An effort to move the fight against poverty to the top of the national agenda begins today, led by the Half in 10 campaign and the Coalition for Human Needs. The major campaign goal is to persuade President Obama to talk about poverty and its solutions in his State of the Union address February 12. It is also an opportunity to tell conservatives in Congress and the states to focus on fighting poverty and stop fighting the poor.
The heart of the #TalkPoverty campaign is a social media campaign that is designed to build public demand for paying more attention to the needs of the nearly 50 million people living in poverty in the United States. These are the people whose struggle to support themselves will be directly affected by the federal budget sequester that is scheduled to go into effect March 1 unless Congress and the Obama administration agrees on a budget. The sequester will force an average 5 percent cut in most federal spending programs.
While Social Security will be shielded, a broad swath of programs that help low-income people survive and climb out of poverty will be affected. They include nutrition assistance for children and their mothers, child care, housing, home energy, homeless aid, and education and training programs Medicare would be also be cut by $11.2 billion.
The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities recently released a fact sheet on what the sequester cuts would do to housing assistance and community development programs. If the sequester goes into effect, according to the fact sheet, 2.1 million people around the country would lose housing assistance. In many cases, losing this housing assistance will mean households will become homeless.
Cutting community development programs is particularly short-sighted at a time when our national unemployment rate hovers near 8 percent and many communities have unemployment rates well in excess of 10 percent. These programs provide a range of services for struggling families and help support neighborhood revitalization, providing foundations for private sector growth.
No program that sustains the basic needs of individuals and families, and no program that supports job creation, should be cut at a time when millions of Americans are still struggling with the effects of the economic downturn.
And yet, some conservatives in Congress are seriously considering allowing the sequester to take effect and call it a political victory, because they believe it is more important to say they have cut federal spending than it is to work to fix an economy that is not working for millions of Americans.
Meanwhile, conservative governors are waging their own war against the poor in the states. The most recent example is Gov. Bobby Jindal in Louisiana, who is cutting vital Medicaid services in his state after joining other Republican governors in refusing to expand Medicaid services offered under the Affordable Care Act.
Make no mistake: There is a conservative war against the poor, as they either work to shut down, cripple or privatize programs that allow low-income Americans to have a measure of economic support and the means to climb out of poverty.
President Obama expertly framed what we should be striving for as a nation in his inaugural address: “We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.”
The #TalkPoverty campaign encourages President Obama and our allies in Congress to defend the principle that we have a shared responsibility to ensure every American has the opportunity to live in dignity and to succeed. We need jobs, not cuts, and this is the message that the Washington establishment needs to hear, loud and clear.