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Advocates for poor fear budget deficit cuts

By Suzanne Higgins on May 14, 2012
© West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday to cut nearly $310 billion from the budget deficit over the next 10 years.


A large portion of the cuts passed in the Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act of 2012 comes from programs that aid the poor.


The GOP plan would cancel food stamps for 2 million recipients, cut health care insurance for children and scale back programs for the elderly and disabled, like Meals on Wheels.


Bishop Don Dixon Williams is a racial/ethnic outreach associate for Bread for the World, one of the country’s largest anti-hunger/anti-poverty advocacy groups, and says the effects of this bill could be devastating.


“A nation is judged by how they treat their young people and how they treat their old people,” said Williams. “It’s important that we contact lawmakers and let our voices be heard.”


The House passed the cuts saying the harsh budget was necessary to prevent automatic spending cuts to the Defense Department that were built into last year’s debt-ceiling budget deal.


Williams described such cuts as draconian. 


“I understand that we need to reduce the deficit, but we don’t need to reduce it on the backs of poor and hungry people,” said Williams. “We have resources, we have places that can be cut.”


“But we really need is to be educated, to have some compassion, and to work for those kinds of things that will be beneficial for all of our citizens, because I think everybody counts.”


Bread for the World recently published an analysis of federal safety-net programs, with a particular focus on the elderly.


According to the report, in 1966, nearly 29 percent of Americans over age 65 lived in poverty. In 2010, that number was down to 9 percent. The Christian organization credits in large part Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid for lowering that percentage.


The report also cites two programs for stemming the tide of hunger among the elderly: The former food stamp program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, or CSFP.


Both programs take significant hits under the House bill passed last week.


“The costs of hunger on a society are devastating,” said Williams. “You have a natural resource, you have a life, you have people who have been productive in society and now find themselves in a situation where they are not able to feed themselves. Many are losing their homes because of the recession,” he said.


“I would say that if we don’t do something that it has the potential to get very bad because you are beginning to get into those Baby Boomers that are coming along, just the numbers tell you there will be a lot of people depending on these programs.”


“More and more people are falling into poverty,” he said.


The U.S House Agriculture Committee website says the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has seen a 77% increase in participation over the last 5 years, now serving 46 million people.


West Virginia’s Congressional delegation voted along party lines. Rep. Shelly Moore Capito, R-WV, and Rep. David McKinney, R-WV, voted in favor of the cuts while Rep. Nick Rahall, D-WV, opposed the bill.


The budget deficit fight now continues in the Democratic–controlled Senate.

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