The Collegium of Officers of the United Church of Christ responded to the release of President Obama's proposed budget by saying that while "we do not agree with all its provisions, we believe it moves the country in a positive direction." I share that assessment. Overall, the president's budget proposal seeks to make sure the wealthy begin to pay their fair share of taxes while helping promote the common good by investing in education and people by (via Half In Ten):
- Permanently extending expansions of the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit that were passed in the Recovery Act, which will boost the incomes of millions of low-wage working families with children
- Combating hunger by providing full funding for the nutritional safety net that has been responding to high levels of unemployment and by continuing investments in programs that ensure children have the nutritional building blocks they need to thrive
- Providing funding to make progress on the administration’s strategic plan to end homelessness
- Preserving existing housing vouchers that help low-income families afford rent
- Creating new housing opportunities for veterans
- Proposing financing for the development and preservation of affordable housing through the Housing Trust Fund
As Deborah Weinstien, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs points out, this is a budget meant to help put Americans to work and to continue moving us past the failed economic policies embraced by Paul Ryan and the House leadership:
The Obama budget calls for $350 billion in job growth measures, spread mostly between FY 2012 and FY 2015. These include $50 billion in road and transit maintenance and upgrading, $30 billion to modernize at least 35,000 schools and another $30 billion to hire and retain teachers and first responders, Project Rebuild, which will hire workers in low-income communities to "re-purpose" residential and commercial properties, and a new small business tax credit for companies that hire new workers. The new initiatives include Pathways Back to Work, a $12.5 billion project that will provide subsidized jobs and training for low-income, low-skilled workers and summer and year-round jobs and training for youth.
Still, there are areas of deep concern over the direction our nation is headed. As the officers of the United Church of Christ rightfully note:
We recognize the constraints facing the nation and the President. A number of factors including the weak economy, high levels of unemployment, unfunded wars, corporate tax loopholes, and cuts in income taxes skewed to favor the wealthiest Americans have reduced tax revenues to historic lows and created a large federal budget deficit. These limit the ability of the federal government to perform its essential roles to help those in need and promote the common good. (See General Synod resolution “For the Common Good.”)
What does this mean in practical terms? Half In Ten notes:
...the president proposes cutting more than $300 million from the Community Services Block Grant, a program that helps community action agencies in more than 1,000 localities throughout the country to provide services such as weatherization, job training, and Head Start to more than 20 million Americans.
And while the president proposes more funding than he did last year for low-income home energy assistance or LIHEAP, his blueprint would represent more than $450 million in cuts from last year’s enacted level—a hit to vulnerable households struggling to afford heating and cooling.
Cuts to affordable housing programs will also hit low-income families especially hard. The administration’s proposal requires struggling households to pay a $75 minimum rent, which would hit the lowest-income families who are already exempt from normal rents charged to Department of Housing and Urban Development recipients. These changes, coupled with small cuts to housing for people with AIDS and people with disabilities, could translate into real hardship for families on the brink of homelessness.
None of these cuts are acceptable and I'll share that view with both the White House and Oregon's Congressional delegation.
A fair conclusion to draw is that President Obama has drafted the most progressive budget possible considering the political realities faced by our nation.
It remains the job of the church universal to engage both the President and Congress in this debate, along with the American public, to further protect the most vulnerable among us.