Nel's New Day

May 21, 2013

Humanity Missing for Oklahoma

The first stories out of a disaster—nature, evil, human stupidity, etc.—after expressing how horrible it is, are about the wonderful way that people step up to the plate, the way that they help those in need. That’s what makes America, people are proud of saying.

Headlines today are filled with the tragic devastation of yesterday’s tornado in Oklahoma. But the numbers of deaths and photos of destroyed buildings are not the real story. The news that should be sent out in every newspaper is the one about the group that doesn’t want help the victims, the group that rejects the philosophy of “humanity first.” That group is the U.S. Congress GOP.

For decades, federal disaster relief was automatic, with bipartisan support after disasters in communities across the nation. But recently, especially after the Tea Party gained their current status in Congress, many conservatives consider emergency resources only after Democrats cut the same amount from another part of the budget. The demand is ideological, not economic, but that doesn’t change their minds.

Thirty-six senators, including Oklahoma Republicans Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe, voted against providing relief in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy that killed 161 people and destroyed billions of dollars of property in 24 states less than seven months ago.

Yesterday, a tornado in an Oklahoma City suburb, two days ago killed 24 people and injured at least 240 people, 60 of them children following deadly tornadoes last weekend. These tornadoes are just the beginning of the season: 53 million people can be at risk because of these weather patterns.

Oklahoma currently ranks third in the nation after Texas and California in terms of total federal disaster and fire declarations. The population of Oklahoma is just over 3.8 million, whereas Texas has over 26 million and California, over 38 million.

President Obama signed a disaster declaration for Oklahoma following severe snowstorms this year in late February. In January of 2007, Coburn urged federal officials to speed disaster relief aid after the state faced a major ice storm, and the next year Inhofe praised the emergency relief given to 24 Oklahoma counties after severe weather.

Now Coburn is again demanding the callous “offsets,” cuts to the budget before tornado victims can receive FEMA funding for disaster relief. This is a pattern for him: he pushed for offsets after a terrorist blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and injuring over 680 others.

At the same time that he refuses any relief without offsets, Coburn issued this statement: “As the ranking member of Senate committee that oversees FEMA, I can assure Oklahomans that any and all available aid will be delivered without delay.” He also said that it was “insensitive to even talk about” budgeting for relief funding now. “It just shows the crassness of Washington versus the sensitivity that we need to have,” he added.

Inhofe is cagier than Coburn. Although he hasn’t declared his intentions regarding a vote on help for the victims of his state, he did say that the Oklahoma situation was “totally different”—maybe because it was in his home state. Yet nowhere has he declared support for the Oklahoma victims. One of Inhofe’s big objections during debate on Sandy’s relief was the fact that it included $28 billion for future disasters. Coburn objected to the same funding.

Two of Oklahoma’s five House members, all Republicans, voted against assistance to people following Sandy. Rep. Tom Cole was smarter: he said he supported Sandy relief because of potential tornadoes in his home state. This morning, he said on MSNBC, in referencing the catastrophic 2011 tornado in Joplin (MO), “Frankly, one of the reasons that we try to be sympathetic to people in other parts of the country” is that “we’re always one tornado away from being Joplin. I didn’t think it was going to be quite this soon.”

“Coburn is taking his own constituents hostage as budget-cutting human shields,” AMERICABlog’s John Aravosis wrote, adding: “We wouldn’t need to be holding a bake sale every time Mother Nature hiccuped … if the Republicans would stop spending a trillion on this war and another trillion on that tax cut.”

Especially in the wake of the sequester cuts, the notion that the federal budget is larded with easily eliminated spending is ludicrous. Would Coburn like to see more kids thrown out of Head Start? More seniors losing Meals on Wheels? The federal deficit is shrinking faster than at any time since just after World War II, but Coburn insists that someone, somewhere, must lose their federal help so Oklahoma can get it instead.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita left one in 50 children without homes; the financial crisis increased this to one in 45 children—a total of 1.6 million in 2010 without a permanent place to live. Forty percent of these children are under the age of 6. The Southern states have the worst access to homeless shelters.

This tragedy of children without homes didn’t appear in the United States until the early 1980s, when it exploded. In the early 1980s, only one percent of people in homeless shelters were children and families; in 2011 children and families made up 41 percent of people sleeping in shelters.

A report from the Family Housing Fund shows that President Reagan initiated the rapid increase. Ralph da Costa-Núñez, who worked in New York Mayor Ed Koch’s administration, said:

“It was the gutting of the safety net. Reagan cut every social program that helped the poor. Then there’s inflation so their aid checks are shrinking. Where are they going? Into the streets, into the shelters.”

Rather than provide low-income housing, Reagan believed that the market would take care of the problem. By 1985, the number of low-cost units had fallen to 5.6 million, and the low-income renter households had grown to 8.9 million.

President Clinton’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Act, which decreased welfare from 12.3 million per month in 1996 to 4.4 million June 2011, was hardest on women and children. Conservatives find this a success story, but children and families are living on the streets. Caseloads stayed static through record joblessness, and women and children make do by scavenging the trash and returning to abusive relationships.

The result is an increase of psychological disorders for both children and their mothers. “Half of school-age homeless children experience anxiety, depression, or withdrawal compared to 18 percent of non-homeless children,” according to the Traumatic Stress network. Male homeless children are more aggressive and females, more withdrawn. All of them are prone to more chronic illnesses, endocrine dysfunction, and stunted growth. School is a disaster not only because of these problems but also because of the instability caused by constantly moving from one place to another.

Conservatives who blame the problems on laziness and “hustling the system” decrease benefits and increase the homelessness. And Coburn wants to make the problem worse by insisting on “offsets.”

States are also gutting their budgets to give money to the wealthy, and people in North Carolina are fighting back with their protests on “Moral Mondays.” One recently arrested woman is 80-year-old former educator Barbara Parramore who is fighting for the return of funds for education. The photo on the right is Parramore with her daughter, Lynn Stuart Parramore. The left one is her mug shot.

barbara parramoremug shot







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