House Republicans last week introduced a spending measure to fund the federal government for the rest of fiscal year. And, perhaps not surprisingly, it is an extreme and indiscriminate assault on African Americans and other populations who have historically bore the brunt of budget cuts in the name of fiscal austerity: women, children, students, veterans, the poor, the homeless, communities of color, it goes on.
I rose on the House floor, in press conferences, and in meetings with my colleagues many times over the last week to make my position known, and in one instance I spoke about something that many of my colleagues don’t like to talk about: the urban, suburban, and rural poor. “Poor” is a four-letter word in Congress. We see the rhetoric about preserving the middle class. Of course we want to preserve the middle class: the gap between the haves and have-nots continues to grow, leaving no room for the middle class that makes this country strong. African Americans are expected to lose $193 billion through 2012 because of the housing crisis, and lending for homeownership, the bedrock of wealth creation in this country, was down 60 percent to African Americans between 2004 and 2009.
But what about Americans from low-income backgrounds, many of whom we represent, and proudly so?
Maybe like you, I was shocked to recently read that the poorest county in America was not in an urban area. It was in rural South Dakota of all places – where the unemployment rate is as high as 60 percent and the majority of the residents are Native American. I point this out to say that there are serious problems facing not just urban areas but all of America’s cities and states. And the common theme is that these problems impact people of color. Sadly, the Republicans in the House of Representatives seem completely disengaged from the struggle of so many communities, and have a proposed a budget plan that would jeopardize the health, safety, economic security and well-being of so many. Let me give you a snapshot:
Housing: Community Development Block Grants improve and revitalize homes and other infrastructure in our cities and towns, attract private capital to underserved communities, and most importantly, create jobs. Republicans want to cut this vital investment by 66 percent to $1.5 billion, down from $4.45 annually when the Democrats controlled the House. In my district in South Los Angeles – where last year $187 million in Housing and Urban Development funds supported rental, homeless, and community improvements – cuts to CDBG would result in over 350 jobs lost. And the Republicans say they’re the party of job creation.
Education: The Head Start program, where I started my career in public service and where millions of young children get the services and attention they need to become good students, would lose over $1 billion, preventing over 200,000 from participating. Of the 1 million-plus students who enrolled in Head Start nationwide, over two-thirds are African American and Hispanic.
Health and Wellness: $1.3 billion would be cut from Community Health Centers, where thousands of my constituents and millions of Americans access health care services. And the Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) program would experience a 10 percent reduction. That’s right: Poor women trying to make ends meet for their children would have access to fewer services under the Republican vision for America.
The Republicans seem to have a case of amnesia when it comes to the budget. They shrug and say there’s simply not enough to go around when it comes to economic development, education and health care, forgetting that just a few weeks ago, they passed $80 billion in tax cuts for the richest 2 percent of Americans, plus another $25 billion in estate tax cuts. And that’s not to mention our $2 billion-a-week spending binge in Afghanistan.
I believe that our budget is a reflection of our priorities. And to me, the Republican plan says that in the richest nation in the world, it is acceptable to leave millions of Americans hungry, cold, under- or unemployed, and left to the whims of the same firms that are foreclosing on families and shipping jobs overseas.
I believe that our budget challenges can be solved without breaking the backs of low- and middle-income Americans. Practical, real-world solutions exist. We only need to summon the courage to take on the powerful interests that stand in the way of change. As the Congress works to address our economic and budget future, I will continue to advocate for solutions that ensure that our communities have the resources they need to thrive.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters is a Democrat that represents the state of California in the House of Representatives.