Republicans have made it clear that their next budget goal is to slash so-called entitlement programs. Democrats have failed to explain to the public that the misnamed programs are valuable and prevent millions of Americans, many of them elderly or children, from living in poverty.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) issued a report last week that found: “Social Security benefits play a vital role in reducing poverty. Without Social Security, 22.2 million more Americans would be poor, according to the latest available Census data (for 2012).
Although most of those whom Social Security keeps out of poverty are elderly, nearly a third are under age 65, including 1 million children. Depending on their design, reductions in Social Security benefits could significantly increase poverty, particularly among the elderly.”
Below poverty line
The report explained, “Almost 90 percent of people aged 65 and older receive some of their family income from Social Security. Without Social Security benefits, 44.4 percent of elderly Americans would have incomes below the official poverty line, all else being equal; with Social Security benefits, only 9.1 percent do. These benefits lift 15.3 million elderly Americans — including 9.0 million women – above the poverty line.”
Medicare has proven equally as effective. Yet, Republicans like to pretend that the U.S. is quickly moving toward an entitlement society.
However, CBPP issued a report last year titled, “Contrary to ‘Entitlement Society’ Rhetoric, Over Nine-Tenths of Entitlement Benefits Go to Elderly, Disabled, or Working Households.”
It stated, “More than 90 percent of the benefit dollars that entitlement and other mandatory programs spend go to assist people who are elderly, seriously disabled, or members of working households — not to able-bodied, working-age Americans who choose not to work.
The research also shatters another myth, the idea that entitlement programs shift resources for the middle class to the poor.
“The data show that the middle class receives approximately its proportionate share of benefits: in 2010, the middle 60 percent of the population received 58 percent of the entitlement benefits. The top 20 percent of the population received 10 percent of the benefits; the bottom 20 percent received 32 percent of the benefits.“
Even with a sluggish economy, Congress seems unwilling to support those on food stamps, now called SNAP – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Under the 2009 Recovery Act, recipients received a 13.6 percent temporary boost in benefits. However, that provision is set to expire on Nov. 1, resulting in a $80 a month loss for a family of four. That means SNAP benefits will average less than $1.40 per person per meal in fiscal 2014.
Instead of continuing to help those in dire need, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Oklahoma) introduced legislation in September cutting SNAP by at least $39 billion over the next decade.
To his credit, President Obama has suggested a more balanced approach, with cuts being matched by closing some of the loopholes for the wealthy. It’s time for President Obama and Democratic leaders to show that they can stand up to Teapublicans more than once.
George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service. Curry can be reached through his website, www.georgecurry.com.