period of 10 years.
Tamborello would like his member of Congress, Rep. Xavier Becerra—who is a member of the Super Committee—to fight for the people of California who are eking together a living by the skin of their teeth. “It’s one thing if John Wayne says he’s going to defend your town, but loses; but it’s another thing if he says, 'I’m not going to fight for our town,'” Tamborello says. “We need the food stamp program because there isn’t enough capacity in the system. Without it, we will see an increase in homelessness.”
Tamborello says that if these federal programs are cut, his programs will have to severely diminish their capacity to help the people of Los Angeles.
If you are a Californian, or simply a concerned citizen who believes that programs for poor and hungry people shouldn't have to sustain further cuts, join us and call Rep. Xavier Becerra at 1-800-826-3688. Ask him to protect families in California and around the nation.
Official photo of Rep. Xavier Becerra.
[Editors’ note: For the next few weeks, we’ll be running a series of posts on the Bread Blog about each member of the Super Committee. If you live in Arizona, please share this blog post with your local family and friends, and message Sen. Jon Kyl on his Facebook page or through Twitter.]
Arizona has been breaking records, but not in a good way. More than 1.1 million individuals are recipients of SNAP (formerly food stamps) -- “an Arizona record that has been growing each month by about one percent,” laments Brian Simpson of Arizona Association of Arizona Food Banks (AAFB). “We set new records every month, it seems.”
With higher unemployment and underemployment, an increasing number of Arizonans rely on the social safety net programs to make ends meet. More than one in six people in Arizona, including nearly one in four children, lived below the poverty line ($22,113 for a family of four), compared to more than one in seven persons and more than one in five children nationwide
The good news is that the safety net is working in these tough times. SNAP kept 3.9 million people nationwide out of poverty in 2010. “The Super Committee has yet to commit to protecting the safety net for the most vulnerable Americans,” says Ginny Hildebrand, president and CEO of AAFB. “The simple truth is the recession continues to wreak economic devastation on vulnerable households. Though we don’t know what the Super Committee’s final proposals will look like, we cannot remain silent.”
Hildebrand urges Arizonans to contact Sen. Jon Kyl, a key member on the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (or Super Committee), which is tasked with choosing where to make budget cuts to lower the deficit. Sen. Kyl should choose to follow the principle used in the last three major deficit reduction packages that decreased poverty and inequality at the same time as shrinking deficits
Bread member Ruth Lindsay says she has seen the need in her church pantry increase, and she and her fiancé have done what they can to help. “We have always allotted a portion of our budget to charitable giving, but these days much, much more of it goes to helping our neighbors meet their basic needs. Both of us would happily pay more in taxes so that the needs of communities can be addressed in a more holistic way, while the long-term problem of unemployment is also addressed,” Lindsay says.
Tell Sen. Kyl that Arizonans need to break different records, such as fewer hungry children and people struggling to make ends meet. This is a record worth fighting for.
The budget cannot be balanced on the backs of the poor.
+Call Sen. Jon Kyl today at 1-800-826-3688 or use the contact form on his website and ask him to protect poor and hungry people in Arizona and in the United States.
Official photo of Sen. Jon Kyl.
[Editors’ note: For the next few weeks, we’ll be running a series of posts on the Bread Blog about each member of the Super Committee. If you live in Michigan’s 6th District, please share this blog post with your local family and friends, and message Rep. Fred Upton on his Facebook page or through Twitter.]
Nancy Hamilton has lived in Michigan for 52 years and says she has never seen the economic situation as dire as it is now. “People in the middle class are just getting squeezed in so many different ways. They’re losing jobs at all levels, not just at the lowest levels,” she says. Hamilton, 74, is retired and lives in Kalamazoo, MI and is financially comfortable, but that doesn’t stop her from advocating for others who are struggling economically. Since the ’70s, she has been an active hunger advocate and supports several local direct-service organizations such as Ministry with Community, which provides services to those struggling with issues such as poverty, homelessness, and mental illness.
In Michigan, where the unemployment rate was 11.2 percent in August, more than 18.7 percent of households in Michigan’s 6th congressional district struggled to put food on the table in 2010 (compared to 14.6 percent nationwide). Furthermore, 27.9 percent of children in the district were at risk of hunger in 2009 (compared to 16.6. percent nationwide). Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI), who represents Michigan’s 6th congressional district, has an opportunity to support these families struggling with food insecurity in Michigan and throughout the nation as a member of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (or Super Committee). Nancy Hamilton hopes that Rep. Upton will remember these families in Michigan as he makes decisions on how to trim the federal budget by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years.
“I hope that Rep. Upton would work towards trying to solve the problem of poverty and homelessness and hunger,” she says. “I would encourage him to not cut any more than necessary and to not cut anything that involves people getting the food that they need.”
Join Nancy Hamilton and Bread for the World in asking Rep. Fred Upton to not cut programs that help people get the food they need such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and the Women, Infants, and Children program (WIC).
Call Rep. Fred Upton today at 1-800-826-3688 and ask him to protect poor and hungry people in Michigan and the nation.
Official photo of Rep. Fred Upton.