Return with us now to the Great Deficit Debate, the one which resulted in the Budget Control Act of 2011. (PDF) S. 365 passed the House of Representatives on a 269-161 vote, August 1, 2011, [roll call 690] with Nevada Representatives Heck and Berkley both voting in the affirmative. The “promise” at the time was that Democrats would agree to shaving funds from social programs while Republicans would agree to cuts for the Defense Department. Thus much for promises.
On May 10, 2012 the House Republicans pulled the plug on the agreement in H.R. 5652 which restored the funds for the Department of Defense and kept or increased cuts in economic automatic stabilization programs and social services. Representatives Amodei (R-NV2) and Heck (R-NV3) were pleased to vote in favor of the bill, Representative Berkley (D-NV1) held to the initial bargain and voted against it. [roll call 247]
The Congressional Budget Office reported that H.R. 5642 would, “Assuming enactment by July 1, 2012, CBO and JCT estimate that the legislation would yield net deficit reduction of $242.8 billion over the 2012-2022 period. That figure reflects gross reconciliation savings ($315.0 billion through 2022), partially offset by the cost of sequester replacement ($72.2 billion through 2022). ” That $242.8 billion over a ten year period looks good IF you don’t look at what it contains.
Generally speaking, “The Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act would cut $7.7 billion in federal food stamp spending in the first year, require federal workers to contribute more to retirement plans, end grants for health insurance exchanges, put limits on Medicaid payments and impose various reforms aimed at trimming federal spending.” [The Hill]
Now, let’s get down to specifics. The Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act would:
End help to states that do the best job of finding uninsured low-income children and getting them into health care programs.
Wipe out a new Prevention Fund, created by the Affordable Care Act, that helps women get mammograms and helps children get screened for diabetes.
Repeal rules ensuring that states don’t cut people off of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Medicaid as families continue to struggle economically while our economy recovers.
Halt funding to states to set up new, more consumer-friendly marketplaces for health insurance.
Strip protections for families receiving tax credits used to buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
Slash benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) that ensure low-income families are able put food on the table.
Eliminate the Social Services Block Grant, which funds child care, Meals on Wheels, and other important community services for low-income and disabled Americans.
What would cuts to some of these programs look like in Nevada?
Medicaid: At last count there were 5,080 Nevadans with cancer who were being served by the Medicaid program, 150 of these were children, 2,290 were elderly. 178,240 Nevadans have diabetes, and 17,380 are relying on Medicaid for their medical needs. Of the 17,380 relying on Medicaid 930 are children under the age of 18, and 6,490 were seniors. 243,570 Nevadans have chronic lung disease, and 32,280 rely on Medicaid for assistance. Of the 32,280 reliant on Medicaid 15,880 are children under 18 years of age. 4,250 are elders. An estimated 42,000 Nevadans rely on Medicaid for treatment of heart disease or strokes, of these 2,590 are children, and another 15,960 are senior citizens. [FamUSA pdf]
To be eligible for Medicaid in Nevada a person must meet low income criteria, and the categories for eligibility include families with dependent children, children, pregnant women, disabled adults, and the elderly. [NDH pdf] Eligibility is one thing, coverage is another. The AAP reports: “An estimated 134,000 Nevada children — 18.6 percent of Nevada children — are uninsured. Sixty-four percent of these uninsured children are eligible, but not enrolled in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.” The bottom line here is that under the current levels of funding we’re not meeting the health care needs of Nevada children living in poverty — and the House Republicans want to cut funding even further. Under the House Republican proposal if Nevada did, in fact, do a better job of locating and providing health care for poor children, the state would get no reward for doing so.
