An important new initiative from Half in Ten, a national campaign to reduce poverty by 50 percent over the next ten years, and the Coalition on Human Needs, is putting a face on irresponsible “slash and burn” deficit reduction by showing how it would damage real lives. The organizations are collecting people’s stories so that the cruel consequences of draconian cuts to key federal programs are plain to see.
Consider the story of Carolyn, who was in her 40s when her husband of twenty-five years left her with two daughters. She had never received any kind of assistance and describes turning to her local community action agency as “the hardest thing I had ever done.” Her fears were quickly allayed as she “was treated with respect and was never made to feel like a drain on society.” She enrolled in a workforce development program that helped her with tuition and books while she attended community college.
“I went to college five days a week and spent the weekend working, so I never had a day off,” writes Carolyn. “When I graduated I became a Registered Nurse, able to support myself and my family. I couldn’t have done it without the Federal Workforce Development Program and the supportive services the local Community Action Agency provided.”
But the Boehner-led “so be it” Republicans would nearly eliminate funding for Community Service Block Grants (CSBG) for the remainder of 2011, and President Obama proposes cutting it in half in 2012. The cuts would disrupt the antipoverty services provided by 1,065 community action agencies nationwide to over 20 million low-income people, including 5 million children, 2.3 million seniors and 1.7 million people with disabilities. What makes the cuts even more insane is that the agencies generate $6.54 from state, local, and private sources for every federal dollar received, according to the Coalition on Human Needs.
People like Carolyn would be hit doubly hard—not only would the community action agencies reach fewer people, but the kind of workforce development programs that allowed her to change her life would also be slashed by Republicans. In fact, at a time when 14 million Americans are out of work, more than 8 million adults and youth would lose access to job training and other employment services. Job training under the Workforce Investment Act programs for adults, youths, and dislocated workers would essentially be shut down until July 2012.
But, hey, at least folks can turn to higher education, right? Actually, not really. At a time when the US is now twelfth in the world in the percentage of 25-to-34-year-olds with a college degree, the GOP bill would result in 9.4 million low-income college students losing all or some of their Pell grant. It would reduce the maximum Pell grant by a whopping 17.4 percent! (Obama would increase Pell Grant funding by 20 percent.)