"Woe to him who builds his house on unrighteousness, and his upper room by injustice, who makes his neighbors work for nothing, and does not give them their wages." (Jeremiah 22:13)
This afternoon I joined a conference call with officials at the White House to talk about the elimination of unemployment insurance - which expires today because of GOP obstructionism in Congress. Over 2 million people will lose benefits in December (7 million over the next year). GOP leaders are insisting on extending $700 billion in tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans as the unemployed lose their only source of income during the holiday season.
President Obama has opposed the extension of the Bush tax cuts and insisted that unemployment insurance and middle class tax cuts stay in place. The wealthiest Americans don't need tax cuts as the government's deficit explodes and we pay for two wars.
Religious leaders across the country have called for an extension of the unemployment benefits.
In a related matter, the National Council of Churches and other Christian bodies released a statement this fall that read in part:
As people of faith, we often talk about the federal budget being a moral document because where we choose to commit our resources demonstrates our values. Our nation’s tax policy functions in much the same way. Paying taxes to enable government to provide for the needs of the common good is an appropriate expression of our stewardship in society. Every year, billions of dollars are generated in tax revenue that are then reinvested in ways that serve the public interest, like providing for our security and building our roads, bridges, and schools.
The tax system also creates financial incentives for individuals to act in ways that are thought to strengthen our social fabric, such as investing and saving for retirement, starting a business, owning a home, getting a college education--even charitable giving. Because of the way tax benefits are structured, however, too often low-wage workers do not earn enough to access those benefits. This results in a system that perpetuates inequality by rewarding behavior that generates financial security for those who already have it, while excluding those who are working hard at low-wage jobs and need help the most. An equitable, moral tax code should reward the efforts of low-income people to work and save at every level.
Leaving unemployed Americans without financial support will clearly increase poverty and homelessness in America. Every great economic question is in reality a great moral question, once said William Jennings Bryan. Those that oppose extending benefits today are failing a moral test of leadership that will hurt families in very real ways. Click here to send a message to Congress supporting the extension on unemployment benefits.
President Obama would help set the tone for a larger debate if - as he promised during the 2008 election - he would set a goal of reducing poverty by 50% within ten years. The president needs to be pro-active on these issues and not just reactive. His stimulus plan saved millions more from falling into poverty, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, but now we need the president to offer a road map for substantially decreasing poverty.
I've written the president a letter asking him to do just that and to use a major national venue - such as the 2011 State of the Union Address - to outline his plans moving forward. I hope readers here will contact the White House and both thank him for his leadership on these issues and encourage him to led a national effort to reduce poverty.