Monday, June 06, 2011

Deep cuts in food programs harmful, unnecessary

Our ongoing national budget crisis jeopardizes the health, nutrition and overall well-being of the poorest and weakest Americans.  As Congress considers, debates and proposes various plans to slash spending, it appears that more and more life-sustaining options will be taken from the poor. 

Furthermore, a common notion (read just here "myth") is that private non-profits, churches and other NGOs will be able to "pick up the slack" or close the gap in providing needed benefits and services.  Of course, anyone who works in the sector and understands the magnitude of the problems facing poor folks also knows that such a suggestion is simply not feasible.  While non-profit groups have a role to play, often in administering public funds via grants and/or contracts, they can't be expected to manage the problems created by massive cutbacks.  The scale of the need and the challenges facing our low-income neighbors are simply too large to effectively address without adequate, realistic public funding.  

A factor few people bent on budget cuts often overlook is the high return on investment achieved by the strategic use of public benefits to help lift people from poverty.  Each dollar spent to help improve the lives of low-income persons and families is immediately injected into our economy.  Poor people don't leave their funds unspent on any sideline! 

In addition, effective programs for the poor prevent costly problems down the road.  For example, funds invested in infant and childhood nutrition reduce health care costs later in life among this population.  

As the following report makes clear, our times call for thoughtful leaders, not knee jerk reactions.  These tough times for so many also call for fairness and equity in policy matters.  Let me know what you think after you've read the report. 

Bait and Switch

Congress Chooses One Week’s Worth of Tax Cuts for Millionaires over Nutrition Assistance for Families that Need It

By Melissa Boteach, Seth Hanlon
June 2, 2011

If House Republicans get their way in the federal budget for fiscal year 2012 beginning in October, nearly 500,000 women, infants, and children could be deprived of basic nutritional assistance. Though Republican leaders justify this decision on the grounds that budget deficits require "shared sacrifice," the tax cuts they recently fought to extend will give away more money to America’s 300,000 millionaires this week than it will cost to adequately fund nutrition programs for all of next year.

That’s the story and the math behind the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee decision to slash the budget for the Special Supplemental Nutritional Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, by $833 million in FY 2012. WIC provides nutritious foods to low-income pregnant women, new moms, babies, and children under 5 who have been identified as nutritionally at risk. The program has done this successfully for nearly 40 years at a relatively modest cost to the federal government, which is why the program has traditionally enjoyed strong bipartisan support.

The bill approved this week by Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee upends that bipartisan commitment, imposing deep and harmful cuts to WIC and denying assistance to 325,000 to 475,000 eligible mothers, infants, and children. In fact, not content with cutting WIC, the House Republicans also placed on the chopping block the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which delivers nutritionally appropriate meals to low-income, often homebound seniors. Tens of thousands of vulnerable seniors would lose access to these meals if these cuts totaling $38 million are ultimately signed into law.

Conservatives often claim that private charities and faith-based organizations will simply pick up the slack. Yet the funding bill for agriculture and nutrition programs also slashes the very funding that supports emergency food bank networks, through both food commodities and storage and distribution. The bill cuts $63 million from The Emergency Food Assistance Program, a decision that would significantly impede the ability of private food banks, shelters, and pantries to meet the rising need.

All told, the bill cuts $934 million out of these three federal nutrition programs. House Republicans say that given our nation’s fiscal challenges, these draconian cuts are unavoidable. Indeed, when announcing the cuts to nutrition services, Agriculture Subcommittee Chairman Jack Kingston patted himself on the back for “making some of the tough choices necessary to right the ship.”

But slashing federal nutrition assistance won’t right the ship. It would steer us in the wrong direction. The WIC program represents about two-tenths of 1 percent of the federal budget. Even if one disregards the negative consequences on family budgets and the overall economy, the proposed cuts would reduce this year’s federal deficit by less than one-tenth of a percent.

In all likelihood, these cuts would leave the country and the federal budget in worse shape. Investing in the nutrition of pregnant women, infants, and young children is often credited with saving federal dollars in the short term and long run. By ensuring vulnerable children have access to adequate nutrition, WIC often prevents more costly health problems down the line and improves children’s school performance. According to researchers at Children’s HealthWatch, children’s brain size more than doubles in their first year of life when they are provided with appropriate nutrition. By ensuring moms and new babies have the nutritional supports they need to thrive during this critical time, WIC decreases the risk of developmental delays and promotes school readiness.

The program’s biggest cost-savings, however, often come before the child has even turned 1 year old. Economists estimate that every $1 invested in WIC saves between $1.77 and $3.13 in health care costs in the first 60 days after an infant’s birth by reducing the instance of low-birth-weight babies and improving child immunization rates. In fact, it is estimated that the program has saved more than 200,000 babies from dying at birth.

Read the entire report here.


Anonymous said...

In 2009 the national debt was 10.5 trillion dollars. Today it is over 14 trillion dollars. Why has none of this debt been used to reduce the suffering of the poor? What has it been used for?

It seems as though you are blaming 300,000 millionaires for the condition of the poor in this country. But even if we took 13 million dollars from each one of these millionaires it would not equal the nearly 4 trillion dollars in debt spent by the democrats to this point in the Obama administration. (This presumes these millionaires have 13 million dollars each and not just one or two million dollars. Plus, wealth is different than income. So I guess we'll have to confiscate property they've already paid taxes on.)

So why would we believe the poor will be better taken care of if we just increase taxes on the wealthy? 4 trillion dollars is an unimaginable amount of money. How responsible will Obama be if reelected? If he does this in his first term, what do you think will happen in his last term?

Larry James said...

Anon, you make my point. Leave partisan pol out of it...all are guilty here. The point re tax breaks for the top was to show the scale of where advantage/disadvantage flows today in US. For the sake of the very poor, we need a makeover.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that was really your point - or at least it was not the point of the article you reposted. The article attempts to make republicans look bad, which is a political point. Clearly, the debt and the government's commitment to deficit spending is out of control and we can not continue on this path. NOTHING the Obama presidential campaign machine promised has been successful. His/their behavior has betrayed a simple truth - special interest groups are given control in exchange for votes and social influence. In the near future there will be no $$ for the poor available in the federal budget. Are you in suppport of Paul Ryan's budget? Or Boehner's trillion dollar budget cuts? If not, why not?


Anonymous said...

This story is interesting in light of your previous post, "What Would Jesus Spend His Money On?" I think that question is relevant politically, too.