Nel's New Day

December 10, 2013

The Poor on Human Rights Day

Sixty-five years ago, the United Nations adopted the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights; its drafting committee was chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt because of her expertise. The document, celebrated every December 10’s Human Rights Day, defines the world’s commitment to human rights as “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” Human rights standards for everyone include “the right to life, liberty and nationality, to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, to work, to be educated, [and] to take part in government.”

From the beginning of years of the 21st century, the United States has been increasingly negligent about human rights as the government supported torture, unjustified imprisonment, and other unethical and illegal violence. Within this country, however, the government has failed millions of people in poverty as Congress has increasingly failed to support a safety net while creating an economy that promotes this poverty.

Because of  bad or nonexistent legislation and a president who struggled to compromise with recalcitrant, extortionist lawmakers in the House, the poor are in the midst of a losing game. The sequester that further puts the screws to the poor digs deeper on January 1, one week after the Christian holiday that celebrates a compassionate Jesus. Here are a few experiences, the poor can expect, thanks to GOP House members:

Homelessness: Budget cuts from increased sequestration will take rental assistance vouchers away from 140,000 low-income families by the beginning of next year, making housing more expensive as agencies raise costs to offset the budget cuts. About three million disabled seniors and families will be affected to save the $2 billion that the government shutdown cost in back-pay to federal workers.

Cold: Those who can stay in their homes may not be able to heat it. Sequester cuts to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) meant that 300,000 low-income families in 2013 were denied government support for energy costs. 

Hunger: The recent reduction in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, affecting more than 47 million Americans, is the largest wholesale cut in the program since Congress passed the first Food Stamps Act in 1964. Those cuts were made on November 1, but the House isn’t satisfied. Their goal is to take $39 billion from SNAP during the next decade. The result is loss of benefits for 3.8 million low-income people in the upcoming year. An additional 2.8 million will lose benefits each year. Last year alone, SNAP kept 4 million people out of poverty.

Cutting SNAP is just a start in creating more hunger. Cuts to Meals on Wheels will cost poor seniors 4 to 18 million meals next year.  The Women, Infants, and Children program (WIC), which provides health care referrals and nutrition to poor pregnant and postpartum women and children up to age five, took cuts of $500 million this year with far more next year.

Lack of Education: Head Start started to take children out of its program last March and removed 57,000 children from their classrooms in September. More than half of the public schools fired personnel because of cuts. Forty percent of children who don’t receive early childhood education are more likely to become a parent as a teenager, 25 percent are more likely to drop out of school, and 70 percent are more likely to be arrested for a violent crime.

Joblessness: The unemployment program in the United States is one of the worst in the developed world, and it’s getting worse. People out of work for 27 weeks or more–40 percent of the unemployed –have already begun and will continue to lose a large portion of their benefits between January and March. Eight percent of this year’s sequestration cuts are coming from unemployment insurance.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has given the party line that the GOP is doing unemployed people a favor by taking away their benefits because that will force them to get jobs. Evidence shows that government assistance helps the job searches of 4.4 million people. On January 1, 1.3 million will lose the extended jobless benefits if Congress doesn’t take action—which looks highly unlikely. Cuts to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF, or welfare) means even less of safety net.

A proposed shift in Social Security would keep fewer jobs available for the unemployed. President Obama proposes cuts in this program for 2014 through a new formula called Chained CPI. Instead of building an economy that contributes more taxes to the Social Security program, the government plans to keep more money out of circulation, causing more joblessness from fewer consumers.

Sickness: In the 25 states where GOP governors have refused to accept federal funding for Medicaid, a gap between the state’s version of Medicaid and the level for exchanges leaves more than 5 million people in poverty without health insurance. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the part of the Affordable Care Act requiring all states to extend Medicaid to people with household income up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level despite the federal government picking up the entire tab for the first three years and then gradually phased back to 90 percent.

The law states that people over 100 percent of the poverty line can go to exchanges, but those under 100 percent are ineligible. It was assumed that Medicaid would take care of them. The GOP governors changed all that. Coverage in Texas is almost non-existent for the poor: Medicaid is available to only these making less than 25 percent of the poverty level. A family of three cannot participate on the exchange if they make over $4,000, the state’s level for Medicaid, and $19,500, 100 percent poverty level.

Today, a bipartisan Congressional committee chaired by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) released a two-year budget plan that they hope will pass both chambers. The poor is sure to not benefit from Paul’s work. He continues to believe that poverty can be cured by “spiritual redemption” as he again said in a speech last week at the Heritage Foundation. There were no specifics of how religion will put food on the table.

A missing part of the budget deal is any tax reform. Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s low tax rate is a prime example of the nation’s tax abuses. The “carried-interest loophole” allows investors to have their entire income taxed as if they were capital gains, saving them 19.6 percent on income over $400,000. Using the 20-percent capital gain tax rate instead of the 39.9-percent income rate takes $25 billion from the government and lowers the percentage of taxes paid by the wealthy below those in the middle class.

The refusal of 25 GOP governors to accept federal Medicaid funding is both driving up rates in their own states’ exchanges by 15 percent and returning billions of dollars back to the federal government. That means that everyone on exchanges have to pay much more, and the state doesn’t have the jobs resulting from improved economy that the federal infusion would provide. Just 15 of these states, including Texas, have turned down $8.4 billion in assistance.

The estimate of reduction to the deficit from the ACA has increased since the original projections. In 2020, Medicare spending will be $137 billion lower than thought in 2010, and Medicaid spending will be 16 percent, $85 billion, lower. Private health insurance premiums are expected to be about 9 percent lower. These projections are assuming a temporary slowdown, but the savings could actually be $750 billion over a decade.

The proposed deal is split between revenues through fees and spending cuts. Travelers will pay higher prices on airline tickets, and federal workers will have to contribute more to pensions. Millionaires and billionaires are safe from higher taxes. Defense spending takes half reduction of sequestration for 2014 of $45 billion, and non-defense discretionary spending takes the rest. The sequester’s cuts to mandatory spending are not affected. There is no chance of an extension for unemployment benefits.

As of today, the House plans to vote on Friday to pass the budget deal and delay the SGR’s cuts to Medicare’s doctor pay. There are no changes to Social Security and Medicare in the deal, but amendments can always change that. If conservatives have their way there will be another “continuing resolution” for a few days so that Republicans can avoid talking about issues such as jobs.

 

The struggle will be between the Republicans who are afraid that they will lose their next elections because the country knows they are unreasonable and the extremists who believe that no one can defeat. Three years ago, the mainstream Republicans thought the Tea Party would save them. Now they see them as a menace.

cartoon snake tea party

Later this week, the fight begins as conservative Republicans push to inflict the poor with more homelessness, cold, hunger, lack of education and jobs, and sickness because they think the poor deserve to suffer. Even if today is Human Rights Day.

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