Every day we read the news we hear about another poor person being demonized as lazy or cheating the welfare system. According to the 2010 Poverty Report, Maine has higher rates of people holding multiple jobs than in the nation as a whole, but rarely does this make the headline news.
The media has encouraged us to see poor people as an entirely different species rather than simply people like us but with less money. Then we can support draconian cuts to essential services for people in low-income situations.
LePage began his term as governor by doubling the estate tax exemption to $2 million and lowering the top income tax rate from 8.5 percent to 7.95 percent. The LePage budget will result in tax savings of $2,770 for those with incomes above $363,000. For those with incomes between $28,000 and $48,000 the tax savings will amount to $83.
This is not fair.
The DHHS supplemental budget cuts programs that supply necessities to seniors, children and other vulnerable Mainers. For example, the Drugs for the Elderly Program, or DEL, will no longer help someone living alone with an income over $19,548 regardless of their expenses. This will have serious consequences for people with diabetes, heart diseases and other major health conditions. They will have to choose between food or medicine.
The budget also affects critical supports and services for working families. It cuts nearly $2 million from the Child Care Subsidy Program, which helps parents afford the child care they need in order to work. It cuts $2 million from the Head Start Program, which is an investment in our children and our future. This is irresponsible and unfair.
Viewing low-income people as “other” blinds us to the unfairness in the national budget. Lower corporate taxes and subsidies create jobs — but not here.
The Commerce Department figures show that companies cut their American work forces by 2.9 million from 2000 to 2009 while increasing overseas employment by 2.4 million.
In 2004, Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant, brought home $37 billion in profits. It only paid 5 percent tax because of a “tax holiday” and then laid off thousands in 2005. When the banks were bailed out in 2008, they used taxpayer money to give CEOs obscene bonuses versus offering loans to small businesses to stimulate the economy and create jobs locally. This is not fair.
The super committee was tasked with developing a national deficit-reduction plan but failed. This set in motion an agenda for automatic cuts from military and nonmilitary budgets beginning in January 2013.
Without the adoption of a large-scale deficit-cutting plan, military and nonmilitary spending will face $55 billion per year in automatic cuts over a decade, relative to previously established spending levels. If the Pentagon is exempted from the automatic cuts as seems increasingly likely, the cuts will instead be taken from health care, education, social spending, infrastructure and the environment. Is this fair?
According to a new report from Brown University, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan will cost Americans between $3.2 trillion and $4 trillion. How else could this money be spent? It could provide 771,258 people with low-income health care or 454,946 slots in Head Start Programs for one year. It is a matter of priorities.
Framing the deficit issue in terms of military versus social spending cuts ignores other options, such as taxing corporate profit at a fair rate and developing a progressive tax that is equitable to all. It also erroneously assumes that reducing the federal deficit is necessary now, before the economy has settled on to a sustainable recovery path out of the recession.
The crisis of poverty in America is one of the great moral and economic issues facing our country. It is not an individual failing, it is a collective failure. Together we can critically examine factors that contribute to poverty and offer fair and responsible alternatives to the devastating cuts to essential services in the LePage budget.
Join us for a Walk to Stop the War on the Poor from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 16, at Peirce Park in Bangor.
Katrina Bisheimer is a community nurse in the Bangor area.