The 107th Congress adjourned on Nov. 22 after refusing to provide extended unemployment benefits to nearly a million unemployed workers, cutting the availability of Section 8 housing vouchers, denying health care to more than 900,000 children and refusing to provided federal aid to states facing the worst fiscal crisis since World War II. It did, however, find the money for a billion Election Day pay off to drug companies and a promised 0 billion to insurance companies.
The callous refusal of the GOP leadership in the House of Representatives to allow consideration of Senate legislation providing for a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits drew fire from all quarters. Nancy Pelosi, slated to become House Minority Leader in January, said she “hoped” House Republicans “would give some thought to those less fortunate families who will not have much to celebrate this year” as they sat down to their Thanksgiving dinner.
Kathy Roeder, an AFL-CIO media specialist, told the World that refusal of the 107th Congress to act on these critical issues “is further proof that the congressional leadership put the interests of their big business friends above the needs of working families. If the lame duck session is any indication of what is to come, neither Congress nor the White House is yet willing to respond to the recession, the need for jobs or the health care crisis.”
According to the Center for Budget Policy and Priorities, failure to extend unemployment benefits represents “a missed opportunity to provide effective stimulus to the economy.” The center says unemployment benefits serve to increase consumer spending in the hardest-hit areas of the country and among the hardest hit workers, who need the additional income to meet immediate household needs.
The Senate and House passed separate legislation providing for an extension but each side refused to accept the other’s plan. The Senate’s billion plan, which passed the Senate unanimously, would have extended benefits an additional 13 weeks for people currently receiving them.
The House passed a much leaner plan of five extra weeks for workers in a few states with high unemployment rates, which would have cost 0 million. In addition to the Dec. 28 cut off of 840,000 workers presently drawing unemployment, the nearly 100,000 workers who exhaust their state benefits will be left without jobs or unemployment benefits.
Nor were the nation’s governors, including the 22 elected to their first term on Nov. 5, silent. In a statement released Nov. 25 the National Governors Association said that despite budget cuts and drawing down rain-day funds, the “most difficult decisions lay ahead.”
Although California leads the pack with a possible deficit of as much as billion, no state is home free. NGA Executive Director Raymond Scheppach said nearly every state faces a fiscal crisis caused by a “convergence” of the long-run deterioration of state tax system, an explosion of health care costs, collapse of revenues from capital gains taxes and the overall loss of revenues attributable to slow growth. He said the 50 states faced a combined deficit of billion; a figure he said was a “moving target” that would probably grow.
The budget crunch hit working families in two ways last year – first as the primary targets of the cuts and, second, as taxpayers. While revenue from individual taxes fell short of projections by nearly 13 percent and corporate income taxes by more than 21 percent, sales tax revenues, which hit working families the hardest, declined by little more than 3 percent.
Gregg Haifley, deputy director of health for the Children’s Defense Fund, said the refusal of Congress to return some .8 billion in unused funds to the states means that nearly a million children now covered by the School Children Health Insurance Program stand to lose that coverage. “Congress should have acted this year and we have to make sure that it acts next year,” he told the World.
The House of Representatives was no less brutal in its treatment of the millions of low-income families struggling to find affordable housing, with cuts in the budget for the Department of Housing and Urban Development that will deny Section 8 housing vouchers for 125,000 people.
Samir Goswami, a policy analyst for the Chicago Coalition of the Homeless said these cuts “were worse than doing nothing – they are a step backwards because for the first time ever, Congress has refused to provide sufficient funds to renew all of the vouchers previously authorized and funded. But,” he added, “they still are more than willing to spend billions of dollars for war against Iraq.”
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Originally published by the People’s Weekly World