WASHINGTON - Civil rights leaders are today calling on Executive and Congressional leadership to honor the precedent set by previous deficit reduction negotiations that have reduced the deficit without increasing poverty.
In a letter to policymakers involved in deficit reduction talks, these groups noted the precedent of bipartisan budgets that reduce both poverty and the deficit, stating:
“…all deficit reduction packages enacted in the 1990s reduced poverty and helped the disadvantaged even as they shrank deficits. In addition, every automatic budget cut mechanism of the past quarter-century has exempted core low-income assistance programs from any automatic across-the-board cuts triggered when budget targets or fiscal restraint rules were missed or violated. The 1985 and 1987 Gramm-Rudman-Hollings laws, the 1990 Budget Enforcement Act, the 1993 deficit reduction package, the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, and the 2010 pay-as-you-go law all exempted core low-income programs from automatic cuts.”
The full text of the letter and a list of signatories is below.
Deepak Bhargava, Executive Director, Center for Community Change said, “Our families are struggling to make ends meet and our communities are suffering from record levels of unemployment and increasing poverty. It’s time to get the country back on track and that means focusing on job creation and supporting our families. Protecting the programs that serve families in need is a vital component of any budget negotiations. It’s time to move beyond the partisan gridlock and to the real solution, good jobs for unemployed and underemployed workers and adequate support for families in need.”
“Unless programs for low-income people are protected in the budget negotiations, women and their families will bear the brunt of deficit reduction," said Nancy Duff Campbell, Co-President, National Women's Law Center. Campbell continued, "Women are more likely than men to be poor because they still face discrimination on the job and take on more of the responsibility for unpaid caregiving. So women disproportionately rely on Medicaid, SNAP (Food Stamps) and other safety net programs to meet their own and their children’s basic needs – and on programs like child care assistance and Pell grants for a chance to get ahead and give their children a better life. Maintaining supports for low-income women and their families isn’t just fair – it’s a smart investment in our common future.”
Marian Wright Edelman, President, Children's Defense Fund added, “Children are the poorest age group in America and hunger, homelessness and poverty have risen dramatically for them in the last two years. Two-thirds of the 15.5 million poor children live in families in which at least one person is working. We must protect children, their families and other vulnerable people while finding ways to reduce the deficit that reflect moral sense, common sense and economic sense. We urge the President and Congress to reject all cuts that would increase poverty and inequality to ensure children and other vulnerable people are better off tomorrow than they are today. We all need to stand together for what’s morally right; the future and soul of our country is at stake.”
“With more of our nation’s men, women and children facing hunger today than ever before, it would be unconscionable for the Congress and the Administration to cut the first line of defense against hunger in America, added Vicki Escarra, President and CEO, Feeding America. Escarra added, "Feeding America food banks are already overburdened as we struggle to keep pace with historic levels of need for emergency food assistance and private charity cannot fill the gap if nutrition assistance programs are cut. We must recognize the reality that federal nutrition programs are the difference between having enough to eat and not for one in four Americans, and we must find solutions to our nation’s economic challenges that do not send millions more people into the grips of hunger and poverty.”
Robert Greenstein, President, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said, “President Obama and Congress should enact a plan sooner rather than later to put the nation on a sustainable fiscal course, and the recent history of deficit reduction makes clear they can reduce deficits without increasing poverty and hardship — as policymakers did in 1990, 1993, and 1997. That’s particularly important now, with inequality in the United States at its highest in over 80 years and poverty considerably higher here than in most other wealthy nations. In designing deficit reduction plans, policymakers should follow a core principle of the Bowles-Simpson Commission – to design them in ways that protect low-income people and do not increase poverty.”
Wade Henderson, President and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said, “With millions of low-income Americans struggling to gain economic stability – including millions of women, minorities, and people with disabilities – reducing the deficit in ways that increased poverty or added to their hardships would be contrary to our national values. Our leaders would be wise to follow the precedent of previous administrations and Congresses and refuse to cut any programs that strengthen economic security for low-income families.”