Nevada Check Up: “The Mission of the Nevada Check Up program (Children’s Health Insurance Program) is to provide low-cost, comprehensive health care coverage to low income, uninsured children (birth through 18) who are not covered by private insurance or Medicaid; while (1) promoting health care coverage for children; (2) encouraging individual responsibility; and (3) working with public and private health care providers and community advocates for children.” [NVHHS] Rules insuring that children are not cut from the SCHIP programs (and Medicaid) while Nevada families are still facing economic issues would be eliminated by the House Republicans. Youngsters in Nevada are now eligible if they have not had health insurance for the past six months, if the family has lost insurance for reasons beyond their control, are under 19 years of age, and in the case of a family of four the annual income is between $22,350 and $44,700. The good news about kids is that most of them are easy to insure because sprains, strains, abrasions, and breaks are their specialties. However, a child with a serious illness or medical condition can deplete family resources very quickly. One of the major benefits of the Check-Up or SCHIP program is that it is designed to prevent working families from falling into medical bankruptcy. This, however, doesn’t appear to be a House GOP priority.
Nevada Prevention Fund: This is the funding discussed previously which the Speaker of the House dismissed as a “slush fund.” There’s nothing terribly slushy about it. Nevada has received funding for some very specific programs. Projects for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer prevention are funded via this program, as are tobacco use cessation programs and immunizations. Projects to reduce childhood obesity are funded from this category. There’s even a category which should appeal to Nevadans in the wake of the Hepatitis C scare in Clark County not so long ago — funds are available for “new resources to prevent, detect, and respond to disease outbreaks, including those caused by influenza and foodborne pathogens. It also funds programs that prevent healthcare-associated infections.” [HHS] Grandma was right, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” but the House GOP doesn’t appear to have been listening.
SNAP: Formerly known as Food Stamps. Nothing so enrages those with empathy deficits as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The usual complaint is that 50% of the really true American Hard Workers are paying for food for the 50% really unpatriotic Slackers. The statistics are rather different. Of those are eligible for SNAP assistance 48% are children, and another 8% were elderly. The national program participation rate is about 67%, meaning that only about 2/3rd of those who are eligible actually avail themselves of the program.
Those who are working, but eligible because of low incomes, participate at a 54% rate, meaning that just a bit over half of the working people who could use SNAP really do. [USDA pdf] And, contrary to popular rumors, most SNAP recipients are not receiving TANF assistance. In fact, less than 10% of SNAP recipients were also receiving TANF benefits. The typical SNAP family has about $711 in monthly income or about $8,500 in annual income. A minimum wage job ($7.25/hr) should yield $1,160 monthly, so our typical SNAP family isn’t earning enough to make the bare-bones $13,920 annual earnings level, but 90% of the SNAP recipients are indeed working.
Nor, should we imagine, as some do, that the SNAP benefits are “enough to live on.” The maximum benefit for a family of four averages about $638. This figure comes close to the USDA estimates for a “thrifty” household budget for a family in which there are children between the ages of 6 to 12 ($624.60) but is well under the amount needed to fit in the “low cost” grocery plan ($816.70). [USDA pdf] The maximum benefit number isn’t even close to the ideal food budget figure ($1,235.00) for a family of four. I wouldn’t even care to guess what it really costs to feed just one adolescent male, and I don’t particularly want to find out what eating on the Nevada average SNAP benefit of $4.06 per day would be like. [LVCityLife]
However, facts-be-damned, the House Republicans, Heck and Amodei included, voted to scuttle the Budget Control Act, and cut approximately $36 billion from the SNAP program. This should be of some interest to the following Nevadans: “329,105 people received benefits through the program (in March 2011.) The 21 percent jump follows a 47 percent increase in 2009 and a 27 percent increase in 2010.” [LVSun]
Have I mentioned — almost to redundancy — that the SNAP program is an economic automatic stabilizer? These are programs which kick in when the economy takes a tumble and help to soften the landing on local economies. It’s certainly helped in Clark County, Nevada:
The USDA published a report on SNAP’s impact on local economies. For every $1 spent in SNAP benefits, $1.80 is generated through local economic activity. This activity creates and sustains jobs through the purchase of goods and services. In FY2010, SNAP recipients in Nevada received $414,596,369 in benefits which stimulated the economy by $746,273,464. [SNAPexp]
It’s no secret that the best economic stimulus programs are those which put money into the national, state, and local economies as quickly as possible, and which are likely to be spent. SNAP benefits fill the bill. Although the $1.80 per dollar spent may be a bit high, the usual economic return for every $1 spent on SNAP is calculated at $1.73, the message is the same. Food expenditures flow out into groceries, transportation services, farming, and farm support suppliers. [CNN]
So, while the Nevada unemployment rate is still an unacceptable 12.0% statewide, and it would be nice if more grocery clerks, truck drivers, and farm workers could be employed … the House GOP has decided to “solve” the deficit problem by cutting back on the best economic stimulus program we have.
