On the way home from work today, I heard a story on NPR that has my blood boiling. The Congress is doing its annual dance of creating stop-gap funding bills because it has yet to pass the necessary budgetary legislation to keep the Federal government running (the fiscal year has just expired, Oct. 1). While that has become the expectation, what has been reported in the details of this particular measure is simply crazy to me. Funding for all federal spending and programs has been extended at the same levels as the past budget, with a very small number of exceptions. One of those exceptions is funding for assistance programs for some of the poorest Americans. Some of those budget lines are cut from 50% to 75%! In a Republican Congress that will almost certainly make tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans permanent when they return from a break, and for Republicans who want to repeal the estate tax, which only affects multimillionaires on up, and for one indicted Tom Delay to say there is "simply no more fat to cut from the budget" (apparently this is the only fat they found), simply saying that I am outraged doesn't cut it.
Democrats in the Senate, led by Tom Harkin, pleaded with the Republican leadership to call for an amendment to return funding for assistance programs for the poorest Americans before midnight last night. But, of course, this could not be done since the House had already adjourned and Representatives were already out of town. It is mindboggling to me how they could do this. Over 4 million children will be affected as of today, who count on funds for after-school programs and assistance to their parents to make ends meet. But many of the poorest Americans don't vote, so screw them...the Bill Gates of the world can enjoy the additional hundreds of millions of dollars they get from the various tax cuts over the past five years. I guess this is fair and right in some minds, but I cannot at all understand it. In particular, I cannot understand how certain leaders who claim to be 'compassionate' can allow the trend for increased numbers of children who live in poverty to continue like this. In the richest nation in the history of the world, 1 in 5 children live in poverty. Many of their parents are the types who may actually deserve to live in those conditions, but the victims are their kids. I'll bet many more of their parents are the working poor, trying to make ends meet by working multiple minimum wage jobs. From my days in the Chicago Public Schools, I know this is the case. I don't know the ultimate answers as to the best way to create an environment where the working poor have a better opportunity to move themselves out of these conditions, but something new has to happen...the kids are the victims, and are born into a world where the odds of making something of their lives are small. With leadership like we currently have, the odds have just been reduced even more.
By the way, poverty rates are up for the 4th consecutive year. It is currently at 12.7%, with some 37 million Americans living in such conditions. Keep in mind that the poverty level is set at $19,127 for a family of four. How they come up with these levels is beyond me, but I cannot imagine what it must be like trying to support a family with two kids on such a income. It is a different world than anyone in Congress can imagine, at least those on the right who voted to cut community service block grants for the poorest of the poor.