The full text of the letter is below:
President Barack Obama
Vice President Joe Biden
Speaker of the House John Boehner
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
Dear Mr. President; Mr. Vice President; Speaker Boehner; Minority Leader Pelosi; Majority Leader Reid; Minority Leader McConnell:
We write to urge you to follow a key bedrock principle included in prior bipartisan deficit reduction efforts and espoused by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform chaired by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson: protect programs for low-income families and individuals and make sure that deficit reduction is achieved in a way that does not increase poverty.
Any agreement on deficit reduction should neither cut low-income assistance programs directly nor subject these programs to cuts under automatic enforcement mechanisms. Cuts to programs that help low-income people meet their basic needs or provide them with opportunity to obtain decent education and employment would inevitably increase poverty and hardship.
The major bipartisan deficit reduction packages of recent decades have adhered to the principle we espouse here. In fact, all deficit reduction packages enacted in the 1990s reduced poverty and helped the disadvantaged even as they shrank deficits. In addition, every automatic budget cut mechanism of the past quarter-century has exempted core low-income assistance programs from any automatic across-the-board cuts triggered when budget targets or fiscal restraint rules were missed or violated. The 1985 and 1987 Gramm-Rudman-Hollings laws, the 1990 Budget Enforcement Act, the 1993 deficit reduction package, the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, and the 2010 pay-as-you-go law all exempted core low-income programs from automatic cuts.
The United States already has higher levels of poverty and inequality than most other Western nations. We agree that we must address future deficits and put our nation on a sustainable fiscal course. But that need not — and should not — entail increasing poverty and hardship or inequality, as various past deficit reduction packages demonstrate. Indeed, the 1990, 1993, and 1997 deficit reduction packages, which improved the Earned Income Tax Credit, strengthened the SNAP program or created the Children’s Health Insurance Program, show that reducing poverty and expanding effective low-income assistance programs is fully consistent with deficit reduction.
In recent weeks, an unprecedented coalition of Evangelical, Roman Catholic, mainline Protestant, African-American, and Latino Christian leaders have joined together to advance this principle of protecting people with low incomes in the current budget debate. They have issued a joint statement calling on policymakers to draw a "Circle of Protection" around programs that meet the basic needs of low-income people, both at home and abroad. We applaud this effort and add our voices to it. We call for Congress and the White House to commit to the principle of protecting low-income people in deficit reduction.
Diana Aviv, President and CEO, Independent Sector
Ian Bautista, President, United Neighborhood Centers of America
David Beckmann, President, Bread for the World
Deepak Bhargava, Executive Director, Center for Community Change
Melissa Boteach, Manager, Half in Ten
Nancy Duff Campbell, Co-President, National Women's Law Center
Sheila Crowley, President and CEO, National Low Income Housing Coalition
Marian Wright Edelman, President, Children's Defense Fund
Vicki Escarra, President and CEO, Feeding America
Brian Gallagher, President and CEO, United Way Worldwide
Peter Goldberg, CEO, Alliance for Children and Families
Robert Greenstein, President, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
Ambassador Tony P. Hall, Executive Director, Alliance to End Hunger, United States Congressman, Retired
Wade Henderson, President and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Alan Houseman, President and Executive Director, CLASP
Janet Murguía, President and CEO, National Council of La Raza
Christine Owens, Executive Director, National Employment Law Project
John Podesta, President and CEO, Center for American Progress
Ron Pollack, Executive Director, Families USA
Hilary O. Shelton, Director, NAACP Washington Bureau & Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy
Bill Shore, Executive Director, Share Our Strength
Jim Wallis, President and CEO, Sojourners
James Weill, President, Food Research and Action Center
Deborah Weinstein, Executive Director, Coalition on Human Needs
Rev. Heyward Wiggins, Co-Chair PICO National Network Steering Committee