Thanks to the action of advocates for the poor from all across the nation and to a few procedural manuveurs by some members of the U. S. Senate, the final federal budget reconciliation bill that combines the House and Senate versions of spending plans for 2006 and beyond has not been passed as yet.
A vote is set for today, Wednesday, February 1.
A bit more background on the delay may be helpful.
Here's what happened:
Both the House and Senate passed different versions of the budget reconciliation bill.
Before the holidays, members of the House and Senate were in negotiations to iron out the differences in the bills, so that members could vote on a compromise.
The House passed the compromise legislation.
But when it became clear that the bill was going to pass the Senate, a number of Senators, concerned about how the cuts targeted low-income Americans, were able to force small changes to the bill. This Senate action made it necessary for the bill to be voted on again by the House.
This gives people who care about low income families one more chance to express their opinions on this important bill.
To do so simply call your U. S. Representative in the House on Wednesday--it would be best to call early in the day, but call anytime you can.
An easy way to take action is to call the Capitol Operator at 888.818.6641 and ask for your Representative.
I will tell my Representative, Eddie Bernice Johnson to vote NO on the budget reconciliation bill for these reasons among others:
- The bill would cut nearly $40 billion in mandatory programs, including Medicaid, SSI and TANF--all efforts to assist and to lift the poor in our nation.
- The bill would cut housing preservation upfront grants that assist developers of affordable housing preserve HUD-assisted housing and to do their work in low-income communities.
- The bill would cut funds for efforts to insure that child support payments are enforced-- $8.4 billion in child support will go uncollected over 10 years. Because of a $4.9 billion cut over 10 years for child support enforcement activities, children and families owed child support from an absent parent will go without $8.4 billion. Child support lifts children out of poverty. Families receiving child support with incomes between 100 – 200 percent of the federal poverty line averaged $4,000 in support payments in 2001 – 15 percent of their income. When enforcement dollars are reduced, less support is collected.
- In short and in summary, the bill hurts the weakest among us while providing more tax cuts to those who are the strongest.
Keep reading if you want more detail!
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that over the next ten years Medicaid will receive $42 billion less than the cost of continuing to provide the current level of services, not counting new funds for such separate items as helping states to care for Katrina evacuees.
The Census Bureau projects that the U.S. population will increase by 9.5 percent from 2000 to 2010, with a growth of 14.8 percent among people over 65 during the same period.
It stands to reason that Medicaid expenditures will have to rise simply because the population is growing, and disproportionately among those who need more medical care.
Population growth pushes up the cost of other services, too.
This budget bill specifically changes the law to reduce services and benefits, deny eligibility, and/or increase costs beyond people’s ability to pay.
Members of Congress who trumpet that they’ve slowed the rate of growth in Medicaid, for example, don’t want to tell you that they’ve done it through changes that will result in less medical care for millions of low-income children, families, and the elderly. The bill changes the law to allow states to charge many low-income people more for medical services.
For a similar earlier version of the bill, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that 80 percent of the reductions in federal spending due to higher patient fees will be achieved because people will go without care.
That’s the kind of cut this budget bill is full of – people in need going without services.
For working-poor parents and other Medicaid beneficiaries, states will be able to scale back medical coverage.
In addition, virtually all of the 28 million children served by Medicaid may lose access to the comprehensive health coverage they now receive.
Fewer low-income elderly people will be eligible for long-term care.
The agreement now back before the House requires all those applying or reapplying for Medicaid to show a passport or birth certificate as proof of citizenship.
Those of us who work among the poor in urban settings know what a nightmare this requirement will be for countless persons.
Who will have the most trouble providing such documents?
People who have lost important papers in the recent hurricanes or other disasters, people who are mentally ill or homeless, older African-Americans (one study estimated as many as one in five African-Americans born before 1940 lacks a birth certificate), and people with language barriers. The poor. Replacing birth certificates takes time and money.
Less care for the neediest people.
College students will have to pay more for their student loans.
The bill cuts federal spending on student loans by a net $12.7 billion, forcing interest rates up for student loans. The federal government gets 70 percent of the bill’s gross savings from raising the interest paid by students or their families above current rates and then capturing the overpayments back from the lenders.
Students will pay more, though even now more than 39 percent of college students graduate with unmanageable debt.
How about adding insult to injury? Poor people with disabilities will have to wait longer to receive aid they are owed--aid that has been determined by a court to be legitimate. Here's how:
Approving applications for cash aid for poor people with disabilities can take many months, even years. When benefits are approved, people now get lump sum payments for the time in which the application was pending. This bill makes beneficiaries wait much longer to collect what they are owed even after a court has ruled in their favor.
Part of the “savings” in the bill comes from the expectation that some seriously disabled
people will die before they receive their full benefits--sort of a "death tax" on poor people with disabilities.
It is interesting that this spending cut bill is called “The Deficit Reduction Act.”
I suppose that does sound nicer than “The Needy Children, Families, Disabled and Elderly Services Reduction Act to Pay for Tax Breaks for the Wealthy Act.”
One Dallas area member of the House is arguing in letters to his constituents who are questioning the wisdom of this bill that it is "immoral" to pass along huge deficits to our children and grandchildren. If he believes this, how could he possibly support a tax cut that will add to the very deficit he considers immoral?
Leaving people in a position to experience ill-health, limited housing and education options and wages that are impossible to live on, these are issues of morality. Caring for all of our children, our elderly and our disabled NOW is an act of great moral courage and commitment, or it least it seems that way to me.
But, the fact is, soon after people lose needed help, tax cuts providing billions of dollars to the wealthy will dig the deficit hole deeper – that is, unless better sense does not prevail.
And yes, we should always do what we can to make sensible savings.
The Senate tried to reduce expenditures through lower Medicaid payments for prescription drugs and through savings in the Medicare program, both of which would have avoided losses experienced directly by low-income people. These alternatives were rejected.
Despite all the denials and the oft-repeated talking points, this budget bill makes billions of dollars in cuts that hurt children, students, people with disabilities, low-income families, and the elderly. These cuts are being made to pay some of the billions sought for more tax breaks.
These are bad choices.
Call your Representative and express your opinion.