OPINION: It’s Not Just About Taxes: The Upcoming Threats to Social Programs
The passage of the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” last week is only the first step in a larger Republican effort to cut funding for vital health care and basic assistance programs. The bill, which overwhelmingly benefits the wealthiest individuals and corporations, had the backing of Senator Murkowski, Senator Sullivan, and Representative Young. Before the vote even occurred, House Speaker Paul Ryan stated that the next task on the Republican agenda is to cut funding for Medicare and Medicaid. In a recent meeting I had with Representative Young, he echoed this priority. After voting to increase the deficit by over a trillion dollars in order to benefit the rich, congressional Republicans now want to slash programs that support middle-class and low-income Americans. Not only is this ineffective public policy, but it is morally reprehensible.
Who are the recipients of the services that are now on the chopping block? Medicare provides health insurance for over 50 million Americans over the age of 65 and individuals who have certain disabilities and illnesses. Another critical health insurance program that continues to be threatened is Medicaid, which currently insures around 75 million Americans. Nearly 50 percent of Medicaid beneficiaries are children. The program also provides health insurance for seniors, people with disabilities, and pregnant women. The Center for Law and Social Policy reports that 60 percent of adults on Medicaid are employed, which refutes the popular Republican criticism that recipients are unwilling to work. A third important program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, lifted 5 million people out of poverty in 2015. With one-fifth of all children living in food insecure households, SNAP provides access to nutrition that these youth would otherwise be without. Of all households receiving SNAP, 75 percent include a child, an elderly person, or an individual with disabilities. Moreover, every dollar spent on SNAP generates $1.70 in economic activity. Put simply, health insurance and nutrition assistance programs save lives, support our communities, and strengthen the economy.
As some members of Congress vilify and demean those who receive social assistance, we must push back against these attacks on our friends, neighbors, classmates, and coworkers. Regardless of whether or not someone qualifies for assistance they deserve to be treated with humanity. Many Americans, in an effort to defend the programs they rely on to survive, have publicly shared their most personal and vulnerable stories. Despite these appeals, some members of Congress refuse to listen and instead continue to legislate based on their own factually incorrect assumptions and generalizations. As a nation, we must stand with those who have courageously shared their stories and with the millions of others whose stories remain untold.
This tax bill was rushed through Congress without proper hearings or deliberation and passed along strict partisan lines, eschewing any sense of regular order on Capitol Hill. As a result, millions of Americans will spend this holiday season wondering if they will be able to provide food for their families or health care for their children in 2018. But we cannot lose hope, and we must continue to speak out and take action against efforts to cut funding for programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and SNAP. As we approach the new year, may we all resolve to treat every person with dignity and may we hold Senator Murkowski, Senator Sullivan, and Representative Young accountable to doing the same - in words as well as action.
Susan Fleurant is a 2012 Chugiak High School graduate, a 2016 graduate of Colby College, and a former U.S. Senate staffer.