The Fiscal Cliff, Bah Humbug: It's Time Congress Redeems Itself
The holidays are upon us - a time to make merry and spread good cheer. But there is a more contemplative side to this season as well - a time for self-reflection and for thinking of others who need our help.
I hope that Congress is practicing the latter in these final days of the session. They will decide by the end of the year whether to protect working families or the richest 2 percent.
Adept at playing the role of Ebenezer Scrooge from the holiday classic "A Christmas Carol," some legislators are threatening to hurt working families by cutting vital social services like food stamps, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and other safety net programs unless tax breaks are extended for the wealthy. Some members of Congress are so busy trying to protect the coffers of the richest 2 percent they are willing to forsake the most vulnerable of our society - veterans, senior citizens, and those who have lost their jobs in the recession. Hmm, sounds a little bit like the Scrooge himself.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise known as food stamps, and other services for those in need are designed to expand when economic times are hard. SNAP aids the poor and helps fuel job growth. There is clear evidence that food stamps help stimulate the economy - low- income families have money in their pockets that they spend at neighborhood grocery stores.
Cutting these safety net services such as SNAP is wrong for our country and would cut the lifeline for our nation's poorest and most vulnerable citizens. Nearly one in seven Americans relies on SNAP to feed themselves and their families. And there are close to 50 percent of all Americans with children receiving supplemental nutrition assistance benefits with a working adult in the household who don't earn enough to make ends meet.
Another essential safety net program that kept millions of people out of poverty last year is Unemployment Insurance. Unemployment benefits are a good investment - for every $1 the government spends in UI, it creates $1.61 to $2 in economic stimulus, money that saves and creates jobs in communities across the country.
As Congress wrangles with the budget to avoid the dreaded fiscal cliff, I hope they remember that it's more than spread sheets and numbers, but human capital that's at stake.
It's people like Regan Byrd, a 9to5 Colorado member, who earlier this year was a recipient of food stamps and Unemployment Insurance. When asked to talk about her experience, she said, "Without unemployment insurance this year, I would have had no income at all, and been forced to seek out shelters or charity from already struggling friends and family to survive. My unemployment insurance paid for rent, utilities and my student loan with just $100 leftover each month. SNAP ensured that I did not go hungry during this difficult time." Now employed full-time, Reagan is living proof that these critical programs stimulate the economy, and keep people out of poverty until they can get back on their feet.
So in the spirit of the holiday season and to help lift up all Americans, Congress must:
- Continue the expansions to the earned income and child tax credits that kept 1.6 million people out of poverty last year.
- Continue emergency unemployment benefits, which kept 2.3 million people above the poverty line last year.
- Protect the safety net programs that support our veterans, seniors, low-income people, and families moving from poverty toward economic security.
- End the tax cuts for the richest 2 percent, so we can pay down our deficit and make the investments in job creation we need to lift up all Americans. Ending tax cuts for the richest 2 percent will raise a trillion dollars - money desperately needed to grow the economy and reduce the deficit.
We all need to pay our fair share. We cannot allow the fiscal burden to fall on the most vulnerable of our society or working families who have already paid their fair share.
Getting back to "A Christmas Carol," that classic tale about redemption, Congress has an opportunity to redeem itself by getting down to the business of supporting working families and protecting the most vulnerable of our society. In the words of Charles Dickens "Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. ..!"
And so it should be for Congress as well. By helping those most in need, everyone wins. Because our economy works better when everyone who wants a job is working and every job is a good job that can support a family.
It's up to us to fight together for an America that works for all of us -- an America of good jobs, strong families and communities, and shared prosperity. So before time runs out, contact your Senators and Representative today and tell them to support working families by stopping tax breaks for the wealthy and protecting programs to help those most in need.
This op-ed/blog was orginally posted in Huffington Post on December 18, 2012.