With inauguration here, we can't help but wonder what the next four years will hold for our country and for low-income families and individuals in our region who struggle with food insecurity—also known as hunger. With America as divided and polarized as ever, we fear for the worst. But knowing that so many Americans believe in and are committed to working towards a fair and equitable society, we hope for the best.
Whether Independent, Democrat, or Republican, most Americans agree on the basics. We want decent jobs where we are treated respectfully and paid a fair wage so we can feed our families and put a roof over our heads. We want quality education for our children, so they are prepared for good jobs in our rapidly changing economy. We want access to affordable medical care for ourselves and our children to remain healthy. We want the elderly to age with dignity, those with disabilities to have the supports they need, and a basic safety net for those who have fallen on hard times.
In short, we want the American Dream to be attainable for all.
As our new president is sworn in today, many questions about his proposals and shared agreement with his party remain. He has shared many of his broad ideas, but far fewer policy details. Congressional leaders, however, are prepared and eager to forward an agenda that’s been in the planning stages for years. And with a Republican majority in both the House and Senate, the risks of them implementing that agenda are very real.
Last year the FY 2017 Budget proposal promoted by Speaker Paul Ryan included $23 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over ten years. SNAP is our nation’s most important, efficient, and effective tool to fight hunger and helps 1.8 million Pennsylvanians – over 680,000 in our region – put food on the table.
In addition to SNAP cuts, the Ryan budget proposed an additional $170 billion in “savings.” These savings are too often a euphemism for cuts – the majority of which are achieved at the expense of low- and middle-income people. (For an excellent explanation of the details, see this op-ed by Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities).
The new president’s stance on proposed SNAP cuts, as well as those to other low-income programs, is not clear. But one thing we know he and the GOP agree on: tax cuts, the majority of which will benefits the most affluent in our country. We also know from years past that tax cuts do not magically spur economic growth or create jobs. In fact, the benefits of tax changes enacted in 2001 and 2003 skewed heavily toward the wealthy and added trillions of dollars to the national debt. What about economic impact of SNAP? The Congressional Budget office has found that SNAP has one of the largest “bangs-for-the-buck” (i.e. increase in economic activity and employment per budgetary dollar spent) among a broad range of policies. Every dollar of SNAP is estimated to generate $1.70, and the dollars are targeted to those in need and the communities that need an economic boost the most
Tax cuts are not self-financing. The loss in revenue has to be made up somewhere. We must ask ourselves – and our elected officials – do we really want to take food assistance away from tens of millions of low-income people; force seniors to choose between groceries and needed medication; more severely limit housing assistance to those with no homes; lessen investments in education and job training; deny treatment to those with addictions?
Based on Congressional proposals and actions thus far, we fear that our path to shared prosperity will be further eroded before our eyes. Is this what Americans wanted when they voted for change? We don’t think so. Congress has already taken steps to strip healthcare away from millions of Americans without providing an alternative. It is poised to forward tax cuts that will squeeze resources available for all else.
Today, we suspect many of you share our fear of the worst and hope for the best. In order to achieve the best, we must speak up louder and stronger for the priorities we believe in. Join us in focusing on areas of agreement, rather than allowing elected officials to use our differences to divide us. Join us in ensuring Congress gets the message loud and clear: It must not make cuts that will leave children, seniors, low-income workers, and those with disabilities with empty stomachs, our communities with aching hearts, and Americans with broken promises for a better tomorrow.