And, What Do We Get For Our “Savings?”
The House Republicans are essentially offering us Austerity on Steroids, but some people appear to be More Equal Than Others.
“In offsetting the costs of cancelling the scheduled sequestration of discretionary programs, the new House legislation does not close or narrow any tax expenditures, and does not secure any savings from much-criticized programs like farm price supports.” [CBPP]
So the local grocer isn’t getting any immediate benefit, but large industrial farms are doing well. Thank you very much. The rest of the economic ideology is just so much ethereal pie-in-the-sky theoretical posturing with precious little tangible data in support. The Financialists on Wall Street have decided that “the Debt” is really really really the most important problem we have. Ergo, we must address their problem before we can discuss anything other economic issue, like housing, or hunger, or employment, or energy.
Evidently, it’s also essential that we resolve the Financialists’ issues, and military-industrial complex’s desires, prior to addressing any topic of immediate interest to the average American worker or small business owner. To suggest that employment comes from little businesses that sustain our means of manufacturing, transportation, and exchange is “socialism.” To suggest that small retail business owners and local contractors would be better served by investing in infrastructure is to ask for the creation of “unreal” jobs — apparently the only “real” ones are on Wall Street.
To assert, as the original Republican President once did, that ours is a country “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” is now called “class warfare.”
Meanwhile, the Plutocrats and their Financialist brethren are content to serve themselves first — abetted by their loyal followers in the Republican controlled House of Representatives who cheer them on as “Job Creators” while they ship American jobs overseas, and encourage them to greater recklessness by supporting de-regulation under the guise of “freedom.”
Perhaps it is time to focus more of our attention on the 3rd and 4th freedoms listed by Franklin D. Roosevelt: Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. What, after all, is there to fear if the top 0.5% of U.S. income earners should be asked to contribute to the reduction of the debt, while we protect 15,960 elderly Nevadans who need Medicaid to get treatment for heart disease or strokes.? What is there to fear if the top 0.5% of U.S. income earners help pay down the debt while we allay the fears of working parents who are uncertain if Nevada Check-Up can help them with their child’s medical expenses? What is there to fear if the top 0.5% of American income earners pay a tad more towards the deficit their Mortgage Meltdown helped create, while we do what we can to enable families to have at the very least $4.06 for the days’ groceries?
What we should fear is the cavalier rejection of responsibility for maintaining agreements so evident in our House Republican leadership. What we should dread is a nation so callous that the accretions of Credit Card Conservativism should be borne by the weakest among us. What should precipitate cold sweat is a nation so beholden to the Plutocracy that we are ready to forsake our Democracy.
References and Resources: Department of Health and Human Services, “Nevada: ACA Prevention Fund in Your State.” Families USA, “House Budget Bill Is A Great Leap Backward.” American Cancer Society, et. al. “Medicaid in Nevada.” (pdf) USDA: Fact Sheet on SNAP. (pdf) USDA: Cost of Food, March 2012. (pdf) USDA: Food and Nutrition Program. “Living on $4 a day,” Las Vegas City Life, Feb. 2, 2012. Nevada, Department of Employment and Training, Research & Analysis. CBPP, “House Budget Bills Would Target Programs for Lower Income Families,” May 10, 2012.