The recent Republican House Budget Resolution (H Con Res 34), passed entirely with House Republican support (235-193), is the greatest attack on safety-net protections the American people have seen in decades. While low- and middle-income families would struggle for survival under decimated human needs programs, wealthy individuals would see the savings from the elimination of those programs translated into even greater and excessive tax breaks.
In its most basic form, the House Budget Resolution is a fundamental change in the social contract that the United States government has held with the American people for the past 50 years. Programs slated for severe, historic cuts under the Republican House Budget Resolution include Medicaid, Medicare, SNAP (food stamps), Pell Grants and numerous other programs that provide a safety-net for people who are elderly, disabled and unable to support themselves and their families. There is no greater test of our society than how we care for people who are vulnerable, and the passage of this specific budget resolution speaks to a new low point in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
The proposal to restructure Medicaid as a block grant shifts responsibility to the states, does not guarantee sufficient funding to cover all who are eligible, and give states the opportunity to use funding for other purposes.
States unable to bear the cost burden would be forced to keep people off Medicaid, ending basic protections for the most vulnerable groups in our society. States already struggle to keep up their portion of Medicaid costs, and have begun to change definitions of eligibility to reduce the numbers of those receiving medical assistance.
Health and life itself are tenuous for those in our community who lack housing, sufficient nutrition and other basic needs. Protection of life depends on accessibility of healthcare. The proposed changes to Medicaid would mean that the most vulnerable people among us would be the most endangered.
Proposed changes to Medicare included in the House-passed budget resolution would mean substantially greater costs to those around or under age 55 today. Starting in 2022, seniors would be required to purchase private insurance with federal funds. The growth of federal funds for Medicare would not keep pace with the inflation of medical costs, inflicting a greater and greater healthcare cost burden on the elderly. By 2022, an eligible senior would see their cost burden double. Such large increases in costs are attributed to the replacement of cost-effective Medicare with more expensive private insurance. It is estimated that a senior may have out-of-pocket expenses up to one-third of their total income.
SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)
SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) has proven to be the most successful and cost-effective anti-poverty program in the nation, most recently in response to the recession and high unemployment rate. With the current “food insecurity rate” of 1 in 20 families (FRAC, 3/2/11) surely more children and struggling families will go hungry if the Republican Budget Resolution to turn SNAP into a block grant becomes law. The House Republican plan to change SNAP would endanger lives. Not only is an adequate food safety net the most basic support the government and fellow citizens can provide struggling families, but economists agree that food stamps are one of the best known stimulus tools the government can use to spur the economy, adding $1.74 to the economy for every $1.00 spent.
Education takes one of the biggest hits under the Republican-passed House Budget Resolution. In FY2012, education funding is cut by $17.7 billion, or 19 percent. Funding for Pell Grants for low- and middle-income students is cut by 60%, essentially prohibiting access to higher education for millions of students. These cuts guarantee that young people who work so hard to build a better life for themselves and their families through the promise of a higher education, will be denied that opportunity.
WHAT IS PROTECTED: TAX BENEFITS AND MILITARY SPENDING
What will not be eliminated or curtailed under the Republican House Budget Resolution are tax cuts for the wealthiest or military expenditures. The House Republican Budget Resolution includes permanently enacting the Bush tax cuts, one of the biggest drivers of America’s current short-term deficit. Under the proposed plan, the estate tax would continue at the reduced rate that was extended in the December 2010 tax deal, meaning even less revenue to support hardworking American families. The savings from the elimination of social safety net programs would gift the wealthiest individuals with the continuation of Bush tax cuts averaging $125,000 a year per millionaire. In total, tax breaks for the wealthiest individuals and corporations would cost $4.2 trillion over the next decade. Additionally, the House Budget Resolution proposes absolutely no cuts to military spending but actually increases the budget by $215 billion over ten years.
The House Republican Budget Resolution fails to even disguise itself as a deficit-reduction tool. With the majority of savings from safety-net cuts being used for tax breaks to the wealthiest (further contributing to our ballooning deficit- not decreasing it), poor and vulnerable groups continue to be the target of draconian cuts disguised as necessary measures to get our fiscal house in order.
In reality, if these changes were allowed to pass, they would fundamentally change the face of America, all while still contributing to our growing deficit. Without the promise of an education made possible by Pell Grants, the ability to receive SNAP benefits and provide food for one’s family, the protection of Medicare that individuals have paid into their whole lives, or Medicaid supports for the elderly in long-term care, the American dream, or even just basic survival, will be even further out of reach for many Americans. All for the ability to provide even greater tax-cuts to less than five percent of the population, who already hold over eighty percent of the nation’s wealth.